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Updated: 44 min 16 sec ago

Local 13-12 Keeps Hand Sanitizer Flowing to Health Care Workers, First Responders

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 12:55

When hand sanitizer became scarce at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, it did not take long for Local 13-12 members and other non-represented employees at the chemical plant to realize the great opportunity they had to assist health care workers and first-responders combat COVID-19.

ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge Chemical Plant in Louisiana is the only producer of isopropyl alcohol (IPA) in the U.S. and the largest manufacturer in the world of this key ingredient in hand sanitizers and disinfectants.

“We were concerned that we were going to run out of hand sanitizer because there were none on the shelves,” said Buford “Bobby” Mitchell, a 14-year chemical operator and member of Local 13-12, who works at the IPA unit.

“We have the stuff here, so why don’t we make it?”

Management thought it was a good idea, so employees formed a team to bring the idea into fruition. Piping modifications had to be made.

“We had to bring up another section of the IPA unit that had not run for nine years,” Mitchell said.

Feedstock to make IPA comes from ExxonMobil’s refineries. The company buys other ingredients to mix with the IPA and form medical-grade hand sanitizer.

“Every batch is analyzed by our lab to U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) specifications,” Mitchell said.

The FDA set up guidelines for non-traditional manufacturers to make hand sanitizers. ExxonMobil also had to work with the state of Louisiana and the department of health before production began because hand sanitizer is a registered drug.

Packaging challenge

Packaging the hand sanitizer also involved creative thinking and teamwork. Normally, Local 13-12 members blend and package Mobil-branded lubricants at the Port Allen Lubricants Plant, located across the Mississippi River from ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery and chemical plant complex.

Employees had to adjust the bottling process, including the design of a semi-automated machine to fill six quart-sized bottles of hand sanitizer at a time.

Within a couple of weeks, Local 13-12 members were producing medical-grade hand sanitizer to donate to health professionals, first responders, charities and the military.

Such a task normally is accomplished over months, said J. Dow, who leads the polymers process department at the chemical plant, to local media.

“It was a huge feat. All of us worked together and it went off without a hitch,” Mitchell said. “It makes you proud as a USW-represent employee. I was proud as a peacock.”

First batch donated

Workers produced the first batch of 160,000 gallons of medical-grade hand sanitizer—enough to fill almost 5 million 4-ounce bottles—for health care workers and first responders in Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Mitchell’s wife, Kim, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at Baton Rouge General Hospital, and her coworkers were among the first recipients of this first batch, and its arrival ended their hand sanitizer shortage.

“Before COVID-19, the hospital had two ICUs. During the pandemic, the hospital ran six ICUs: three for coronavirus and three for non-coronavirus patients. The supply of hand sanitizer was in great demand, and we were short of it,” Kim said.

She said all the mounted hand sanitizer canisters were empty and refills were not arriving. To make do, she and her coworkers had to use squish bottles of sanitizer.

“With ExxonMobil providing our hospital with a large amount of hand sanitizer, we all have ready access to it,” she said.

Production ramped up

Exxon increased its IPA production by 3,000 tons per month in April, which equals about 50 million four-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer.

Now, employees can fill up a limited number of empty bottles with the hand sanitizer they produce at no charge.  Each Baton Rouge facility has several stations that have sanitizer in tote containers.

ExxonMobil contributes to the fight against COVID-19 in other ways as well. The company increased its manufacturing capacity to produce specialized polypropylene, which is used in medical masks and gowns. It ramped up production to make up to 200 million medical masks or 20 million gowns.

The company also technically collaborates with the Global Center for Medical Innovation to rapidly redesign and manufacture reusable personal protective equipment, such as medical face shields and masks.

USW families among those awarded $300,000 in Union Plus scholarships

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 18:39
We're so proud of the USW families who won this year's scholarships from Union Plus, which awarded $300,000 to 215 students representing 43 unions.   This year’s group of scholarship recipients includes university, college, and trade or technical school students from 38 states. The USW winners are:
  • Cassidy Black of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Black, whose father, Gary Black, is a member of USW Local 2635-09, has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship.
  • Mikayla Lipscomb of Seale, Alabama. Lipscomb, whose father, Darwin Lipscomb, is a member of USW Local 98M, has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship.
  • Zachary Powell of Finleyville, Pennsylvania. Powell, whose father, Albert Powell, is a member of USW Local 14693, has been awarded a $1,500 scholarship. 
“Union Plus is proud to be able to increase our scholarship award amount this year and help more union families than ever before,” Union Plus President Mitch Stevens said. “At a time when many families have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are especially glad to support this year’s group of 215 hardworking students as they further their educations and pave the path for future success.”   Meet Some of the 2020 USW Honorees   Mikayla Lipscomb, Russell County High School (RCHS), Seale, Alabama (2020)   Mikayla will attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as a psychology major. She feels a great sense of compassion and concern for those in need of mental health support and hopes to become a board-certified psychiatrist. Mikayla completed several AP and dual-enrollment courses in high school to expedite her undergraduate timeline. Russell County Board of Education Superintendent Brenda Corley, Ed.D., said Mikayla is a model student who is ambitious, highly competent, and hardworking. “As early as her primary school years, Mikayla’s enthusiasm, creativity, and leadership skills set her apart from her peers,” Corley said. “I have witnessed her ability to work diligently with her peers, teachers, and within the community.  I have great respect for her as an individual and as a valuable citizen to our society.”   Activities, honors and employment: National Honor Society; GearUP Alabama/University of Montevallo Discovery Leadership Program; RCHS A/B Honor Roll; RCHS marching, concert bands; UAB Academic Achievement Scholarship; United Way Youth Council Community Service Award; The Citizen of East Alabama Young Citizen Award   Volunteerism: United Way Youth Council (Feeding the Valley food bank, Safe House, Girls Inc., Easter Seals, Columbus Hospice, Christmas toy drive); Body of Christ International Church’s Flint, Michigan Clean Water Project     Zachary Powell, Ringgold High School (RHS), Monongahela, Pennsylvania (2020)   Zach plans to attend a trade or technical school as an aviation maintenance and electronics major. He hopes to earn a pilot’s license while pursuing his degree and working in the field, a choice that he believes will give him occupational flexibility. RHS English Department Head Rhonda Baertsch, who worked with Zach on the yearbook, said, “Zach has a unique way of inspiring others to rise to his level of ambition and generosity. If something doesn’t turn out the way he wanted it, he takes it in stride and learns from the experience.”   Zach said his father’s USW membership has been a blessing to their family. “USW has provided him with a competitive wage, good health insurance, steady work, seniority rights, and—most of all—a safe environment,” Zach said. “The machines used in his line of work can be very dangerous. My dad has been a part of the safety team for many years since the company really listens to input from union employees.”   Activities and honors: RHS marching band; RHS yearbook staff; RHS varsity cross country, tennis, track and field; RHS Outdoor Adventure Club; Eagle Scout; Boy Scouts of America Florida Sea Base   Learn More About the Union Plus Scholarship Program   The Union Plus Scholarship Program, now in its 29th year, awards scholarships based on outstanding academic achievement, personal character, financial need, and commitment to the values of organized labor. The program is offered through the Union Plus Education Foundation.   Since starting the program in 1991, Union Plus has awarded more than $4.8 million in educational funding to more than 3,200 union members, spouses, and dependent children. Union Plus Scholarship awards are granted to students attending a two-year college, four-year college, graduate school, or recognized technical or trade school. The selection process is very competitive, and this year over 6,300 applications were received from 68 unions and all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, two U.S. territories, and six Canadian provinces.   Visit for applications and benefit eligibility.   About Union Plus Union Plus, founded by the AFL-CIO in 1986, uses the collective buying power of America’s 12.5 million union members to deliver top-quality benefits and services at competitive prices to working families. In addition to the scholarship program, Union Plus offers the Free College program, which makes it possible for union members and their families to earn an associate degree completely online at no cost. As a complement to the Free College program, Union Plus offers the new Bachelor’s Degree Completion program, providing union members and their families a low-cost option to complete their bachelor’s degree completely online. Union Plus also provides a wide range of money-saving programs, including discounts on wireless services from AT&T, the only nationwide unionized wireless carrier; insurance protection; savings on travel and recreation; and more. For additional information, visit      

Local 9460 pickets Essentia Health layoffs in Minnesota

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 12:31

Members of Local 9460 took to the streets of Duluth, Minn., last Monday for a car caravan to picket Essentia Health’s decision to lay off 900 workers during a pandemic.

The large health care system of the Iron Range, that received $42 million in recent CARES Act funds, cited canceled elective surgeries as the reason behind the decision, but Local 9460 President Deanna Hughes said this move is short-sighted and wrong.

"As we all know the surge hasn't hit yet for the COVID virus and when it does Essentia is going to need our members," said Hughes.

The caravan started at Miller Hill mall and made its way to the Essentia Health St. Mary's building on third street. Supporters who drove by “honked for health care” while those watching from the sidewalk cheered and flashed signs.

Will you join us for a moral march on Washington?

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 11:43

COVID-19 has forced the nation into an unprecedented emergency. The current emergency, however, results from a deeper and much longer-term crisis — that of poverty and inequality, and of a society that has long ignored the needs of 140 million people who are poor or one emergency away from being poor.

In 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many others called for a “revolution of values” in America and sought to build a broad movement that could unite poor and dispossessed communities across the country.

Today, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has picked up this work.

People across the nation have joined under the banner of the Campaign to confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, climate change and ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.

They are coming together to demand that the 140 million poor and low-income people in our nation — from every race, creed, gender, sexuality and place — are no longer ignored, dismissed or pushed to the margins of our political and social agenda.

That’s why the United Steelworkers is proud to join the Poor People’s Campaign as a mobilizing partner for the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington Digital Justice Gathering, on June 20, 2020. 

Register today for June 20, 2020 digital gathering.

The Poor People's Assembly and Moral March on Washington will be an historic, generationally transformative digital event. Across the internet and the airwaves we will drive the vision and agenda of our communities into the heart of the national narrative.

In this unprecedented moment, we must tell the truth about the dire failures of our political leaders. We must also demonstrate that it is the leadership emerging from poor and dispossessed people that is paving a different way forward.

History teaches us that it is exactly in moments like these that a movement of the many is necessary to force the nation into action.

In the midst of pandemic, economic collapse, climate change, and more, the key to real and lasting change lies within our communities — within our ability to come together in new and bold ways. 

Join with us by registering for the June 20, 2020 digital gathering.

On June 20, we cry power to the nation!

June Update from SOAR Director Julie Stein

Tue, 06/02/2020 - 08:48
Voting During COVID-19

Casting your ballot in-person on Election Day might be how you’ve always voted.  However, we’ve also never seen a global health pandemic like the coronavirus, which could in all likelihood be a real obstacle to in-person voting come the November election.  Luckily, that does not mean you should expect any difficulty in voting. 

Did you know that in 36 states you don’t even have to turn out to the polls on Election Day to cast your ballot?  Instead, a growing number of states are going to great lengths to protect voters, expand access, and ensure everyone can vote regardless of who you are or what your barriers to in-person voting are. 

Making voting easier for everyone isn’t a partisan issue.  Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been elected in states that allow for no-excuse/absentee mail balloting.

If anyone wants to make the false claim that “convenience voting” favors a particular political party, then they aren’t being honest.  “Convenience voting” favors voters.  Period. 

It can be confusing to think about all the different ways Americans vote.  But, finding out how you can vote most easily isn’t difficult at all! 

In fact, the USW has developed an easy online tool for our members and families to find out more information about voting in your state.  You can link to this tool and search for your state by going to

If you have any difficulty using the above link for any reason, you can call the Int’l SOAR Office toll-free at 866-208-4420, and we would be happy to assist you.

Tom Conway discusses infrastructure, manufacturing and American security on the Leslie Marshall Show

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 11:38

USW president Tom Conway appeared on the Leslie Marshall Show last week to discuss the need to invest in U.S. manufacturing and infrastructure to improve American security.

Covid-19 spotlighted the danger of the country’s overseas dependence, but the failure of the United States to produce enough supplies to fight the virus is just one manifestation of a larger problem.

 “The failure to invest in domestically-produced infrastructure exists throughout the entire supply chain,” said Conway.

Decades of failed trade policies incentivized cheap, offshore production, which cut family-sustaining manufacturing jobs and undermined the ability of the U.S. to provide for itself.

“America’s not going to find itself out of this deep economic crisis we’re in now if we don’t begin to make things here, on our own,” said Conway.

Conway also discussed the need to invest in the country’s essential workers – many of whom have risky jobs but are not making fair, livable wages.

“We’re calling all these people essential workers, and we’re paying them nine dollars an hour,” said Conway. “It really comes to a point where you can’t have a country that keeps chasing itself to the bottom.”

Conway expressed hope in the younger generation, who are leading the fight by demanding social and economic change.

“I think that we’re going to see a change in the way young people think about doing things collectively and organizing collectively,” said Conway. “We can overcome the corruption, but together we have to work with our boots on the ground to take back our democracy.” 

For the entire interview with Conway about manufacturing, infrastructure and national security, click below:

USW New Media · 5 29 20 Manufacturing Infrastructure And American Security

June Update from SOAR President Bill Pienta

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 11:24
Our Top Two Issues of Concern

Many of you recently attended a USW sponsored town hall meeting to discuss issues that are important to active and retired members regarding endorsement of a candidate in the upcoming election. Also, SOAR and active members filled out a survey to identify their main concerns.  

It should come as no surprise that a significant number of active and retired members agreed on what the two most important issues were to them. On many occasions I have stated SOAR and the active members of our union share many concerns because they impact all of us during and after our employment with the company end. These results support that position.

The USW has published the results of the top concerns of our members who attended the town hall meetings or filled out the survey.  The top concern of those who expressed concern was Affordable Health Care/Prescription Drugs. This issue was identified as the top issue by 87 percent, followed by Retirement Security with 86 percent.

The results of this survey not only help the USW in the selection of candidates to support, but it also shows the close connection between active and retired members in our Union.

Just because we have left our employer, there is no reason to leave our Union and no reason for our Union to leave us. While the International fully supports SOAR, many locals do not. They view SOAR simply as a retiree club and see no connection between the groups.

We need to stay involved if we expect to have any impact on our level of retirement and we need to form more active and involved SOAR chapters in our union.

Stay safe, healthy and active.

USW activists mobilize around long-term care workers, residents in Canada

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 11:02

More than 1,300 residents of long-term care and retirements homes in Ontario died since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and thousands more have been infected with the virus. Several workers also died as a result of workplace exposure to the disease.

The problem has gotten so bad that the Canadian military has been deployed to the country’s capital of Ottawa to help keep order at long-term facilities, which have been ravaged by the virus.

A May 14 report based on the observations of Canadian Armed Forces personnel who Premier Doug Ford deployed to five hard-hit centers in late April to help provide medical care during the pandemic, also details insufficient staff training and inadequate protocols to stop the spread of the virus, poor sanitation, resident neglect, worker burnout, and more.

Workers, including USW members in District 6, have been sounding the alarm for many year, before the pandemic began, about these conditions of long-term facilities and the lack of resources available to caregivers. District 6 Area Coordinator Richard Leblanc said that despite the many challenges presented to health care workers as a result of this virus, he hopes the moment is not wasted and action is taken to right the many wrongs being revealed as the pandemic unfolds.

“The public is now listening and on our side,” said Leblanc. “Many will be paying attention to what the government will do to ensure workers have the working conditions they deserve and that the residents are given the care they need to be treated in respect and dignity.”

Leblanc and his fellow members of the D6 Health Care Council organized a letter-writing campaign around this issue, urging people to demand a public inquiry by Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, into these conditions.

Last Wednesday, May 27, Ford announced the province would be taking over several of Ontario’s worst-hit long-term care homes, including four of the facilities listed in the military report.

On the other side of Canada, members of USW Local 1-207 also took part in a separate letter campaign in support of care workers in Alberta.

The provincial government announced, on May 20, a $2.00 per hour increase for health care aides (HCAs), that excluded many other workers, like vital licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and general support workers.

Local 1-207 President Ray White and his fellow members have organized a coordinated response to this senseless decision. Dozens have sent letters to the local Minister of Health, urging the government to ensure the value of their efforts is accounted for as they risk their lives for their patients.

“It is our view that all workers in long-term care or any of our other care facilities should all get this increase,” said White.

United Steelworkers on solidarity and justice for Black Lives

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 09:17

United Steelworkers (USW) Vice President Fred Redmond and the USW Civil and Human Rights Department released the following statement on behalf of the union in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota:

Our union, the United Steelworkers, is great because of our solidarity, our respect for each other, and our unyielding commitment to justice, fairness and equality. The labor movement gains its strength from our common belief that all people are inherently valuable and have an undeniable right to a fair, just and dignified life, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

Many of us, as a result, were not only appalled but distraught to witness the killing of a Black man in Minnesota, George Floyd, at the hands of Minnesota police officers while lying on the ground handcuffed. One of the officers kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck as he begged for his life with those now familiar words, “I can’t breathe.” 

We are a better nation than this.  

At a time when the world is struggling through a global pandemic that is exposing vast disparities in health, well-being and economic security, the murder of George Floyd, which was preceded by the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, further illustrates the devastating impact racism and violence have on Black People in America in 2020.

Many of us are saddened, but too many of our African-American members are worried that they can be stopped on the way home from work or a union meeting and suffer the same fate as George Floyd.

At moments like these, we in the labor movement cannot be silent and must express our collective outrage over these brutal murders.

We call upon the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI to ensure constitutional enforcement of the law by state and local law enforcement agencies, by investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of crimes such as this.

We cannot fight the racism, hate and impunity that threaten the lives of Black people and other people of color unless the Justice Department takes the necessary actions to ensure full and real accountability. 

Health care local to mobilize around layoffs at Essentia

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 13:49

Local 9460 in Minnesota is planning to rally around their fellow workers at Essentia Health as the major health care system announced 900 permanent layoffs, including hundreds of USW members, amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

These cuts, which make up 6 percent of the company’s workforce, are in addition to the 850 employees who have been placed on administrative leave across several locations and are expected to remain so until at least July 31. Meanwhile, Essentia received $42 million in CARES Act stimulus funding and around $3.1 million in grant funding.

The local plans to organize several actions, including a drive-by picketing on June 1. Stay tuned for more information on the upcoming Local 9460 events in support of the essential workers at Essentia.

Members on the Iron Range Raise Spirits with Facebook Group

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 12:54

If you’re from Minnesota, you may have already heard about Lockdown Lounge, a Facebook group started by USW member on the Iron Range Michael “A.J.” Grove of Local Union 6115 and his friend. 

The Lockdown Lounge Open Mic group is for live music lovers, musicians and listeners, who want to continue connecting through live music while in lockdown for the Coronavirus Pandemic. Not too long after the group’s conception at the end of March, fellow USW Local 6115 member Ray Pierce Jr. joined as an administrator and contributor.

Members of the group can post videos of themselves singing and playing instruments at any time, but on Friday nights there’s a line-up of live performers, and there’s only one rule for the group: keep it positive.

Right now, Lockdown Lounge has 14,800 members from multiple states and countries, some who just came to listen and others who are regular contributors, posting videos done in their basements, kitchens, and living rooms while stuck at home. 

Contributions have to be done in open-mic style and comments can’t be mean, keeping with the mission of the group: using live music to help each other get through a hard time.

"Even if you don't think you can sing very well or if you don't think you can play the guitar very well. Put it out there and take a chance," says Pierce Jr.

Both Grove and Pierce Jr. were happily surprised by how many people wanted to join the Lounge, which even caught the attention of local news channels (WDAY, KBJR, and Hibbing Free Press Tribune) that shared its story of rising popularity.

“In a time that we can’t all physically be together, I’ve never felt more close to 10,000 people in my life,” Grove said.

If you want to experience Lockdown Lounge for yourself, click here and ask to join.

Click below for one of Pierce Jr.’s performances (with his brother Ryan Pierce of USW Local 1938):

Message from President Conway: Happy birthday to our great union!

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 10:00
Seventy-eight years ago today union activists came together in Cleveland and formed the United Steelworkers of America. 

   Over the years, we’ve grown and joined with other important unions, merged our traditions, fought many battles with difficult employers, advanced and improved the lives of working people in both the United States and Canada and have so often been at the forefront of the fight for social justice and equality. 

   While there have been times over the past 78 years that we’ve been challenged and felt under siege, our union has never been broken. And because of our determination, solidarity and willful purpose, we never will be broken.  Our founding principles, adopted all those years ago, continue to guide us today.   Our work is crucial for keeping in check greedy employers seeking to put profits over people, and we are and always have been an important voice in the political and legislative processes of our nations.     Our great union has, as we all know, made each of our lives more meaningful. It has allowed each of us to live in dignity and to know with certainty that we will never have to stand alone against the troubles that too often hurt hard-working people. 

   We should all hold our heads up high today, knowing that each of us play a real and lasting role in keeping this great institution vibrant and relevant in today’s society. The work we do each day helps not only our fellow members but also others who need us. We have much to be thankful for, and we should all be proud to be a part of this noble union.    Hang in there, my friends. We’ll weather this crisis as well.      In Solidarity,

Tom Conway, USW International President

P.S. If you need support during this difficult time, be sure to visit our USW COVID-19 tool kit on our website for a ton of information and resources.

USW Votes: Info on Indiana Primary Election, Early Voting

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 10:42

In these challenging times, we are reminded of the importance of our union and the importance of having representatives in government who put working people like us first. 

Indiana's Frank Mrvan has been there for our membership in difficult times and he understands our issues. That’s why all of the USW local union presidents in the 1st Congressional District have endorsed him for Congress. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indiana primary election has been moved to Tuesday, June 2, 2020. We need to make sure every eligible voter submits a ballot and gets a chance to vote.

Volunteer to help Mrvan Win

Click here if you're interested in volunteering to help us help Frank Mrvan.

Information about early voting in Indiana: 

On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, Indiana local polling places will be open for you to cast your ballot from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. However, if you would like to vote early, you can vote absentee-in-person. Here is info from the Indiana state website

Voting early in-person is available from May 26, 2020 to June 1, 2020.  All registered Indiana voters are eligible to vote early in-person. Contact your County Clerk’s office to find locations and hours for early voting. Remember, a valid photo ID is required to vote early in-person. You can find examples of acceptable photo IDs here.

Information to vote by mail: DEADLINE TO REQUEST BALLOT MAY 21, 2020

We’ve tried to make this as easy as possible, so here are some options:

  1. In order to vote for Frank Mrvan for Congress, you need to request a Democratic Party ballot. Click here download a printable application and be sure to follow the instructions. Check Democratic Party in section 3. (
  2. Check your home mailbox, where we have mailed two absentee ballot applications and self-addressed envelopes for you and a relative
  3. If you have questions about the absentee ballot application, please contact Jerome Davidson, USW District 7 staff, (219) 617-5338 or

 Once the application is completed, it must be returned to your county election board by 11:59 p.m. on May 21, 2020.This application can be mailed, emailed, faxed or hand-delivered:

  • By Mail: Insert your completed application for absentee ballot by mail into the envelope provided; Be sure to place a first class stamp on the envelope.
  • By Email: Scan and save the completed application, then send to:
  • By Fax: Fax the application to (219) 755-3801

 After your application is processed, you will receive your primary election ballot by mail.

USW Members Persevere at Nuclear Fuel Services During Pandemic

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 07:42

Members of Local 9-677 at the Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) plant in Erwin, Tenn., are considered “essential workers” because they produce nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy and the country’s national defense program.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the local and the company have diligently followed the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for preventing exposure to Covid-19, said Local 9-677 chief steward Heath Shook.

Enhanced cleaning happens across the site, he said, as well as social distancing, hand washing and hand sanitizing. Plus, workers have available to them N95 respirators and surgical and cloth masks.

“Employees who experience Covid-19-like symptoms, have potentially been exposed, or are ill have been instructed to stay home,” NFS said in a statement to the media when the company reported it had confirmed cases of Covid-19 among its employees. None of those afflicted were bargaining unit workers, Shook said, and he added that the union and the company doubled-down on the Covid-19 exposure prevention measures.

MOU negotiated

Local 9-677 negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NFS to address pay and benefit issues for those who are quarantined.

Shook said that if a worker experiences Covid-19 symptoms, he or she is automatically quarantined with full pay for 10 work days, and after that date, the person goes on sick leave until recovery.

Likewise, if an employee’s family member has Covid-19 symptoms, the worker goes into quarantine and receives regular pay for 10 work days.

This MOU helped when a salaried person had Covid-19 and the 19 employees in that person’s department had to go into quarantine as well for 14 days. Shook said they all received their regular pay during quarantine.

Those at high risk of getting sick from exposure to Covid-19 because of immune disorders, diabetes, heart or lung problems can take an excused absence without pay, he said.

In all cases, he said employees retain their health insurance.

Shook said everyone is back at work now, and that NFS staggers the work shifts and daily reminds its employees of the need to engage in social distancing. He said the company also sent home the contractors, who were deemed non-essential workers.

“Hourly workers are deemed essential, and we would be the last ones to go home if the plant shut down,” Shook said, adding, “There is no talk of shutting it down.”

The quality work at NFS resulted in the BWX Technologies, Inc. subsidiary receiving $128 million in contract options from the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program at the end of March.

The site also produces low-enriched uranium that is necessary for creating tritium in civilian nuclear reactors for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapons program.

A nuclear trade publication reported that NFS may purify defense uranium for the weapons program around 2023. The NNSA is negotiating with the company to act as a backup for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in a few years.

Members pay it forward as workers battle Coronavirus

Mon, 05/18/2020 - 12:56

Steelworkers in all industries continue stepping up for health care workers by donating food, money, and critical safety supplies to those on the front lines.

When USW members at National Grid were locked out for six months in 2018, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) stood in solidarity with the Steelworkers. Now, the gas workers are giving back. Locals 12003 and 12012 dropped off a check last week for $10,500 to the MNA, the largest professional health care organization and the largest union of registered nurses in Massachusetts.

Nearby, in Connecticut, a unit of amalgamated USW Local 134L transformed a piece of their operations to mold face shields to aid local health care workers. Members volunteered their time to assemble them, with the finished face shields delivered free of charge to local health care workers, including a senior assisted living facility.

Find out how you can donate to front-line workers here.

Workflix and chill: join us for movies, talk and education

Fri, 05/15/2020 - 14:05

WorkFlix is an online conversation of the USW Education and Membership Development Department that brings USW activists, staff and leadership together in this time of crisis. We are sharing our favorite labour films and, through our Zoom meetings, reinforcing the universal issues that concern us all as workers and activists. Our first film, Mine 9, prompted two lively discussions last week with over 50 members and a Facebook Live event with the filmmakers.

Click here to download a printable flyer about the Workflix series. Click here and let us know if you have any issues accessing the films we're discussing.

Please join us for our future discussions: 

Tuesday, May 19th: Group Discussion Silkwood(Register for noon session) (Register for 8 PM session)

Diane Stein from the Tony Mazzocchi Center will lead our conversation about Karen Silkwood, the real life hero who fought for safe work conditions in her nuclear facility. This 1983 film stars Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and Cher. 

Tuesday, June 2nd at noon and at 8:00 PM, discussion on Spartacus (1960) 

Guillermo Perez will lead our conversation about Spartacus, the story of a slave turned gladiator who leads a slave revolt against the Roman Empire.  In the wake of the Red Scare of the 1950s, the film directly challenged the edict from the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (the MPA), that strongly advised against making movies that employed the “communistic tactics” of “smearing” the wealthy while glorifying the “common man” and “the collective.”  The film’s ending remains one of the most famous un-Hollywood Hollywood endings of all time. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglass, Laurence Oliver, Peter Ustinov. 

Tuesday, June 16th at noon and at 8:00 PM, Made in Dagenham (2010)

Joan Hill will lead our conversation about women who rally to fight for equal pay defying the corporate status quo. Set in a borough of London, the town’s main employer is the local Ford Motor Company plant.  187 women in the workforce sew seat covers.  This is a true story about the 1968 strike by the machinists leading to the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1970.  The women realize they are in a “man’s world” facing opposition by their own union. 

Tuesday, June 30th at noon and at 8:00 PM, Pride

Meredith Stepp will lead our conversation about this celebrated 2014 film written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus. Based on a true story, the film depicts a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners' strike in 1984, at the outset of what would become the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. The alliance was unlike any seen before.

USW Members Step Up To Produce Hand Sanitizer for Hospitals

Fri, 05/15/2020 - 09:09

Local 9-562-02 at the Huntsman chemical plant in McIntosh, Ala., worked with the company to provide much-needed hand sanitizer for health care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two bargaining unit members volunteered to produce the hand sanitizer in the company’s research and development department, while others picked up their job duties, said Local 9-562-02 Unit Chairman Butch Ettawil.

“Producing hand sanitizer is a small scale, hands-on operation that is separate from the production process,” he said.

The site produces resin and specialty polymers for military and aerospace applications, high-end cars, sporting goods and even items like windmill blades, Ettawil said.

After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued temporary guidelines that enabled Huntsman to produce the hand sanitizer, the company got LyondellBasell to donate FDA-approved isopropyl alcohol (IPA)—a main ingredient in hand sanitizer, the company stated in a press release. Another ingredient, FDA-approved deionized water, was purchased by Huntsman.

Ettawil said the two workers who volunteered to make the hand sanitizer had to be trained on handling FDA-approved IPA.

On April 6, Huntsman donated 700 pounds of hand sanitizer—a two-month supply—to the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and associated medical facilities at the University of Utah. The late Jon M. Huntsman, founder of Huntsman Corporation, established HCI at the university.

“We were happy to help out,” Ettawil said. “It is a proud feeling to be able to do something for people, especially when there is such need for it.”

He said there is talk about making another batch of hand sanitizer and that the site is waiting on raw materials. Other hospitals and organizations contacted Huntsman and requested donated hand sanitizer, he said.

Producing during a pandemic

“Everybody is still working,” Ettawil said. “Business is slower, but production is up and running.”

He said that Huntsman bought a 55-gallon drum of hand sanitizer for the employees.

“We’re practicing social distancing and limiting the number of people in the breakroom and control room,” he added. “Company meetings have been cancelled. Matters are discussed over the phone. The local is not having meetings.”

Ettawil said that as workers enter, a BASF emergency medical technician (EMT) asks a few questions, like whether the employee has been around someone who could have COVID-19 or if they traveled out of the country or flew anywhere. Then, the EMT takes people’s temperatures by pointing an infrared thermometer gun at them while they sit in their vehicle.

“If you have a high fever (above 100.5 temperature), you are sent out of the facility and have to see a doctor to be cleared to return to work,” Ettawil said. “People with allergies saw a doctor and got cleared to return to work.”

The USW negotiated these protections against COVID-19 with BASF in mid-March.

Tell Congress to Protect Our Pensions! The GROW Act must be removed from the next stimulus bill

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 11:53

The House will meet on Friday to vote on the next much needed stimulus bill, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.

This new legislation includes pieces we were fighting for, like a temporary OSHA emergency standard and help paying for COBRA coverage for those out of work. Under normal circumstances, we would be thrilled about this outcome and urge quick passage, but a poison pill has been slipped into the bill that we cannot support and must be removed – a composite pension plan called the GROW Act.

We Must Protect Our Pensions

For years, the USW has been fighting to secure the viability of multiemployer pensions. We fought hard to see the Butch Lewis Act pass through House last July, and have been disappointed that the Senate has yet to address it. We also know the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has only amplified the need to stabilize these pensions, and needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the GROW Act is not the solution.

Why the GROW Act Won’t Work

This proposal would allow well-funded multiemployer plans to adopt a “hybrid” pension plan, which cuts out employer withdrawal liability, eliminates the safety net of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and makes benefits unpredictable. Given that these plans will no longer have to contribute to the PBGC, it puts the system further in jeopardy. A composite plan does not contain any provisions to assist multiemployer plans in critical or critical and declining status.

We Need Quick Action! The GROW Act is the wrong solution for fixing our multiemployer pension problems. It hurts workers, retirees, employers, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). It should not become law. Tell your Representaive to remove the GROW Act before voting on the HEROES Act.

Our union has seen significant impacts in our industries and we know the HEROES Act is the right direction, but we can’t include provisions that would amplify the current multiemployer pension crisis. Please take action today!

Paducah, Portsmouth Nuclear Cleanup Sites to Emerge from COVD-19 Hibernation

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 11:13

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the Department of Energy’s former uranium enrichment sites at Paducah, Ky., and Portsmouth, Ohio for over a month, except for activities critical to the sites’ cleanup missions. Local 550 at Paducah and Local 1-689 at Portsmouth also stopped conducting business because of the virus.

Local 550 acted a full week before the Department of Energy (DOE) had its coronavirus protocol in place, said Jim Key, the local’s vice president and the president of USW’s Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC).

The local's officers announced the temporary end of all union and staff meetings and training classes. They also temporarily closed the Workers Health Protection Program and the union hall, and told members they would be available via email, text and cell phone. All face-to-face meetings with the site’s three contractors ended and were replaced with communication via email, teleconferencing or video conferencing.

Key contacted DOE’s Portsmouth/Paducah Project Office (PPPO) in Lexington, Ky., and told the officials that the Hanford site had already issued a COVID-19 protocol. The next day, the PPPO issued its own protocol for the Portsmouth and Paducah nuclear cleanup sites.

The PPPO COVID-19 protocol said that all non-essential personnel would stay home and telework if they were able to do so. Contractor employees deemed “essential” were defined as working in mission-critical functions, such as facility management, steam and water power monitoring, regulatory adherence, safety, industrial hygiene and radiological control.

Key said that about 125 USW-represented workers at the Paducah site were considered essential employees and continued to work their respective shifts. Ten to 15 USW-represented workers per shift maintained the site’s power and utilities (gas boilers, air and sanitary systems). Local 550 represented workers in the fire department also continued to report to work and maintain the required staffing levels for a site-wide response.

Non-essential personnel who could not telework received their regular 40 hours a week of pay, health insurance and other benefits.

Key said the local is in constant communication with the contractors and PPPO regarding the length of the shutdown. Plans for a return to work are being discussed so that everyone can safely get back to their jobs.

Portsmouth, Ohio, site

The cleanup of the former Portsmouth gaseous diffusion plant has also been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Local 1-689 President John Knauff said that 172 USW members remained working onsite.

They have been handling the complex’s water and sanitary systems, the steam plant, some 24/7 operations that cannot be shut down, the fire department and the pickup of trash. Radiological control technicians have been taking readings, while buyers have teleworked at home. Operators for the DUF6 project have been maintaining the equipment so the conversion of depleted uranium into fluorine and uranium oxide can begin when the site is reopened.

Knauff also said the 25 USW workers at the Centrus Energy Corp.’s domestic enrichment cascade at the Portsmouth complex have continued to work onsite to keep the operation secure and maintain the facility. Normally, these employees assemble centrifuges to produce high assay enriched uranium.

The site’s start-up depends on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s decisions on how to lift his stay-at-home order, Knauff said.  The local provided input on the site plan to return to work.

At least one person at the site tested positive for COVID-19.

“We know there are a lot more cases out there of people being infected with COVID-19,” Knauff said. “Going back to work is about the ability to test because you want to find those who are positive for the virus and isolate them.

“We draw employees from almost a 100-mile radius. There is a huge opportunity for the virus to spread,” he said.

Hanford Local Plays Major Role in Safeguarding Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic

Tue, 05/12/2020 - 11:39

Essential work hums along at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation since the Department of Energy (DOE) transitioned to a “mission-critical operations posture” on March 24.

But it took the actions of Local 12-369 leaders to get DOE and its contractors to respond effectively to the new health and safety challenges caused by the highly-contagious novel coronavirus.  Local 12-369 also fought to ensure workers got paid if they had to stay home due to illness, being a caretaker or having onsite work that was deemed non-essential.

Local 12-369 President Pete Gomez, who works for DOE contractor Washington River Protection Solutions LLC (WRPS), in mid-March asked his employer what COVID-19 health and safety guidelines it was following. There were guidelines employers could use in Washington State from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the White House, Benton-Franklin Health District and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.

“WRPS was cherry-picking which guidelines it followed,” Gomez said. “The contractors thought they were doing the right thing, but they weren’t.

“All we got was a Hanford app, which would tell us when a building was evacuated, cleaned, and the person tested. Five hours later we would be told it was okay to go back in. The contractors’ cleaning protocol was unknown to the union,” Gomez said.

He believed this approach to avoiding COVID-19 exposure was haphazard and making the workplace unsafe, so he and Brian Ivey, a Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council (HAMTC) safety representative and USW member, did a stop work order on March 17.

The order said that any work not associated with safety and environmental compliance or emergency response should be stopped immediately. It also ordered the DOE and its contractors to communicate with the site workforce what COVID-19 protocols should be followed concerning social distancing, workplace gatherings, and disinfecting methods for impacted buildings and equipment.

Gomez said WRPS stopped its work, and two hours later, Hanford contractors CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company (CHPRC) and Mission Support Alliance (MSA) followed with a complete shutdown. He said his manager contacted upper management to get a COVID-19 protocol.

Union input to protocol

During the week- and -a half WRPS, CHPRC and MSA employees were off work, WRPS contacted Gomez for his input and approval of a slideshow presentation it created to detail a COVID-19 protocol for employees. Gomez recommended a flow chart be included to show the process for reporting illness. He also demanded that the questionnaire for confirmed or presumptive COVID-19 personnel be included in the presentation.

CHPRC and MSA added information to the slideshow that pertained to their operations. The presentation was finalized the morning of March 24, and Brian Vance, manager of DOE’s Richland Operations/Office of River Protection, publicly announced the site’s move to “an essential mission-critical operation” by midnight March 24.

Essential personnel

Gomez said everyone remaining at Hanford was sent home March 23. About 85-90 percent of the site’s employees are telecommuting, but USW-represented workers have jobs that cannot be done outside of the Hanford reservation.

Many are considered essential personnel who are needed to keep the site safe and secure, and who do jobs like compliance readings.  These are radiological readings and samples required daily by the state ecology department and environmental protection agencies at the state and national levels.

Once the essential personnel saw the COVID-19 presentation, they returned to work. Gomez said none of his 500-some members are teleworking, and that about 125 of them are currently onsite.

He said that social distancing is not a problem for those currently working at Hanford because most of the work force has been sent home. A small number said they could be at high risk for COVID-19 infection, but they would have to follow the company’s new COVID-19 procedure to be sent home. 

Union pushes for pay

At first, workers sent home because of the temporary work stoppage continued to be paid under policies enacted when bad weather forces most employees to stay home.

Concerned that these workers might not receive pay if they had to stay home for a long time, Gomez and Local 12-369 President Bill Collins decided that the local needed to lobby the state’s elected officials to ensure worker compensation would be in the next COVID-19 relief bill. So, the local sent a letter to the Washington congressional delegation.

After receiving this letter, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., pushed to insert provisions into the “CARES Act” economic stimulus legislation so that Hanford employees would get paid even if they could not telework and were not assigned to jobs considered critical for safety at Hanford.

Return to work

Most Hanford workers remained at home as of May 8, but there are plans for a phased return to work. Gomez said that those who likely would return first would include USW workers who do jobs essential to meeting DOE milestones, such as, liquid tank retrieval processes.

The remaining workforce would likely return late May/early June, he said. This plan would depend on Governor Inslee’s guidelines to honor social distancing, presidential guidelines and placing workers on rotating shifts.


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