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The Oilworker: March 2023

Wed, 03/22/2023 - 08:00
A Message From the NOBP Chair

I want to start by thanking everyone who sent donations to Local 346 in Toledo, Ohio, for our fallen brothers at the BP-Cenovus refinery.  As much as we would like to have Ben and Max alive and well, your support went a long way in comforting the families during this horrific time. 

I also want to commend Local 346 for their success in coordinating the donations. They undertook this work under incredibly difficult circumstances, and I know they will continue it well into the future.  

As the local stepped up to take care of the families and each other, they also actively participated in both the investigation into the tragedy and the sale of the plant to Cenovus, which closed on February 28, 2023.

Last week, OSHA released its citations, including 10 serious violations. Among the violations alleged in the citations, OSHA maintains that BP failed to meet process safety management procedures and inadequately trained workers to respond to the emergency. 

The USW appreciates OSHA’s work in investigating the deaths of two of our union brothers, and while no penalties or fines could ever make up for the lost human lives, we welcome their enforcement actions to hold BP accountable.

Moving forward, our union remains committed to working with OSHA and Cenovus to ensure this type of tragedy never happens again.

USW welcomes decision on Exxon

The USW earlier this month also welcomed an administrative law judge's decision that ExxonMobil bargained in bad faith with USW Locals 13-12 and 13-2001 in Baton Rouge, La., and Baytown, Texas.

The judge found the company violated federal labor law when it unilaterally suspended retirement contributions without bargaining in good faith, writing that management came to the table with “a mere pretense at negotiations.”

She ordered ExxonMobil to make each employee whole for the 401(k) matching contributions it failed to make between Oct. 1, 2020, and Oct. 1, 2021, and any interest and investment growth the contributions would have experienced.

As ever, our union remains committed to holding ExxonMobil accountable and will continue to fight for our members until they receive the compensation they earned.

Fighting for workers at Lyondell-Basell

Our union is also fighting for justice for workers at Lyondell-Basell after it misled the union about potential buyers for its Houston refinery.

The company announced last year that the facility would close by the end of 2023. The USW is unwilling to accept Lyondell’s abandonment of our members, and we will fight to save the refinery even if Lyondell won’t.

Biden admin greenlights Alaskan oil project

Finally, I wanted to flag for you that the Biden administration approved an Alaskan oil project that will produce up to 180,000/bpd. While it’s generated some controversy, ConocoPhillips’ Willow project has the potential to create up to 2,500 jobs during construction and 300 long-term jobs.

There are also plans to sell leases in the Gulf of Mexico as well as western states including Wyoming, Nevada, New Mexico and others.

Thank you again for your continued solidarity. While we’ve faced many challenges in recent months, by working together, it’s clear that our efforts are making a difference.

In solidarity,

Mike Smith
NOPB Chair

Conway urges Congress to back "Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach" Act

Tue, 03/21/2023 - 10:26

The fight for our Veterans of Steel continues in our union.

Last summer. we passed a resolution at our Constititional Convention mandating USW locals have a Veterans of Steel committee. At the start of this year, we announced a new initative with our Rapid Response, Veterans of Steel and other activist groups to push for legislation at all levels of government that helps our military veterans, especially at the workplace. This was inspired by our union family in New York, which led the way for passage of a first-of-its-kind law in the nation that requires employers to display a poster containing information on veterans’ benefits and services, which shall be created and distributed by the Department of Labor.

This week, our International President Tom Conway, penned a letter to leaders in Congress urging them to support H.R. 984, the “Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach (CVSO) Act”. This bipartisan legislation authorizes additional resources to expand the work of county veterans service officers (CVSOs), who are often the best resource on the ground to assist veterans in securing the benefits they have earned.

"Right now, many veterans do not access all of their earned benefits because they do not have the proper information or knowledge on how to navigate the benefits process. Out of 19 million veterans in the United States, only about 9.6 million are enrolled in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care, 5.3 million receive disability compensation, and 3.6 million are active VA home loan participants — with other VA programs showing similar rates of underutilization," Conway wrote. "To reduce benefit underutilization and increase awareness of services, the CVSO Act will strengthen county veterans service officers’ efforts to conduct outreach and provide support to underserved veterans, which can improve overall health and wellness."

Click here to read the entire letter. 

Workers’ Newest Allies in State and Federal Government (Part three of series)

Tue, 03/21/2023 - 08:33

With only two months under his belt as a freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Chris Deluzio has quickly established himself as an unwavering voice for workers. 

Before he earned our union’s endorsement and went on to win a closely-contested election for Congress in November 2022, Deluzio was working at the University of Pittsburgh where he was an outspoken advocate for faculty who sought representation with the United Steelworkers (USW) union. 

Deluzio was an active member of the Pitt Faculty Organizing Committee, and he has said frequently that organizing fellow university workers inspired him to run for Congress. When dozens of Pitt faculty gathered at the USW Headquarters to celebrate their landslide unionization vote in October 2021, Deluzio was there.

“It’s a huge win, not just for us as faculty, but for the University [and] our students,” Deluzio said. “It sends a huge message to workers in Western Pennsylvania that labor is not on defense anymore.”

Deluzio continues to stand in solidarity with the faculty. Last month, he joined a rally outside the University’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a lack of progress with negotiations.

“I’m with you, I’m thinking about you,” Deluzio told the crowd. “You deserve a contract and the decent, basic benefits and pay that every worker in this country deserves.” 

As a lawmaker, the belief that workers and our allies need to be playing offense has been Deluzio’s guiding principle. 

When he attended his first State of the Union Address, Deluzio invited a member of the Newspaper Guild-CWA of Pittsburgh, James “Hutchie” VanLandingham, who has been on strike from his job as a mailer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since October 2022. This strike is the first of its kind in Pittsburgh in more than 30 years.

In recognition of this struggle and others, Deluzio recently joined Representative Susan Wild (PA-7) and Senators Bob Casey (PA) and Sherrod Brown (OH) in introducing bicameral legislation to protect striking workers’ health care.

The legislation, called the Striking and Locked Out Workers Healthcare Protection Act, would create a new unfair labor practice category for employers who cut or alter striking or locked out workers’ health insurance.

In a press release announcing the legislation, Deluzio said, “No company should be able to hold a worker’s health – or the well-being of their family – hostage during a labor dispute.”

When a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, just 10 miles outside of his Pennsylvania congressional district, Deluzio quickly huddled with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to demand the company be held accountable for cleanup and making whole anyone whose health and community has been impacted. 

Additionally, Deluzio has already cosponsored several pro-worker reforms, including:

  • No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act (H.R. 884);
  • Save Medicare Act (H.R. 732);
  • Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 17); and,
  • H.J. Res. 13, which seeks to limit the outsized impact of corporate spending in elections. 

Click HERE to receive our monthly Election Connection newsletter, and each month you’ll have stories like this delivered right to your inbox. 

Part of the Family: Member-Driven Organizing Effort Already Delivering Wins

Wed, 03/01/2023 - 12:12

Teiya Hangsleben got involved in the labor movement before she was even old enough to sign a union card. At the age of 12, she started helping her father, a local union officer, write grievances.

So when the USW offered rank-and-file members like Hangsleben the opportunity to be trained as organizers and put those skills to use in workplaces across North America to grow the union, she “jumped at it,” she said.

Hangsleben attended training sessions alongside her USW siblings last spring in Ohio, then hit the ground running over the summer, helping the USW achieve its largest industrial organizing victory in 19 years, bringing 700 members at the Bobcat plant in Bismarck, N.D., into the union.


That vote by Bobcat workers last fall was a huge success largely because of the effort, launched a year ago by International President Tom Conway, to bring rank-and-file members onto the union’s organizing staff and ask them to talk to people in shops just like their own, where they can relate directly to their fellow workers about their struggles.

Hangsleben and several other organizers on the campaign came from another Bobcat plant in Gwinner, N.D., just 200 miles southeast of Bismarck, where more than 1,000 USW members work. The workers were able to speak with authority about the union difference because their experiences at work were so similar.

“It was definitely a benefit being from a Bobcat shop,” said Hangsleben, whose father still serves as president of Local 560 in Gwinner. “We were able to relate to them all the more.”

That ability for rank-and-file members to grow the USW ranks through direct conversations with their fellow workers is the key to the USW’s organizing push.

“It’s a genius idea,” Hangsleben said. “You’re going to relate to people better who are just like you. It puts people more at ease and makes them more open to conversations.”

Those conversations came easily for Hangsleben and her co-worker and fellow USW organizer Derrick Anderson.

“We speak the same language. We have the same concerns,” said Anderson, who spent 14 years working in a non-union factory before coming to work at Bobcat. “We know how a union can benefit them, because we live it.”

The grassroots nature of the USW’s organizing plan was a major key to success, members said.

“Some conversations start out cold,” Anderson said. “But then when we say where we are from, they start talking more openly.”

The Bobcat facility in Gwinner has been part of the USW family for nearly 55 years and is well known in the area for being a good place to work thanks in large part to the union.

“We have a long history, so it’s not just a new fad,” Anderson said. “We’re here to stay, and we can say we make your home life, your work life, your whole life better with the union.”

National Trend

The USW victory in Bismarck was part of a national trend that began even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A Gallup poll taken in August showed that 71 percent of Americans hold a positive view of labor unions – the highest level in 57 years.

In addition to the 700 workers in Bismarck, the USW has achieved several other high-profile organizing victories in recent years. In October 2021, 3,400 faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh voted by a nearly 3-to-1 margin to join the Steelworkers, overcoming a relentless anti-union campaign by the administration that lasted years and cost the school millions of dollars.

Elsewhere, interest in unions remains high. More than 6,800 workers at 263 Starbucks locations in the United States have joined unions, and workers at an Amazon warehouse that employs 6,000 people in Staten Island voted last spring to unionize their shop.

Union History

The facility that the USW team was successful in organizing in Bismarck had been unionized in the past before shutting down and reopening without union representation.

“That was pretty personal to us,” Hangsleben said. “That kind of got the fire going in my opinion.”

That fire spread quickly through the Bismarck factory. District 11 Director Emil Ramirez said the employees at the factory recognized that a strong union would provide them with a collective voice on the job and also would empower individual employees, who became closer as a group during the organizing effort.

“As employers continue to urge more and faster production, it is absolutely essential for workers to have a say on issues that could impact their occupational health and safety,” Ramirez said. “Fair pay and benefits will help retain loyal, experienced workers, and ensuring adequate staffing numbers will keep the plant running as safely and efficiently as possible.”

Contract Talks

Now that the work of organizing the facility is behind them, the workers in Bismarck are in the process of bargaining a contract.

“Bobcat workers deserve a fair union contract that provides fair pay and promotes a healthy work-life balance with limits on mandatory overtime and provisions for paid time off,” said new member Jacob Klein. “We are proud to join the United Steelworkers and look forward to the next step of the process — working together to negotiate a fair first collective bargaining agreement.”

Hangsleben said she hopes that the big victory in Bismarck spreads to other non-union facilities in the area so that everyone can reap the benefits of a strong union contract.

“I had a lot of satisfaction when the election results came in,” she said. “You’re not just helping those 700 people. You’re helping those 700, plus their families, as well as future generations.”

This story was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of USW@Work. Click here to read that issue as a PDF.

Labor and civil rights activists empower each other and community in Gary, Ind., during Black Labor Week

Wed, 03/01/2023 - 11:45

Members of the USW and other labor organizations spent the 12th Annual Black Labor Week in Gary, Ind., engaging with the local community and learning from each other.

The activists, who traveled from across the country, spent the week attending panels, including a Black Male Discussion and a Black Women Empowerment Seminar. Members also spent time giving back to the community by serving breakfast at the NWI Veterans Village and talking to local students about the labor movement.

Black Labor Week was kickstarted in 2011 by District 7 Next Generation Sub-Coordinator E.J. Jenkins to bring people together from different communities, especially those from outside the Gary, Ind., area, who aren’t familiar with the struggles the city has faced due to white flight and attacks on its education system.

This year’s event was the largest in its history, and for that, Jenkins couldn’t be more grateful.

“I try to be appreciative of every blessing that I receive,” said Jenkins. “In this case, that blessing is growth.”

USW Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown gave the keynote speech at the end of the week, encouraging the activists to take what they learned and experienced in Gary to their own communities. She was also presented with the Vanessa Jenkins Racial Justice Award.

#USWMade: Make it a Union-Made Pasta Night

Mon, 02/27/2023 - 13:38

Who They Are: Local 9555
Where They Are: Danville, Va.
What They Do: Produce pasta, sauce and cheese for Buitoni Foods Co.

For USW members looking to extend their union solidarity to their family dinner table, Buitoni pastas and sauces might be one of the most popular – and tastiest –ways to do so.

Nikia Watkins and her fellow members of Local 9555 in Danville, Va., work for Buitoni Foods Co., a company that traces its origins to Italy in 1827 and produces a wide variety of refrigerated pastas, sauces and cheeses sold in grocery stores around the world.

Watkins, the local president, has worked at the factory for 19 years. She said she and her co-workers take pride in being part of an organization that is dedicated to making sure the quality of their products is second to none.

“It makes me feel good that the quality of the food that we’re making is the best that it can be,” said Watkins, who served as local recording secretary before her term as president began last year.

It also is a good feeling, Watkins said, to know that she and her 350 fellow Local 9555 members have the strength and solidarity of the entire USW behind them on the job.

“The union gives us a voice,” she said. “That’s our strength.”

It also helps to have other unions, including large USW locals, in the region, she said. Just down the road from the Buitoni plant, 1,850 members work at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant, Danville’s largest employer. 

Watkins’ reasons for becoming a USW leader were simple. “I just want to make sure we have fairness and consistency all across the board,” she said.

That consistency extends from the bargaining table to the food that members send out the door of the factory to store shelves. In addition to the popular line of Italian cuisine, USW members in Danville – for the next few months at least – also make Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough.

In June, however, Nestle, the former owner of the Buitoni line, will begin producing the cookie dough elsewhere. Watkins and her co-workers to focus solely on rolling out the best pasta products they possibly can.

“We’re just like everyone else,” Watkins said. “We want to make sure we’re doing everything right.”

#USWMade is a feature focusing on products made by USW members that consumers can purchase in stores or online. Follow the #USWMade hashtag on social media and check out the #USWMade playlist on YouTube to learn about other products made by USW members. If your local makes a product that you would like to feature in USW@Work, send an email to:

USW members learn from EMT pioneer during Black History Month webinar

Mon, 02/27/2023 - 07:50

John Moon was responsible for many “firsts” of ambulatory care, including being the first Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) to intubate a person in the field. He and his co-workers accomplished this and much more while serving with the Freedom House Ambulance Service, the first emergency medical service in the United States to be staffed by paramedics with medical training beyond basic first aid.

USW members had the chance to hear directly from Moon on Tues., Feb. 21, during a special Black History Month “Teaching Tuesday” organized by the USW Health Care Workers Council and the Education and Membership Development department.

The webinar featured a screening of the WQED documentary “Freedom House Ambulance: The First Responders,” produced by Annette Banks, who also joined the evening’s discussion.

Moon expressed his gratitude for being able to participate in the film and keep the legacy of Freedom House alive.

“I am still in awe of how so far ahead of our time we were during that era,” said Moon. “It really makes my heart smile. I’m emotional about it even now.”

Founded in 1967 to serve the predominantly Black residents of the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the majority of Freedom House staff were Black workers. The ambulance service broke medical ground by training its personnel in previously unheard-of standards of emergency medical care for patients en route to hospitals.

Despite their immaculate record, Freedom House Ambulance Service's request to expand their contract with the city to cover additional parts of Pittsburgh was denied by Mayor Peter Flaherty.

In 1974, the mayor announced plans for a citywide ambulance system to be staffed by police officers trained as paramedics. At the end of the year, he then announced the creation of a citywide ambulance service to be staffed by non-police paramedics and the end of the contract with Freedom House.

Moon was one of the few Black EMTs who joined the city’s ambulatory service, as many were pushed out, and he experienced discrimination daily on the job.

“I had to step up my game and make sure I was not systematically eliminated,” said Moon, who retired in 2009 as assistant chief of Pittsburgh’s EMS. “We weren’t wanted there.”

Amber Stoer, who works as an EMT in California and serves as recording secretary of USW Local 12911, also joined the webinar and spoke on her own experiences facing systemic barriers in the field. She said being a woman in EMS comes with extra challenges, from workplace discrimination to difficulties with returning to work after having a child.

“When I first started, I had a manager tell me I wouldn’t go anywhere,” said Stoer. “I told him that eventually, workers would come to me for help before they came to him, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Stoer also noted that when she took her first EMT training 14 years ago, she learned about the history of the field, including the pioneers of Freedom House.

“It’s really empowering to come full circle and be able to hear from you like this,” she told Moon. “This is all really inspiring.”

USW Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown also helped moderate the evening’s panel and ended the conversation with a look toward the future and a nod to Moon’s historical, community-based work during a time of severe inequality and police brutality.

“It gives me hope to listen to what you’re saying because the same genius you all displayed that derived from need is the same kind of genius that I hope will strike today in the communities all across the country that are still in disrepair and in need of resources,” said Brown.

Click here to learn more and watch the 30-minute documentary about Freedom House.

Steelworkers’ Victories in Three Special Elections Secures Pro-Worker Majority in Pa. House

Fri, 02/24/2023 - 06:23

Steelworkers’ efforts helped secure victories in three special elections to fill a trio of seats in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives. These seats were left vacant after two lawmakers departed the chamber for higher office, and another passed away mere weeks before voters headed to the polls in Nov. 2022.

These victories helped flip the balance of power in the closely-contested chamber, cementing the first worker-friendly majority in the Pennsylvania House in more than a decade.

Determined to have labor-friendly allies setting the agenda in Harrisburg, working hand in hand the newly-elected, USW-backed governor, Josh Shapiro, Steelworkers braved the cold throughout January to ensure a strong turnout of union voters on Election Day.

Canvassing neighborhoods to talk with union voters at their door during the winter can be grueling work. That is exactly why USW District 10 Director, Bernie Hall recruited a team of USW members to help with the canvassing effort, which included JoJo Burgess (USW Local 1557), Denise Edwards (Retired, USW Local 1219), JoAnn Loncar (Retired, USW Local 512T), and Brad Schneider (USW Local 1557).

“This being my first election campaign, I was really impressed by the amount of support we received from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council,” said Schneider, an 18-year Steelworker member at the Clairton Coke Works.

“The fact that our work helped secure a union-friendly majority in the Pennsylvania House is huge,” said Schneider.

“The lawmakers we were out there knocking doors for definitely took note, and they assured us they’d have our back the next time we are on strike or in a tough negotiation with a company.”

A Comeback in Missouri: Local Union Enjoys Resurgence as Aluminum Smelter Returns

Thu, 02/23/2023 - 10:21

By the time Noranda Aluminum filed for bankruptcy in February of 2016, Cameron Redd and his fellow Local 7686 members at the plant had seen their share of hard times.

Over the years, pressures from unfair trade, economic downturns and high utility costs brought periodic layoffs to the smelter that once employed 1,000 workers along the Mississippi River in Marston, Mo. But the Chapter 11 filing was more than a temporary problem.

“There were a lot of bad decisions,” Redd said of the company’s actions leading up to the bankruptcy. “We could kind of see it coming as a union.”

While that awareness couldn’t prevent bankrupt Noranda from idling and selling the facility, it did give Redd and his USW siblings the experience to persevere and ultimately prevail during the next few years, as the smelter reopened and the union settled a first contract with the new owner, Magnitude 7 Metals LLC, known as Mag 7.

Good Union Jobs

When Redd landed a job at the smelter more than 15 years ago, he thought he’d reached a place where he could have a rewarding career and then retire comfortably.

“I got on, and I figured, ‘Hey, I made it,’” Redd said.

He wasn’t alone. Thanks to the strength of the USW, the jobs at the smelter were among the best in the area, good enough to draw in workers from across the “boot heel” area of southeastern Missouri as well as from neighboring states including Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“From my perspective, I had one of the two best jobs in this area,” Redd said, noting that a nearby electrical plant, built in large part to provide the power that is essential to aluminum production, also offered good union jobs, to members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Still, as a result of unfairly traded imports, high utility costs, and owners who seemed more interested in extracting profits than investing in the future of the plant, Noranda would ultimately shut down.

“At some point, I realized that I was going to have to move on,” Redd said. “I was there right up until the last week.”

Ripple Effect

The smelter’s shut down hit the region hard. In rural Missouri where the facility sits, several hundred industrial jobs can mean the difference between a thriving community and a ghost town.

The loss of Noranda’s $100 million payroll devastated local small businesses. Homes were put up for sale by the dozens, causing values to drop. Taxes that came in because of the plant had accounted for nearly 20 percent of the local school district’s budget, leaving the entire community searching for answers.

“When you take 847 good jobs out of a community like this, I don’t know how you can even measure it,” Redd said. “A lot of people who once had disposable income, suddenly they couldn’t make their car payments, couldn’t make their house payments.”

Industry Challenges

The Missouri smelter was far from the only aluminum facility to face difficult times. U.S.-based aluminum production has declined from 3.7 million metric tons from 23 smelters in 2000 to just 880,000 metric tons in 2021. Today, only five primary aluminum production sites are in operation in the United States, with two others currently idle.

Meanwhile, over the same period, China expanded its primary aluminum production from 2.8 million metric tons in 2000 to 38.8 million metric tons in 2021. China is now the world’s largest producer of the metal by a more than 10-to-1 margin over its closest competitor, Russia. 

In response to that widening gap, in 2018, citing national security concerns, the United States imposed 10 percent tariffs on aluminum imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. 

Only a few smelters are capable of producing the kind of high-grade aluminum used in military vehicles, armor and aircraft, one of the reasons for the product’s designation as vital to U.S. national defense.

The Section 232 measures, which coincided with a corresponding action in support of steel producers, helped to slow the industry’s slide and paved the way for Mag 7 to restart the former Noranda facility.

USW Support

Still, preventing unfair imports is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the struggles aluminum producers face. Aging facilities and the large amount of electricity required in the smelting process can also be roadblocks to efficient production.

When Mag 7 took over the smelter in 2018, USW members, including International President Tom Conway, District 11 Director Emil Ramirez and other leaders, worked to ensure that the new owner could clear regulatory hurdles and other obstacles in order to restart.

“This country needs as much aluminum production capacity as we can get,” Conway said. “When we have an opportunity to restart an idled facility, this union is going to do everything we can to put our members back to work in good jobs, producing American aluminum.”

With Mag 7 determined to restart the smelter, workers were optimistic, believing they had an understanding with the company that it would recognize the union, but that didn’t happen.

Redd, who went on to become a USW staff representative, had a handful of members still working who were keeping him informed as they maintained the grounds and kept the facility viable for a possible restart.

“We just tried to keep our ears to the ground. The company was steadily sowing discord,” Redd said

Ultimately, while Mag 7 was legally obligated under Burns successorship rules to recognize the USW, the company did not do so until the USW took legal action. 

Obstacles Mount

The USW filed a series of successful charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and Mag 7 ultimately agreed to meet the union at the bargaining table. Even then, however, management continued to drag its feet, eventually supporting an effort to decertify the union.

“The company just kept moving the goalposts,” Redd said.

Despite efforts to bust the union, USW members repeatedly made it clear to the company that they were committed to acting collectively. Thanks to the members’ solidarity, the union won the decertification vote decisively, and the company returned to the table ready to work toward a new collective bargaining agreement. By then, though, another major obstacle was on the horizon.

“No sooner than we got started, and we were faced with COVID,” Redd said.

Face-to-face meetings couldn’t take place for months, so bargaining stalled. And because the economy slowed down considerably as the pandemic continued, Mag 7 soon faced the possibility of having to shut down the facility yet again.

Sticking Together

Through the determination of the Mag 7 work force, members kept the plant running. And the union ultimately reached a new two-year agreement with the help of a federal mediator, a contract that now covers about 465 USW members with the plant operating at a reduced capacity.

“Putting members back to work making aluminum in southeast Missouri, and making sure they have good, community-supporting jobs, that was a tremendous victory,” Director Ramirez said. “This was an opportunity to help keep hundreds of families afloat and help put a community back on its feet.”

National Security

The Mag 7 restart also was an opportunity to push the United States closer to fulfilling its own aluminum needs, a goal that was the driving force behind the Section 232 tariffs.

While those measures managed to restore some capacity to the U.S. aluminum industry, more work must be done to ensure that American producers are competing on a level playing field, that they can meet their energy needs in a cost-effective way, and that they can support hard-working communities like those in the Marston area and elsewhere.

“China’s dumping is still happening,” Redd said. “The price of electricity is a tremendous cost in the calculation of whether a facility can be profitable. That’s always a consideration.”

The United States needs producers willing to build new smelters, and more idled facilities to return to full production, Conway said.

“We are still not as self-sufficient as we ought to be as a nation,” he said.

For now, though, the workers at Mag 7 have turned their attention to producing aluminum rather than fighting for their very survival.

“These workers were able to really do something that’s hard to do, and that is to reorganize a facility of this size after it shut down,” Redd said. “The bottom line is that the workers have a voice, and we’re making metal again here in southeast Missouri. The fight goes on.”

The Best of Us: Emergency Response Team Helps Workers, Families After Devastating Events

Thu, 02/23/2023 - 10:00

The USW’s Emergency Response Team hotline is available 24 hours a day to respond to fatal or life-altering incidents involving USW members, at 866-526-3480.

Kenny Stitt was only 32 when he lost his life in a workplace tragedy on Oct. 12, 2021. He left behind a wife and two young kids, as well as hundreds of members of his extended USW family, who made sure that his spouse and his children would never have to face such a devastating loss alone.

In addition to his Local 1016 siblings, one of the first USW members to respond following Stitt’s death at the NLMK steel facility in Farrell, Pa., was Duronda Pope, who oversees the union’s Emergency Response Team (ERT).

Pope traveled to Mercer County, Pa., just across the Ohio border near Youngstown, to help with a number of important tasks – making sure family members and friends had all the food and housing they needed, providing them with information on legal assistance, stress and grief counseling, and, ultimately, simply offering a friendly face of a fellow USW member who could shoulder a piece of their burden.

“The program is one of a kind. Having an organization that responds to our members at this level is unheard of,” Pope said of the ERT. “It speaks on a high level to the character and integrity of the Steelworkers to have this program in place.”

Long History

The USW’s ERT program has existed in some form since the union’s merger with the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) in 2005. The program’s coordinators respond any time there is a fatal or life-altering event involving USW members.

At first “the program was much different than it is today,” said Allan McDougall, who led the ERT for 15 years, from the day that now-retired International President Leo W. Gerard tapped him following the 2005 merger until McDougall’s own retirement from the union in 2020.

“The USW is a union of substance,” McDougall said. “So, we wanted to have a program of substance.”

That means the union’s ERT coordinators don’t just show up the day after an incident and then go home. They work hard to build long-term relationships with workers and families and make it clear that they’re there to help for as much as a year.

“If you’re going to do a job, you should do it well,” McDougall said.

U.S. and Canada

The ERT has 62 volunteer responders throughout the United States and Canada. Through the ERT’s 24-hour call center, Pope receives information as soon as the union learns of an incident in a USW workplace, then decides on a response plan. Members of the ERT then travel to the site of the incident and get to work.

“The second visit can sometimes be more important than the first one,” McDougall said. “At first, we are just one in a sea of faces.”

That was the case for Tamara Taylor and Trina Benedict, two ERT coordinators who responded last fall following an explosion at an oil refinery in Newfoundland that injured eight workers, including a USW member who succumbed to his injuries six weeks later. 

“There were eight people injured, so we knew it was going to be a big job,” Taylor said.

Because of the scale of the incident and the distance between the hospital and the workplace, Taylor and Benedict divided their ERT duties, with Taylor remaining at the hospital to assist families, while Benedict stayed close to the work site and aided members of the local.

“People go to work, and their families expect them to come home unharmed. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case,” Benedict said.

After their initial response, the pair returned a few weeks later at the request of the workers, to continue their efforts to help.

“They were all still in shock and didn’t really know our purpose at first,” Taylor said of the families. Often families assume that visitors they don’t know are company representatives, she said.

“Companies are going to try to protect themselves, and sometimes they are looking to lay blame,” she said. “We don’t want to see families taken advantage of.”

Families aren’t the only ones ERT volunteers are there to help. The team also works closely with local union members and sets up meetings for witnesses and co-workers following tragic events. If needed, the ERT refers people to professionals for further help with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Often Overwhelming

In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, members say, the presence of employer attorneys and insurance company representatives can be overwhelming for families, and survivors may end up unknowingly signing agreements that can put them at a disadvantage if they decide to take legal action in the future.

In addition, family members often don’t know exactly how the USW works, so they initially can be skeptical even of union representatives. ERT coordinators, though, are trained in every aspect of their response, including body language and the psychology of grief, so they have the skills to prepare them for nearly every situation.

“I tell them I can be a voice for them in dealing with company management,” said Taylor, a member of Local 5795 in Labrador. “We try to take anything we can off their plate so that they can just focus on their families.”

That has included addressing issues like workers’ compensation, temporary disability benefits, insurance coverage, hotel reservations, rental cars, parking fees, pet care and more.

“A lot of what we do is just being there for them,” Benedict said.

Months after the refinery fire, Benedict and Taylor said, they are still in contact with the members and their families in Newfoundland. 

Coping with Loss

Benedict, a member of Local 5319 who works as an airport screening officer in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been a member of the USW for about 17 years. She lost her husband suddenly when he was only 39 years old and, without realizing at the time, that event started her along a path to helping others who were experiencing similar trauma.

“We’re seeing people at the lowest point in their lives,” she said. “When you’re at your lowest, you really rely on others around you to think for you, to do what needs to be done. That’s what the ERT is all about.”

Benedict, who also serves as a shop steward in her workplace, said being a part of the ERT helps to put her other union duties into perspective.

“The small things sometimes seem so trivial now,” she said. “Everything we do is important, but with the ERT, I’ve never been more proud to be a union member.”

Providing Strength

As the ERT has evolved over the years, its role has expanded from responding to the devastation of on-the-job injuries and deaths to other tragedies, such as workplace shootings, suicides and overdoses.

James Lonergan, a member of Local 9999 in Eastern Pennsylvania, said the most recent ERT call he received involved a member who lost his life. When he first arrived on the scene, he said, the family was slow to let him into their circle. But once they learned that he was there to help as a USW brother, they embraced him.

“I come here as a father. I come here as a son,” Lonergan said he told the family members. “I keep thinking about his dad and how overjoyed he was that someone went to that extent to help them.”

The ERT, Lonergan said, is one of the most important programs the USW offers – one that makes sure that members and their families know that someone always has their back, especially at the most desperate times in their lives.

“It’s important for members to know that they’re not by themselves, and we have the tools that they need to help them get through it,” he said. “When you’re in a position when you’re at your weakest, an ERT member is there to give you strength.”

‘Filling Your Cup’

Sometimes, it’s the ERT coordinators themselves who need to find strength. Responding to tragic events on a regular basis, they say, can take a heavy emotional toll, and taking time away from the program sometimes is a necessity.

As the ERT grew, the USW, along with Loyola University psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Lating, worked to develop a sabbatical program for participants so that members are able to take a mental and emotional break from the stress.

Benedict recalled, during her and Taylor’s response to the refinery fire, the pair took a half-hour for a quiet walk on the beach, watching the waves and looking for sea glass, just to take their mind away – for a moment – from the tragedy they and their USW siblings were facing.

“It’s about taking time to fill your cup,” she said. “Sometimes something as simple as that can help.”

The Work Goes On

No matter what time of day, or what day of the week, the ERT is always there to respond to members in need, Pope said. And the team’s work continues as long as families are suffering.

While Stitt’s tragic death at NLMK left his children without their father and his 28-year-old wife a young widow, the USW has continued to rally around the family.

Members of the local, led by District 10 Next Generation Coordinator Colton Smith, have remained in constant contact with the Stitt family. Through various fundraisers, the local union has collected more than $110,000 and has plans to establish a scholarship fund for Stitt’s children.

The USW also presented the local union with the Karen Silkwood Award, given in recognition of members who build solidarity through health, safety and environmental activism. 

“The local made it known that that family would never be alone,” said District 10 Director Bernie Hall. “They really represent the best of us, of what our union is all about.”

New Class of Radiation Control Technicians to Begin Training at Portsmouth, Paducah Sites

Wed, 02/22/2023 - 08:13

A new cohort of junior radiological control technicians-in-training will begin classes next month, learning the skills necessary to monitor radiation levels at contamination areas and in the air at worksites to help keep the public and workers safe.

The USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (USWTMC) will hold the trainings in collaboration with the former Portsmouth and Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant sites.

Shortages of RCTs at both sites led to the creation of the program in partnership with the USWTMC, USW locals and the area community colleges.

The upcoming cohort of 23 students begins classes on March 6 at Portsmouth, while the Paducah program begins March 7 with 20 students.

USWTMC Training Program Assistant Fiona Galley said students in the RCT programs come from all walks and stages of life.

“Students range from recent high school graduates to more established folks who just want a career change,” said Galley.

The RCT training program is made free to participants through a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant and lasts around six months. The program trains students to be well-prepared to apply for jobs as junior RCTs at the DOE sites after graduation.

If they are hired as junior RCTs, they can later advance to senior RCTs and then to lead technicians.

RCT programs yield high job placements

USW Local 550 at the Paducah site graduated its first cohort of RCTs last fall, with 19 of the 20 graduates going on to secure jobs at the Paducah DOE site after graduation.

Last September’s graduating class at Portsmouth, held at the USW Local 1-689 union hall, began with 20 students and ended with 16 graduates.

Josh Murray, a 2022 Portsmouth junior RCT program graduate, said he’s looking forward to transferring the tools he’s learned in the class to the workplace.

“I understand the importance of this career and the need for radiological protection for both myself, co-workers and for the general public,” Murray said.

Andria Smalley, the lead worker trainer for the Portsmouth program and member of USW Local 1-689, said teaching the courses to community members was an honor.

“I know the students will do great things and be a wonderful reflection of the USW and our RCT program,” said Smalley.

To read more about the USWTMC’s radiological control technician training program, click here.

Lifting Education Higher: USW’s College Professors Fight for Better Universities for Faculty, Students

Wed, 02/15/2023 - 07:30

When Rich Schiavoni tells people that he is a member of the United Steelworkers union, they often will ask him what he makes.

“I make college students,” is the answer he has at the ready, knowing that isn’t necessarily the response people expect.

“I’m constantly blown away by the diversity of what USW members do and what they make,” said Schiavoni, a part-time history and political science professor at Point Park University in Pittsburgh who grew up around family members who worked in Western Pennsylvania’s steel industry.

“They worked in the mills, they worked on the railroad, they were all in a union,” he said. “I’m proud that I get to carry on that tradition in a different way.”

Growing Contingent

As members of Local 1088, Schiavoni and his fellow part-time professors at Point Park and nearby Robert Morris University are among a growing number of higher education professionals who are part of the USW. In October 2021, about 3,400 faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh (known as Pitt) voted overwhelmingly to join the union. 

In addition, Local 1998 has represented about 7,000 staff members at the University of Toronto for the past 25 years, and Local 4120 represents 885 administrative and technical staff at the University of Guelph, also in Ontario.

The latest influx of thousands of higher education workers into the USW makes perfect sense to International President Tom Conway.

“The USW is a union for all workers who want a strong voice in their workplace and who want a large, diverse and dedicated group of people across North America who are committed to that same fight,” Conway said. “Ultimately, academic workers have a lot in common with everyone else who works for a living – they want a seat at the table for the decisions that affect their work, they want to build a better life for themselves and their families, and they want to be able to retire with dignity.”

Seeking Fairness

That fight for fairness and dignity was what led Melinda Ciccocioppo to get involved in the effort to organize the University of Pittsburgh faculty. Ciccocioppo, a full-time professor in the Pitt psychology department, has worked at the university in some capacity since 2006, and earned her PhD at the school.

While members are still in the process of bargaining their first contract, Ciccocioppo is confident that the USW will make a difference in at least two areas that make life challenging for higher education professionals – low pay and precarious, unpredictable work. 

Part-time faculty members, she said, sometimes find out just a few weeks before a semester begins whether or not they’ll have a job, and often get paid so little that most of them are forced to seek second and third jobs to make ends meet.

“For full-time faculty, contracts can be as short as one year, and it could be renewed, but you don’t know for sure. There is no expectation of continued employment after that,” she said. “In reality, we might have better job security working at Target.”

That kind of treatment is unnecessary, particularly for a major university like Pitt, with an enrollment of 35,000 students, an endowment of more than $5 billion and an annual budget of more than $2.4 billion.

“They know pretty well from one semester to the next how many students they’ll have, how much work there will be,” she said. “There really isn’t any reason for them to have us remain precarious.”

Major Pay Gap

Besides the constant uncertainty of their employment, non-tenure-track professors, particularly those who work part time, are paid significantly less than their tenure-track peers.

“The reality is that two-thirds of our faculty are non-tenure-stream faculty, which means we are on short-term contracts, typically one semester long,” Ciccocioppo said. “It seems absurd that if you’re doing a good job and there’s still work for you to do, that you should have to reapply for your job every year.”

A strong contract would mean guaranteed contract renewals for instructors who are doing good work, and living wages so that professors don’t have to toil day and night to make ends meet. The USW proposed automatic renewals this summer and is moving forward on other bargaining goals, but progress at the table has been slow.

“The university is able to make a huge profit by having a contingent work force that they can pay very little and continue to raise tuition every year,” Ciccocioppo said. “These are exactly the kinds of things a union can help us with.”

Progress at Pitt

As the Pitt faculty unit makes progress toward a first agreement, the staff workers at the university’s five campuses are pushing forward with an organizing campaign of their own. That group of about 7,000 workers includes advisors, researchers, scientists, library and technology specialists, accountants, designers, counselors, and administrative assistants.

To Marcelle Pierson, a professor of music theory at Pitt, the presence of the USW, even before a first contract is ratified, has already made a positive difference for the entire university community.

The faculty union managed to reach several interim agreements with the university administration, including one governing COVID-19 protocols that helped to protect faculty members with serious health conditions.

“We were able to establish some common-sense guidelines,” Pierson said. “We were able to solve that problem in a practical way, and we were only able to do that because we had this leverage.”

The workers at Pitt also reached an interim agreement with the school on pay raises for part-time faculty, who previously had been excluded from such arrangements.

“They really are the backbone of teaching,” Pierson said of part-time instructors.

When part-time professors from Point Park and Robert Morris joined the USW in 2016, their goals were much the same as those the Pitt faculty is fighting for now – more job stability and living wages for adjunct professors. Over the term of their first three-year contract, the professors saw an overall pay raise of more than 21 percent. 

In December, Local 1088 reached a new contract agreement with Point Park that includes 12 percent in pay increases as well as paid sick days and job security protections that will guarantee course appointments.

The agreement is the third for the local, and it brings the total wage increase over the terms of those contracts to 43 percentage points.

“Our members make up more than two-thirds of the teaching work force,” Schiavoni said. “The new agreement is a solid win for part-time faculty.”

Quality Education

Besides making life better for the workers at the front of the class, the presence of a union at institutions of higher education also helps to bolster the quality of education and the feeling of community on a campus, members say.

Pierson said the union brings together academic workers from across the university’s many departments who might otherwise never interact.

“One of the problems in higher education is that people often are operating in silos,” Pierson said. “With the union, it gives me so much more context to do my job and to act in ways that are beneficial both to myself and my colleagues.”

Regional Organization

The fact that the USW represents professors at three of the largest colleges in Western Pennsylvania helps to ensure fair treatment for all higher education workers in the region, union or not, Ciccocioppo said.

“All of these universities are sharing the same pool,” she said. “To have us be organized across institutions gives us more power. It provides us with an opportunity to set a floor that is more powerful.”

That power, along with the continuity and job satisfaction that comes with higher pay and more secure employment, also means better outcomes for students, she said.

A lack of job security means less time for instructors to develop their curriculum, and can mean delays in ordering books and other classroom supplies. 

“It’s important to remember that our working conditions are student learning conditions, so when our jobs are precarious, it means students can’t count on us to be there in the future,” Ciccocioppo said. “Having that ownership of our classes is important as well, for the students as much as it is for the faculty.”

During a demonstration in December outside the Pitt provost’s office, Ciccocioppo joined about 75 of her colleagues to express their frustration at the slow pace of bargaining.

“It is our work that makes this university,” she said.

Chemical workers in Texas overcome union busting to join the USW

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 08:16

Workers at Nouryon Functional Chemicals in La Porte, Texas, overcame a vicious anti-union campaign, voting on Mon., Feb. 6, to join the USW.

Felipe Venegas, a production operator, spoke widely to his coworkers in preparation for the vote. A 15-year veteran of the company, Venegas said management tried doing everything in their power to weaken the campaign.

“The company hired a union-busting firm who wined and dined us, and they added even more workers into the potential bargaining unit to try to saturate the vote,” Venegas said. “It didn’t work, and now everyone on site, from production operators to maintenance and logistics workers, is part of the union.”

Venegas said he is looking forward to fighting for a first contract and is up for any challenge the company tries to throw at the workers next.

“We just want to be treated like adults and get fair pay,” he said. “I’m excited to have the structure and respect that comes with a union.”

The 78 employees on site produce metal alkyls for the polymer and pharmaceutical industries, among others, and are now officially members of USW District 13.

Smooth Sailing: USW Members are the Backbone of Great Lakes Shipping Industry

Wed, 02/08/2023 - 10:04

For Ron Wilson and his fellow Local 5000 members, their USW co-workers are more than just union siblings. They are each other’s live-in family, seven days a week, for weeks – sometimes even months – at a time.

On board the huge Great Lakes shipping vessels that haul iron ore, salt, limestone and other materials to and from mines, factories and other destinations, Wilson and his co-workers take to the water for such long stretches that they forge an even closer bond with each other than most of their fellow Steelworkers can claim.

“It’s a lifestyle,” said Wilson, who serves as an able seaman. “You have to be willing to be a recluse. You’re in your own little bubble.”

That “bubble,” on board ships traversing the 94,000 square miles of Great Lakes, typically consists of about 20 union workers – 12 to 14 members of the USW and six to eight members of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, the labor union that represents the vessel’s deck and engine officers.

“It’s a family,” Wilson said. “We are a close-knit group. We have to be. We’re the only ones we’ve got out here.”

The Mark W. Barker

During one of his recent stints on land, Wilson joined members of his extended union family Sept. 1 on Cleveland’s lakefront to celebrate a historic event in the history of Great Lakes shipping. His employer, Interlake Steamship Co., was christening the Mark W. Barker (MWB), the company’s first new ship since 1981, and the first new U.S.-built cargo freighter on the Great Lakes since 1983.

It was the type of ceremony many in the crowd of 700 invited guests had never had a chance to witness. The event included Interlake’s chairman James R. Barker and president (and namesake of the new ship) Mark W. Barker, as well as U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, all of whom spoke of the major contributions USW members make to Great Lakes shipping.

“To be a sailor on the Great Lakes takes guts,” said Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress, whose district stretches across the southern shores of Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland. “To our friends in labor, who built and will crew this modern marvel – we value you.”

Also attending the ceremony was District 1 Director Donnie Blatt, who pointed out that the ship itself was built with USW-made steel, which was created from USW-mined iron ore, and finished with USW-made paint from Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams.

“Thank you to our union members, who are truly the face of Interlake,” Mark Barker said. “Our employees are the heart and soul of our company.”

Prior to its christening, the ship had already made eight deliveries, including hauling ore from mines in Minnesota and Michigan to USW-represented mills across the Great Lakes.

“This ship has truly come full circle,” Blatt said. “Every piece of this ship, including the crew, is a testament to the hard-working members of our great union.”

A Unique Local

The 300 members of Local 5000 work not only on board the newly christened ship, but also on the other nine vessels in Interlake’s fleet, and nine other cargo carriers operated by companies including Central Marine Logistics and Key Lakes Inc.

The USW members who sail on the freshwater Great Lakes deliver and pick up cargo in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and parts of Canada.

The life of a cargo ship crew member is unlike any other USW-represented job. Members don’t get to go home when their daily shifts end. They often miss weekends with their families, birthday parties, weddings and other important events.

The tradeoff, though, for a career in a family-supporting job that they love, is worth it. And the extended leave time during the off season, from late autumn to early spring when the weather is too cold to sail, helps to make up for the time away, members say.

“It’s not for everybody,” Wilson said of life working on the lakes.

Still, while USW jobs on the lakes require a deep commitment and significant time spent learning the ropes, they are “great jobs for someone right out of high school,” said Jayson Toth, Interlake’s director of training and vessel personnel.

“The ones that love it,” Toth said, “really love it.”

In addition to the good union wages and benefits, there’s a sense of pride that goes along with doing a job that contributes so much to the region’s economy, Wilson said.

“It’s a great feeling to be a part of something as big as this,” the six-year veteran sailor said. “There’s a lot to be proud of being a part of the Steelworkers. We are the bloodline of the steel industry, from the ground up.”

Modern Design

While the MWB is the smallest vessel in the Interlake fleet, because of its modern design, it can carry as much cargo as its larger sister ships. The vessel is 639 feet long with a cargo capacity of 26,000 tons. In addition to taconite, salt and stone, the MWB was designed to carry other material, such as wind turbine blades.

Constructed at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and powered by twin electro-motive diesel engines that generate 8,000 horsepower, the ship boasts fully computerized, touch-screen controls as well as a 2,000-horsepower loading and unloading system.

The vessel also adheres to the strictest environmental standards, as the first ship on the Great Lakes with engines that meet EPA Tier 4 emissions standards, adopted in an effort to significantly reduce pollution.

Compared to the other 40-plus-year-old vessels on the lakes, the MWB is “like night and day,” said ship Captain Paul Berger.

“The other boats are analog,” said First Mate Alex Weber. “This is digital.”

In addition, the combination of the smaller size and the increased maneuverability of the MWB, due to a more flexible rudder system, opens up some ports and narrow waterways that older, larger, less-nimble ships haven’t been able to reach.

All of those factors demonstrate why the MWB “represents the future of Great Lakes shipping,” the ship’s namesake declared.

The shipping industry contributes about $35 billion annually to the region’s economy, and supports nearly 150,000 jobs in the Great Lakes area. With looming investments in infrastructure and strong Buy American laws in place, those numbers will only grow, Barker said.

Source of Pride

From the Cleveland-Cliffs workers in Minnesota’s iron range who mined the iron ore, to those at the Burns Harbor mill in Indiana who made the steel needed to build it, to the crewmembers from all across the country who help keep the Interlake fleet moving, all USW members should be proud of the MWB and of their roles in the region’s economy, Barker said.

“It’s amazing how many touch points the USW has had on this boat,” Barker said. “We are part of the fabric of the industrial aspect of this nation.”

The MWB not only represents the recent resurgence of American manufacturing, he said, but also of a return to waterway shipping, which is among the most efficient ways to move cargo.

Jones Act Benefits

One reason why the MWB was built in the United States, with USW-made materials, is because of a 102-year-old piece of federal legislation known as the Jones Act. Part of the Merchant Marine Act, the law stipulates that any ship transporting goods between U.S. ports must be U.S.-flagged and U.S.-built, with a strong preference for American workers as crew members.

That’s just fine with Barker, who said he is proud of his family-owned company’s role in providing good jobs for U.S. workers.

“We saw so much offshoring in the 1980s,” Barker said. “It was a shame, but now we’re starting to see the onshoring again.”

That means good jobs for USW members and other workers across all industries, Barker said, and because ships that sail on freshwater lakes can last longer than ocean liners, the outlook for the Great Lakes shipping industry, and those that it supports, is strong.

“We are looking long-term,” Barker said. “There is a need for U.S. shipping on the lakes, and we stand ready to meet those needs.”

February Update from SOAR President Bill Pienta

Mon, 02/06/2023 - 09:05

As we enter 2023, I wish everyone a Happy New Year. This year begins with daily news articles concerning a recession resulting from a slowing economy and high prices, all of which I believe to be true. But other less-reported stories cause me to wonder what is really going on. Let me list a few examples:

The net profit for the ten major carmakers went from $14 billion in 2020 to $54 billion in 2021. If all the stories of increased prices for parts and increased interest rates were accurate, how did the car companies increase their profit by almost 400% from the previous year?

The five major oil companies made a profit averaging $45.2 billion each for 2022. That is more than double the profit reported the prior year – so much for government policies driving up gasoline prices.

I have read many stories about the decline in disposable income due to high prices. Well, I know one place where a lot of income went. New York State filed a report on the results of the operations for the first year online sports betting was allowed in New York. The Betting Handle for NY state sports betting was $16.2 billion, and the tax revenue was almost $700 million. So, I guess some New Yorkers had some disposable income. And, if you like football, Ticketmaster is presently selling Superbowl tickets for $4,500 each. I wonder if anyone will attend the game this year?

Finally, wages have certainly kept up with prices for some workers. The cut-off for contribution to the Social Security fund is now $160,200 for 2023. That is a lot of money for most people but not all. There are nearly 10 million people who received a salary above that amount last year. The average bonus paid to the workers on Wall Street exceeded $257,000 in 2021, which does not include their base salary. For most, there were no deductions for Social Security from those amounts.

So, we can all see a pattern here, and it is NOT a slowing economy, but more of capitalism and price-gauging at its finest!

February Update from SOAR Director Julie Stein

Mon, 02/06/2023 - 09:00
Steelworkers' Continued Activism Helps Secure Pro-Worker Majority in U.S. Senate

Happy New Year! I hope you had a safe and fulfilling holiday season. 

As we prepare to fight the good fight to protect retirees’ and workers’ rights in 2023, I want you to keep one thing in mind:  Good things don’t usually just happen.  We have to be involved and push for the changes we want to see made. 

That’s why I’m so incredibly proud that Steelworkers, including SOAR members and retirees, worked so hard last year to ensure pro-retiree, pro-worker lawmakers were elected in local, state and federal government. 

We should all be celebrating that our hard work paid off because the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections turned out much better for retirees and workers than many had expected they would. 

Very Slim Majorities in U.S. Senate, House After 2022 Midterm Elections

With the victory of Reverend Raphael Warnock in the closely-watched December 6 runoff election, a narrow 51-49 pro-worker majority has been secured in the U.S. Senate. 

While we lost our worker-friendly majority in the House of Representatives, the outcome was much better than many projected it would be before Election Day. Once the new Congress was installed in early 2023, the margin stands currently at 213-222.

It should be noted that over the past century, only three presidents — FDR in 1934, John F. Kennedy in 1962 and George W. Bush in 2002 — finished a midterm cycle with fewer than 10 House losses and zero Senate losses. President Biden will be added to that historical statistic. He has had the most successful midterm cycle of any president in generations. 

Gubernatorial Elections Were Crucial, as Predicted

Last year, voters in 36 states had before them the important task of electing their most powerful state-level leader – their governor. 

The impact of these elections cannot be overstated because nearly 80 percent of America’s total population resides in these 36 states. 

In 16 of those contests, we were fighting to defend a pro-worker, pro-retiree incumbent governor or ensure their seat was not lost to a corporate-backed opponent.

In 15 of those contests, the labor-backed candidate prevailed. Nevada was the only state where we were unsuccessful in protecting an incumbent governor who was our ally, Steve Sisolak.

Further, we held on to key seats in Pennsylvania (Josh Shapiro), Michigan (Gretchen Whitmer) and Wisconsin (Tony Evers).

The remaining 20 states holding gubernatorial elections in 2022 presented a different set of challenges for the labor movement. In these states, we either had to defeat an incumbent governor closely aligned with corporate backers or flip a seat previously held by an anti-worker governor who was not running for reelection because of term limits or other reasons. 

On Election Day, we were successful in three such situations, with labor-backed candidates prevailing in Arizona (Katie Hobbs), Maryland (Wes Moore) and Massachusetts (Maura Healey).

When this new class of governors took office in January, voters in 24 states now have a pro-worker governor.

Notable Shifts in State Legislatures

Labor’s efforts helped to flip the balance of power in four states, securing pro-worker majorities in Michigan’s state House and state Senate for the first time in nearly 40 years, Minnesota’s state House, and Pennsylvania’s state House.

Notably, Pennsylvania and Virginia, which will hold state legislative elections in 2023, will be the only states with split legislatures this year, which means the two state legislative chambers will be controlled by opposite political parties. Other than in 2020 when only Minnesota was split, the last time it was this low was in 1914. 

More Americans Will Have Labor-friendly State-level Governance in 2023

The outcome of 2022’s gubernatorial and state legislative elections will mean that pro-retiree, pro-worker lawmakers are in better shape in state government than at any point since 2010.

In fact, because of how population is distributed across the states, more than 140 million Americans – about 42 percent – reside in states that will be represented by pro-labor trifectas, compared to just 131 million Americans, or 39 percent, who live in states that more business-friendly lawmakers will represent.

BASF Council members tackle chemical sector health and safety in Louisiana

Wed, 02/01/2023 - 06:04

Members of the USW BASF Council used their first in-person gathering since the COVID-19 pandemic—held Jan. 24-25 in Gonzales, La.—to build collective strength and learn from each other’s experiences in the diverse chemical sector.

The meeting, hosted by Local 620, was coordinated by District 13 Director Larry Burchfield, who led the group through two days of fruitful discussions on health and safety, staffing, fatigue, and organizing.

“I look forward to working with this council and working through our common issues to tackle this company collectively,” Burchfield told the group on Jan. 24.

BASF is a European multinational chemical company and the world’s largest chemical producer. The BASF group operates in more than 80 countries and owns multiple sites across the United States where USW members work, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

The first topic the council discussed was the macroeconomic environment of the chemical sector as the war in Ukraine and inflation led to higher energy costs across Europe, revealing the interconnectedness of the global industry.

Promoting training

Mike Duffy of the USW Health, Safety and Environment Department also talked with the council on the first day about occupational fatalities and injuries. Mobile equipment accidents remain the primary cause of injuries across industries, shedding light on the necessity for modernized equipment and constant vigilance.

Members engaged in a lively discussion about the urgent need for better training to prevent injuries and fatalities, as well as bridging the generational gap as younger workers enter the field.

“We’ve got a lot of new workers and there isn’t proper training for them,” said Unit President Winston Waite of Local 9-562 in McIntosh, Ala. “They’re just thrown to the wolves. I’ve spoken up about that in our workplace because there’s a lot of ‘green-on-green.’”

USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn, who attended the BASF Council meeting, also touched on the need for a sharper focus on health and safety via contract language and joint union-management Health, Safety and Environment committees.

“We need to take action,” said Shinn. “We know how devastating an accident can be in a chemical facility.”

Model language

Shinn informed the group that the International union plans to roll out model safety and health language to make sure every local union in the sector—which include more than 350 units—puts this issue on the table with their employers.

On the second day of the meeting, the council was able to review the proposed language and give feedback on the best way to implement it across sites with the aid of USW staff representatives. Members of other councils and chemical sector sites will also have the chance to make suggestions and express concerns about this model language in future meetings.

Kelvin Bouie, who serves as president of Local 170-01 in Attapulgus, Ga., said that in order for workers to be truly safe, all parties have to be on the same page. This is particularly relevant when it comes to Stop Work Authority (SWA), workers’ right to stop unsafe work and processes until the potential hazard is thoroughly investigated and abated.

“Everyone has to know exactly what they need to do,” said Bouie. “The education part is going to be very important.”

Shinn acknowledged that changing the already established health and safety culture in many workplaces will not be easy but that it’s vital for the union to work together.

“This is sending a message to the sector and to our employers that we’re serious about safety and health,” Shinn said. “We have a responsibility to our members to make sure that they get home safely.”

Director Burchfield returned to the importance of workers tapping into their strength as activists to create sustainable positive change as the industry and economy evolve.

“Our power in bargaining has always been in the mobilization of our members,” Burchfield said. “We need to make a commitment and follow that commitment. That’s how we’ll get to where we need to be in this sector.”

Activists organize for the future, honor Dr. King’s legacy in Washington

Tue, 01/31/2023 - 07:15

Labor and civil rights activists from across the United States strategized about the continued fight for economic and racial justice at the annual AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Conference on Jan. 13-6 in Washington, D.C.

The conference theme focused around “Claiming Our Power, Protecting Our Democracy,” reflecting the country’s current crises of extremist politicians, far-right judges and corrupt corporate interests. Participants also spent time in the community, volunteering with nonprofit organizations as well as lending a hand at Eliot-Hine Middle School.

Noted speakers included AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, and A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) President Clayola Brown, as well as new worker-activists from Amazon and Starbucks.

USW Local 7600 Vice President Norberto Gomez was part of a large delegation of USW members who attended the conference and said every workshop and panel discussion was motivating and inspiring, but that his favorite experience was marching in the 42nd Annual MLK Peace Walk and Parade on Mon., Jan. 16.

“Being out on the street, in Washington, D.C., chanting and hearing the community cheer for the union was the biggest boost of all,” he said.

Gomez, who helps lead Local 7600 in Southern California – which includes more than 7,000 health care workers – also believes labor activists must incorporate honest and open conversations about civil rights on a regular basis.

“The intersectionality of civil rights and labor rights are so important, not only to the community in which we live, but to the union worker,” he said. “In order for the union to be fully encompassing of its members' lives, it must fight for those issues that affect people inside and outside of the workplace.”

USW Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown also attended the conference that bridges the labor and social justice movements, a connection she said is unbreakable.

“Labor and civil and human rights are inextricably linked,” she said. “Both our fights and our foes are common. We are always stronger together.”

Watch a recap of the conference below.

President Conway Talks Trade on the Leslie Marshall Show

Tue, 01/24/2023 - 13:17

USW International President Tom Conway appeared on the Leslie Marshall Show to discuss the vital role U.S. trade policy play in protecting the nation’s strength and security.

Tariffs enacted through Section 232 of U.S. trade law, Conway said, continue to provide needed relief for domestic steel and aluminum, industries that are both essential to maintaining military operations and critical infrastructure.

Since the measures were put into place, the domestic steel industry has seen the creation of thousands of new jobs and important capital investments to keep America’s steel manufacturing the cleanest in the world.

“What you make is really the backbone of what you are,” said Conway. “And what made America a powerhouse was our ability to do that, and our ability to stand up in industry when we needed to.”

Marshall and Conway also discussed the importance of securing clean energy supply chains as well as building out domestic industry in such a way that the jobs of the future remain good, union jobs.

Even though the U.S. manufacturers face competition from companies in places like China and the E.U., the growing need for minerals like copper, lithium and nickel as well as for products like solar cells and wind turbines present opportunities if the nation acts deliberately.

“This is a long-term project that we’re on, and this is a fundamental change in the way we think about things,” Conway said.

“We can make things pretty competitively in this country, and that makes the country thrive.”

To listen to the entire interview below.

USW New Media · National Security Requires Sound Trade Policy

Workers’ Newest Allies in State and Federal Gov’t (Part 1)

Fri, 01/20/2023 - 12:06

In the coming months, we will be highlighting the newly-elected, pro-worker lawmakers for whom Steelworkers campaigned during the crucial 2022 midterm elections.

The lawmakers we will be highlighting received our union’s backing after a rigorous, internally developed selection process. Candidates’ beliefs must align closely with our core issues, including collective bargaining, health care, infrastructure, workplace health and safety, trade, and retirement security.  

In order to make this assessment, we look at candidates’ backgrounds and voting records, and we often meet with them. For federal candidates, we also require their response to a lengthy questionnaire developed by the union.

We’ve said it before: if a candidate is anti-union, regardless of party affiliation, they won’t get our support. It’s that simple.

Newly-Elected, Pro-worker Rep. Nikki Budzinski (IL-CD 13)

Last year, our union was proud to endorse Nikki Budzinski in Illinois’ newly-formed 13th Congressional District. Growing up in Peoria, Ill., Budzinski’s parents instilled in her a commitment to community and public service. Her grandfather, a union painter, and grandmother, a public school teacher, helped her understand the important role of unions in building a strong middle class.

After graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Budzinski worked for the International Association of Fire Fighters and the United Food and Commercial Workers, advocating for improvements in pay and benefits, equipment, training, safety and health, and more.

She later served as a senior advisor to Governor JB Pritzker where she helped lead the charge to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Most recently, Budzinski served as Chief of Staff in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget at the White House. The office oversees the implementation of the American Rescue Plan and helped launch President Biden’s historic Made in America Office that seeks to ensure taxpayer dollars support the growth of American companies creating jobs here at home.

Budzinski’s top priorities in Congress include:

  • expanding access to affordable health care and prescription drugs;
  • strengthening workers’ rights and expanding unions;
  • fighting for a tax code that puts poor and working families first; and,
  • ensuring world-class health care, rehabilitation and job-training services for veterans.

Chris Frydenger of USW Local 7-838 and Aaron Sutter of USW Local 4294 led our efforts to help secure a victory for Budzinski last year.

When Budzinski was sworn in during the first week of January 2023, we asked Frydenger and Sutter to reflect upon their experiences over the course of the campaign, and why they believe victories by labor-friendly lawmakers like Budzinski matter so much to Steelworkers.

“I think it is important to elect lawmakers that support workers because all it takes is one bad piece of legislation to greatly reduce our rights as workers,” said Frydenger. “As far as the work we did for Nikki, it was very easy to get motivated and stay motivated because I know that she values the same things that the labor movement values.”

Sutter added, “It’s crucial to support politicians that will serve the working class and fight for legislation that puts our rights as workers before the corporate greed that runs this country. It was great working with Nikki knowing that she supports our right to collectively bargain. The fact that she comes from a union background herself made it easy to explain to fellow Steelworkers why she was our best choice for Congress.”


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