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USW Atomic Workers Fight in D.C. to Protect Paychecks, Jobs

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 11:35

USW members work tirelessly in Washington, D.C., because they know that their priorities like workplace health and safety, retirement security and even the right to organize all depend on having a voice in the nation’s capital.

For members in the atomic sector, there’s something even more basic on the line: their paychecks.

USW Atomic Energy Workers Council members lobby Congress on issues affecting their locals. Local 12-652 members from Idaho National Laboratory (L-R: Matt Chavez, president; Henry Littleford and Ryan Christiansen) talk to a staffer from Congressman Mike Simpson’s office. Photo: Mike Hancock, USW Local 9-562 retiree.

From the appropriations bill that sets the Department of Energy’s (DOE) budget, to the decisions the agency makes in how to spend that money, the union must fight to ensure members in the atomic sector are fairly compensated for their work.   

Passing a budget

The first step in this process is securing funding for the DOE, and to do this Congress must pass a budget to fund the government. 

Every year, USW legislative staffers discuss the funding needed for the union’s nuclear cleanup sites with House and Senate energy and water subcommittee appropriators and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

“The funding levels necessary to adequately perform decontamination and decommissioning work vary across the complex. For example, roughly $400 million is needed each year for the Portsmouth site, but some years require more funding,” said USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown, who heads the union’s atomic sector.

“This funding is crucial not only for the USW members doing this work, but for the surrounding community as well.”

Reaching a budget deal is a huge undertaking that requires agreement from both chambers of Congress. Currently, both the House and the Senate have agreed that they will not make the Sept. 30 deadline and have passed short-term spending bills to fund the government through Nov. 21. The DOE and its Office of Environmental Management (EM), which oversees cleanup of hazardous and radioactive waste, are covered under the energy and water appropriations bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the energy and water bill in June, which would keep EM funding flat at approximately $7.2 billion.     

The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved on Sept.12 its energy and water funding bill, which allotted $7.45 billion for the EM office.

Both versions are significantly more than the Trump administration’s budget request. 

Once both houses of Congress pass all 12 appropriations bills, they go to a conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions. The president will then need to sign the final budget.

If they cannot agree on a budget by the Nov. 21 deadline, they will need to pass another continuing resolution.

Lobbying Congress

Continuing resolutions are useful in keeping the government open, but there can be problems that require USW intervention, not only to keep paychecks coming but to save jobs. 

For the past several years, Congress has passed continuing resolutions, some of which have included significant funding shortfalls.

“One year the funding shortfall for Portsmouth was $30 million, and it looked like there would be almost 300 layoffs at the plant before Christmas,” Brown said.

Brown, former USW International President Leo W. Gerard, and retired Vice President Carol Landry met with representatives from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). This agency makes the final decision on the Federal Government’s budget.

They also asked the Local 689 president at Portsmouth to attend the meeting so that the government officials could understand the stakes involved for the local and its members.

After listening to how the funding decision affected Local 689 members, Ali Zaidi, then associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the OMB, decided to fund Portsmouth.

“That meeting never left me because it was so important to hear from the workers,” Brown said. “What resonates the most with policymakers is the people they don’t see — the people most impacted — and that is our members.”

SOAR Story: Jim Bickhart, District 4 President of SOAR Chapter 4-1

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 10:48

In keeping with one of the purposes of SOAR, “to better the communities in which you live,” Jim Bickhart along with some of his chapter members and about 100 other residents of Dunkirk, New York, helped clean up the three Dunkirk beaches this summer. They all agreed that it was a very worthwhile project.

“SOAR members in all of our Districts volunteer each and every day in one way or another to help our neighbors and our communities,” said Jim.

In 1967, Jim began working for Allegheny Ludlum as a mill-hand. Not long after he was appointed union steward and held several positions including President of USWA Local 2693. In 1985 he went on USWA Staff and retired in 2003. He is a 24-year veteran of the United States Naval Reserve.

Jim served as a USW District 4 SOAR Coordinator for a number of years, and was elected to the SOAR Int’l. Executive Board at the 2008 SOAR Conference. He held that position until he retired from the board in 2016. Jim continues to serve as a SOAR Coordinator for the district.

Jim and his lovely wife Theresa have been married 51 years and have two grown children and a whole bunch of grandchildren and great grandchildren. Besides raking beaches, Jim enjoys golf and other community activities.

ESI Council leadership changes and 2019 wrap-up

Mon, 10/07/2019 - 07:38

New leaders were elected to the ESI Council and met last month in Clearwater, Fla., to wrap up their work for the year. Members of the council represent 1,000 employees at Cigna, who recently purchased Express Scripts, the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit manager.

The workers are spread across five locations in four states—Florida, New Jersey, Washington, and Pennsylvania. All locations have concluded 2019 bargaining except for the Tampa, Fla., unit, which enters negotiations later this year.

With the billion-dollar merger finally complete, the council is ready to turn a new leaf.

“2020 is going to bring a lot of change,” said Winston Callum, president of the council and of Local 985 in Tampa. “This recent meeting helped us make sure we have strength in future bargaining.”

Figure 1, ESI Council: Sitting left to right – Vice President Harry Harris, President Winston Callum, USW International Vice President Fred Redmond, Vice President Lee Astle; Standing left to right – Debbie Brearey (By-Laws), Karen Mitchell (Treasurer), Cavan Simon (Trustee), Jean Matrazzo (Recording Secretary), Michelle Benner (By-Laws), Gabe Startari (Trustee).

Carol Landry Hands Off Leadership of Atomic Sector to Roxanne Brown

Fri, 10/04/2019 - 08:37

Retired International Vice President Carol Landry headed the USW’s nuclear sector and was chair of the Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) for five years. The International Executive Board appointed former Legislative Director Roxanne Brown, no stranger to nuclear issues, to Landry’s position. Brown began her new job on July 15.

Landry took over the union’s nuclear sector when USW International Vice President Kip Phillips retired in 2014.

When the AEWC continually had problems resolving contract, benefit and other workplace issues with the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors, Landry spoke with then-International President Leo W. Gerard about how the council needed help breaking through the bureaucratic inertia to resolve the lingering issues. He talked with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about how the union needed a high-level agency official.

Moniz appointed David Foster, a former USW District 11 director, to be his senior advisor and Natasha Cunningham to be the DOE labor liaison. Both helped the USW resolve many problems until the change in administration after the 2016 presidential election.

Landry also started meetings between the local unions at Idaho National Laboratory, the prime cleanup contractor, Fluor, and DOE.

She initiated yearly site visits to USW-represented nuclear facilities to help build solidarity within the atomic locals and facilitate greater communication between them. These visits gave the council the opportunity to meet the site’s local union members, tour facilities, and make known the union’s presence to the DOE and its contractors.

In her new role, Brown will oversee legislative, public policy and political matters, as well as leading the nuclear sector.

As legislative director, she experienced first-hand the politics involved with the DOE and its contractors.

She pushed for legislation on Capitol Hill that helped atomic workers and their families, and assisted members in getting meetings with key legislators and government officials so they could advocate for funding or specific legislation that affected their workplaces and communities.

Brown’s knowledge and experience with the DOE, its contractors, Congress and the AEWC will enable her to expand upon the progress the union has made in the atomic sector.

The Oilworker: October 2019

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 08:41
FROM THE UNION October Update from the NOBP Chair

Greetings brothers and sisters,

I want to introduce Mike Smith, the new chair of our NOBP, to those of you who have not yet had the opportunity to meet him. Mike came to Pittsburgh last summer as we began preparation for national oil bargaining. He worked with me through the fall and was at the bargaining table with Tom Conway and me.    

Mike has a solid oil background, with experience in both health and safety and bargaining, and he is committed to continuing the success we have enjoyed in the oil sector. 

Mike was an operator at the Chevron Richmond refinery in California and eventually came out to work for the local (Local 5 in Martinez) as a staff representative. He has a deep understanding of the refinery operations, experience bargaining locally and at the national table, as well as a strong health and safety background.  

We have attended a number of council meetings as well as meetings at locals in follow up to the last round of bargaining as we look to improve going forward.  Mike is well suited to keeping up our momentum. 

I would ask each of you to give Mike the help and support that you showed to me over the years as he takes you into the next round of oil bargaining.

I also want to thank each and every one of you for the privilege of being able to work for you, not only as oil bargaining chair, but in health and safety and the Triangle of Prevention (TOP) program.  It has truly been an honor for me to serve my union and to spend time getting to know many of you over the years.

I am thankful for the friendships that have formed and for the opportunity to be inspired by my interactions with you on a daily basis.  

Although I am officially retired, I am not done working.  I plan on staying involved to promote union activism when and where I can be useful and wish Mike and my brothers and sisters in oil the best of luck. 

There is no better job in the world than to serve your union brothers and sisters. Thanks for all your help.

In solidarity,

Kim Nibarger

Retiring NOBP Chair

Please see the below links for more current news about our sector:

Southern California Air Board Opts Against Stronger Regulations of Hydrofluoric Acid 

The South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board last month voted against stronger regulation of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic chemical used at two southern California refineries, instead choosing to accept voluntary safety measures offered by the oil industry. 

Though community and environmental organizations raised concerns about potential leaks, business and labor groups have argued that phasing out the chemical could threaten jobs.

To read more, click here.

Enbridge Receives Permit for Supports on Line 5 Pipeline

Enbridge, a Canadian energy transportation company, announced last month that it received a permit to install 54 steel supports along its underwater Line 5 pipeline in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac. 

Enbridge is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the state of Michigan over plans to renovate the underwater portion of the line, which ships 540,000 barrels of light crude oil a day from western to eastern Canada. The 54 new supports will shore up the existing pipe. 

To read more, click here.

Shell Loads First Shipment of Low-Sulfur Fuel Oil

Shell last month loaded its first shipment of low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) in Singapore, in anticipation of growing demand for the cleaner fuel. 

Beginning in January 2020, the International Maritime Organization is lowering the cap on sulfur in marine fuels.

To read more, click here.

District 2 local bargains workplace violence language into new CBA

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 10:49

Though workers at Copper Country Mental Health in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their latest three-year contract, the benefit they’re most proud of bargaining is language regarding workplace violence.

Since 2012, violence against health care workers has increased by 30 percent, and mental health workers are not immune.

“Within the mental health system we work for, there’s been an increase in violence against workers across the many different departments, and we wanted a way to protect everyone,” said Rachelle Rodriguez, Local 7798 unit chair.

About half of all mental health professionals at all levels and practice settings can expect to be threatened by a patient at some point in their career. And according to the Department of Justice, between 2004 and 2009, mental health workers were second only to law enforcement officers in sustaining on-the-job violence.

These humbling statistics are more than mere numbers for people like Rodriguez, which is why she and her fellow bargaining committee members pushed for years for their employer to implement a true policy and procedure to prevent and contain consumer-inflicted violence. With their latest contract, ratified on September 19, their hard work paid off.

The workplace violence policy will be the result of a committee, which will include two members of the local’s negotiating team and will begin to meet no later than October 31.

All of this couldn’t have been done without the local members rallying together and working toward what they knew was right, said USW Staff Representative Chris Haddock.

“This local has been tireless at working towards the safety of their members,” Haddock said. “It’s an absolute common thing for all of the committees to talk about safety, including during orientation, and the importance the union plays in that at work.”

The reason obtaining specific language regarding workplace violence is so important is because there is often no legislation in place to protect health care workers.


Right to left is Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez, committee member Vicki Paavo, Local 7798 President Rich Simpson,and committee member Scott Skotarczyk. Not pictured is Evelyn Livingston-Brady.

The USW has been pushing to change this through its “Safe Jobs Now” campaign, a nationwide action to push for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309/S. 851). This bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure workplaces develop and implement violence prevention plans like the one Local 7798 members have obtained in their contract.

You can learn about this campaign to help stem the epidemic of workplace violence in health care and how you can get involved by clicking here.

September Update from SOAR Director Julie Stein

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 10:00
Social Security – What’s Open and Honest Behind Closed Doors?

In a September 2019 town hall meeting in Emmet County, Iowa, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst complained, openly, that groups like SOAR are making her job more difficult than she would like. 

Regarding the future of Social Security, Senator Ernst said, "We do need to sit down behind closed doors, so we’re not being scrutinized by this group or the other, and just have an open and honest conversation.”  “The minute you say we need to address Social Security, the media is hammering you, the opposing party is hammering you — there goes granny over a cliff.”  Senator Ernst continued, “We know that there is a point in time when we as Congress will have to address the situation, and I think it’s better done sooner rather than later, to make sure that we shored up that system.”

When you hear the words, “shore(d) up that system,” and “behind closed doors” – do you get the sense that Senator Ernst wants to expand the benefits of Social Security to more Americans?  Do you think Senator Ernst wants to figure out a way for future generations of Americans to be able to retire with dignity?

Or, are you getting flashbacks to contract negotiations from your working years when management wanted to have closed-door talks so they could raid our pension or increase workers’ healthcare contributions?  Do you get the sense, like me, that Senator Ernst believes Social Security is an entitlement and not something Americans have earned (even though we certainly have)? 

There is a reason Social Security is arguably the most popular legislative achievement in our history. 

For many Americans, particularly widowed women, Social Security is the last thing between living with some dignity and absolute poverty.  Social Security is a financial investment made by American workers held in trust to assure that retirees, the elderly, people with disabilities, or the children and families of deceased workers will not be abandoned by the richest nation on earth. 

If Senator Ernst gets her way, Americans will be having tough conversations with their spouses around empty kitchen tables for years to come.  Not because Americans will be living longer lives, but let’s be open and honest here, they won’t be living the lives they anticipated if Social Security is destroyed.

September Update from SOAR President Bill Pienta

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 10:00
Don’t Be Fooled …

This being the last opportunity before the November election that I can write to you, I thought it might be valuable to give you something to ponder.  Retirees should not be deceived by a recent budget proposal that proponents falsely claim will be to our benefit.  After years of fighting against the efforts of politicians who want to undermine Social Security, we’ve learned not to be fooled by coded language such as, “cutting waste” or “getting the Government out of your life.”  We know such political speak is merely a ruse with the goal of privatizing or eliminating Social Security and Medicare!

All that glitters isn’t gold, and as more people enter retirement age, the Republican budget proposes to reduce funding for administrating area Social Security offices.  When Social Security offices close, retirees will have more trouble accessing Social Security and other vital services.  As a result, we will not be served as well and will start to believe their baloney that seniors could be better served by the private sector. However, that simply is not true because Social Security administrative costs are one percent or less of budget costs.  Try to name another company that offers what Social Security does at that minimal overhead.

To implement these budget cuts, five Social Security administrative offices in Pennsylvania would be closed along with 15 more offices in other states. Where will these retirees go when they need information on their Benefits, especially in Pennsylvania? Presumably, Republicans hope that retirees will rely on the internet for benefits information. But due to lack of knowledge and monthly income, it is hard for most seniors to navigate online, or to afford internet service.

SOAR members need to know the facts on this issue! This can only happen if we choose to remain silent or not get involved. We cannot sit back as an organization, and we will not allow our retirement security to be threatened without a fight.

Please keep up on the issues and inform our members; after that, the decision is theirs, but at the least, we can feel good about what we have done. Remember to vote on Election Day and get involved.

No te dejes engañar...

Siendo esta la última oportunidad antes de las elecciones de noviembre que puedo escribirles, pensé que podría ser valioso darle algo para reflexionar. Los jubilados no deben ser engañados por una reciente propuesta de presupuesto que los proponentes afirman falsamente que será en nuestro beneficio. Después de años de luchar contra los esfuerzos de los políticos que quieren socavar la Seguridad Social, hemos aprendido a no dejarnos engañar por un lenguaje codificado como "cortar el desperdicio" o "sacar al gobierno de su vida". ¡es simplemente una artimaña con el objetivo de privatizar o eliminar la Seguridad Social y Medicare!

Todo lo que brilla no es oro, y a medida que más personas ingresan a la edad de jubilación, el presupuesto republicano propone reducir los fondos para administrar las oficinas del Seguro Social del área. Cuando cierren las oficinas del Seguro Social, los jubilados tendrán más problemas para acceder al Seguro Social y otros servicios vitales. Como resultado, no seremos atendidos tan bien y comenzaremos a creer su tontería de que los jubilados podrían ser mejor atendidos por el sector privado. Sin embargo, eso simplemente no es cierto porque los costos administrativos del Seguro Social son del 1 por ciento o menos de los costos del presupuesto. Trate de nombrar a otra compañía que ofrezca lo que hace el Seguro Social con esa sobrecarga mínima.

Para implementar estos recortes presupuestarios, se cerrarían cinco oficinas administrativas del Seguro Social en Pensilvania junto con otras 15 oficinas en otros estados. ¿A dónde irán estos jubilados cuando necesiten información sobre sus Beneficios, especialmente en Pennsylvania? Presumiblemente, los republicanos esperan que los jubilados dependan de Internet para obtener información sobre beneficios. Pero debido a la falta de conocimiento y ingresos mensuales, es difícil para la mayoría de los jubilados navegar en línea o pagar el servicio de Internet.

¡Los miembros de SOAR necesitan conocer los hechos sobre este tema! Esto solo puede suceder si elegimos permanecer en silencio o no involucrarnos. No podemos sentarnos como organización y no permitiremos que nuestra seguridad de jubilación se vea amenazada sin luchar.

Manténgase informado sobre los problemas e informe a nuestros miembros; después de eso, la decisión es de ellos, pero al menos, podemos sentirnos bien con lo que hemos hecho. Recuerde votar el día de las elecciones y participar.

Bill Pienta, presidente de SOAR

Remembering Kip Phillips: A Leader, Mentor and Friend

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 09:45

The USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) lost a great leader, mentor and friend when James Kermit “Kip” Phillips Jr. passed away Sept. 12 at Marshall County Hospital in Benton, Ky. He was just 12 days short of his 78th birthday.

“Phillips created the USW Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) under the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW),” said AEWC President Jim Key. “He realized the value of establishing a council and network of workers performing the same or similar work within a sector. He trained the council how to lobby for federal funding, and worked with the Department of Energy (DOE) to transition workers to new contractors once the DOE’s mission changed.

“He led the AEWC through two union mergers to ensure the council remained vibrant and continued to operate,” Key said.

Phillips worked with retired International Vice President Carol Landry for two years so she could learn about the complex issues in the nuclear sector and continue his work once he retired in 2014.

“Kip was an amazing mentor and friend,” Landry said.

Phillips helped the USW’s atomic locals negotiate their contracts and resolve thorny labor issues between the site contractors, subcontractors and the Department of Energy (DOE).

At AEWC meetings, he always said that the DOE and its contractors — who left government service to work for a contractor or vice-versa — were like riders on carousel; they just changed horses.

Health and safety issues were important to him, and he would invite DOE officials to AEWC meetings so council members could discuss their difficult health and safety problems.

Rank-and-file activist

Phillips worked his way up through the union ranks after beginning his career in 1969 at Airco Chemical (Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.).

A member of OCAW Local 3-727, he served as recording secretary, operating vice president and president. He was a member of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO executive board, a vice president and president of the OCAW District 3 council, and a participant on the OCAW International Member Committee.

In 1989, the OCAW membership elected him to the union’s rank-and-file International Executive Board. He decided to run for a full-time OCAW International Vice President position in 1994 and won.

Five years later, after the OCAW-United Paperworkers International Union merger to form the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE) in January 1999, Phillips became a PACE International Vice President/Director of Governmental Affairs. When PACE merged with the United Steelworkers of America in April 2005, he continued to be an International Vice President and head of the union’s nuclear sector.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand the test of adversity, but if you really want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Power did not change how Phillips interacted with others. He was kind, friendly, respectful and helpful to everyone he encountered.

“Kip and my father were the greatest influences in what it meant to be a union member and representative,” Key said, “and they exhibited the leadership qualities and hours (sometimes late into the night) that it takes to represent those who have selected you. 

“Kip was my mentor, advisor and my friend. Thank you, Kip, for all that you exhibited and taught me.”

Community leader

Phillips was active in his community and his state. He was a Kentucky Honorary Ambassador of Labor and a director of the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Kentucky. He also was involved with the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board, the Marshall County School Board and the Kentucky Labor-Management Advisory Board.

The Kentucky House of Representatives honored him as an “Outstanding Kentuckian,” and he received the W.C. Young award from the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.

In his obituary, Kip’s family wrote that he “helped thousands and thousands of men and women achieve a better quality of life and a much safer place to work. He lived his life in service to others, always looking for opportunities to help anyone and everyone he could.”

Kip is survived by his wife Carolyn June Phillips; sons, Scott (wife Lori) and Kyle (wife Angela); sister, Elizabeth Mercer, and five grandchildren, Sydney, Dylan, Isaiah, Grace and Killian. He was preceded in death by his parents; sisters Janice Smith and Karen Balez, and one grandchild, Joshua.

Condolences can be sent to Phillips’ family at this address: 615 Bent Creek Dr., Benton, KY 42025.

It's Time to Put Workers First: Tell Your Representative to Support the PRO Act!

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 11:41

Having the ability to bargain with our employers makes our workplaces safer; our wages, healthcare, and a retirement more secure; and builds the middle class in this country. However, for decades, we have seen a continued erosion of our worker protections and attacks on collective bargaining rights, putting us all at risk. 

It’s time to stand up and fight back.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act (H.R. 2474), will fix our broken laws by: 

  • Making companies recognize contractors as part of the collective bargaining process so they can no longer continue to whittle down our membership by subcontracting.
  • Forcing an employer to reach a first contract in a timely manner with a newly organized group of workers. No more dragging out first contracts.
  • Reversing so-called Right to Work, regardless of state laws.
  • Prohibiting employers from forcing employees to attend anti-union meetings.
  • Permitting secondary picketing, strikes, and boycotts, allowing workers to stand in solidarity with others seeking to improve their wages and working conditions.
  • Toughening penalties for employers who illegally fire or retaliate against workers for protected union activities.
  • Prohibiting employers from hiring scabs or discriminating against workers during a strike or lockout.

Sign our petition to tell the U.S. House of Representatives to bring the bill to the floor.

As summer ends, other journeys begin at district Women of Steel leadership trainings

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 10:53

While the end-of-summer heat pressed on throughout the Midwest, two more groups of Steelworkers turned up the dial on their activism by completing the Women’s Leadership Course this past August. 

In District 11 (which consists of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri), sisters from a wide variety of industries participated in the Level 1 module of the program in Des Moines, Iowa. Though there is currently only a Level 1 course offered in the large, diverse district, Assistant to the Director Cathy Drummond is hoping to roll out a Level 2 course by early next year.

And the interest is clearly there, as seen in the course’s recent boom.

“Our district’s program has really grown with the number of women who have stepped up,” Drummond said. “And I’d say at least 75 percent of the participants this time were women new to their facilities and new to the union.”

Four of the district’s participants in August were bilingual, which was a change for the program and “exciting to see,” Drummond said.

Women of Steel activists from across District 11 participated in the Women's Leadership Course in August 2019.

Talina McClure, President of Local 13 and chair of the WOS MOKAN (Minnesota, Kansas, and Nebraska) Council, assisted Drummond with facilitating the course, a first for the Independence, Mo., activist.

McClure, who works as a palletizer operator at craft and gardening supply manufacturer Fiskars, was nervous about the new experience, but she utilized the skills gained from completing the course herself several years ago to overcome any jitters.

“Doing the leadership course and everything that led up to now has helped me get better at it and become more comfortable with public speaking,” she said. “Cathy and I also work really well together.”

Comradery is a massive bonus to participating in these courses, whether as a facilitator or as a student, according to McClure. And this round was no exception.

“It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet some great women who will go on to do great things,” McClure said. “There was a lot of potential in the room.”

The sisters in Des Moines were also visited by a special guest speaker—District 11 SOAR President Bonnie Carey, a Women of Steel activist and retiree from Local 105.

District 11 SOAR President Bonnie Carey with sisters from LU 105.

Several states over, Women of Steel from District 1 gathered outside of Pittsburgh for their own dose of speakers, education, and activism. Fourteen sisters from a variety of industries worked through Level 3 of the leadership course with the assistance of Teresa Hartley, recently named assistant to the director by Donnie Blatt.

Hartley, who began her union career at a Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, uses the third year of the program to focus on the Steelworkers’ “Building Power” curriculum. With this training, the sisters learn how to navigate strikes and for a CAT (Communications and Action Team), as well as how that knowledge can be used when dealing with lockouts and negotiations.

Director Blatt also visited the WOS activists at Linden Hall to talk about his own experience building power during tense Ormet negotiations 1999-2000.


WOS sisters from District 1 participated in the Level 3 module of the leadership course at Linden Hall.

To Hartley, the biggest takeaways from any level of the ever-growing WOS leadership program are the relationships the sisters form with each other.

“When they start year one and they meet each other that very first day, I tell them that by the end of the week, they will all form a bond that I can’t even explain,” she said.

Jennifer Schwartzkopf, from Local 843L, in Marysville, Ohio, values these connections and the long-term comradery they foster.

“I love knowing that I have amazing sisters that I can go to when I need them,” she said. “Being able to learn from others’ experiences and sharing my own is very rewarding.”

For more information about the WOS Leadership Course, contact your district coordinator, who you can find here.

2020 MLK Event Details Released

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 10:52

The annual AFL-CIO MLK Celebration conference will be held Jan. 17-20, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. More details will come in the next few months, but for now please download this save the date leaflet and spread the word! 

 

Slain labor activist Fannie Sellins commemorated in Pennsylvania

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 08:00

Local 1196, the Battle of Homestead Foundation, local historical societies and other activists, held a day-long series of events on Aug. 26 outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., to honor a true Woman of Steel, Fannie Sellins, on the 100th anniversary of the fierce activist’s murder.

In August of 1919, union organizer Fannie Sellins was walking a picket line with striking workers at Allegheny Coal and Coke Co. When she saw guards brutally beating a picketing miner, she rushed to his aid. Deputies opened fire, hitting Sellins four times, and then proceeded to beat her until they crushed her skull.

Both Sellins and Joe Strzelecki, the miner she tried to help, died that day. Although there were dozens of witnesses to the crimes, the deputies’ convictions were tossed out in court.

“Fannie Sellins gave her life in the attempt to put an end to the suffering of miners and their families, to lead them out of wage slavery,” International Vice President Leeann Foster told the crowd during a memorial event at the Local 1196 union hall in Brackenridge, not far from the site where Sellins and Strzelecki were murdered.

The day included a ceremony at the site of the killings, a luncheon featuring tributes to Sellins, and finally a twilight memorial at the cemetery where the labor martyr was laid to rest.

“Fannie Sellins was a proud union woman. She fought for a better life for herself, her family, her sisters and brothers, all workers and union members,” said Foster, who oversees the union’s Women of Steel program.

Although Sellins’ death came more than two decades before the founding of the USW, her activism and dedication to the cause of labor helped lead to the creation of the union and continues to serve as an inspiration for Steelworkers everywhere.

Sellins’ willingness to stand up to injustice is a powerful lesson for Americans even 100 years later, said Women of Steel Director Ann Flener-Gittlen.

“History shows us the many sacrifices others made so we can have a better life,” Flener-Gittlen said. “We owe her and others like her our dedication to keep the union movement strong.”

Today, a stone sits at the very spot where Sellins was killed, though the site is now part of an elderly couple’s yard in a residential community. The family that owns the land recently granted Local 1196 permission to excavate the stone so members can preserve and display it for future generations of Steelworkers.

Maintaining Sellins’ legacy and continuing to share her story is important, especially at a time when the political environment for union members and immigrant workers so closely mirrors the one Sellins and her fellow organizers faced 100 years ago, Foster said.

Anti-immigrant and anti-union rhetoric were as rampant in 1919 as they are today. Employment rosters at mines and factories in those days included large numbers of immigrant workers, and union organizers faced an intense backlash from corporate and political foes, as well as the company-controlled media.

“In thinking about the future of our important work to build and defend working people and build our movement, we can look at Fannie Sellins and take our cues from her fights,” Foster said. “Fannie’s leadership and bravery in the face of overwhelming corporate power and abuse inspires us to follow in her footsteps.”

Monumental leadership changes for women in the USW

Tue, 09/17/2019 - 07:13

This summer brought sweeping changes to USW’s International Executive Board, as well as to other vital positions within the union. As President Leo Gerard stepped down to enjoy retirement in July, along with Vice President at Large Carol Landry, Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson, and Vice President Jon Geenen, a new generation of leaders have stepped in to take the helm.

Among this fresh slate is the largest group of women to ever hold leaderships positions in the union at once, especially on the Executive Board, which now includes Roxanne Brown and Leeann Foster.

Filling Geenen’s seat as Vice President is Leeann Foster, who previously served as Assistant to the International President and has served as Associate General Counsel since the 2005 USW/PACE merger. Together with Geenen, Foster has led the USW paper industry through difficult bargaining and has worked to develop a safety strategy within the sector.

Foster has worked as the lead bargainer with many companies within the paper sector, as well as leading the union’s Women of Steel program. She also serves as co-chair of the IndustriALL Global Union working group for the pulp and paper sector.

Foster is also expanding her leadership role outside of the union by running for Commissioner for Ward 3 in Mt. Lebanon, Pa.  She hopes to use the platform to help create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive community, work towards environmental sustainability, and address the Pittsburgh area’s aging infrastructure.

Representing the union’s political and legislative interests in D.C., and filling Carol Landry’s mighty shoes, is new USW Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown, who previously served as USW Legislative Director. She will continue to oversee legislative, public policy and political matters while remaining based in the capital. And she will be doing this as the union’s first black woman to serve on the executive board.

In her first official appearance as Vice President at Large, Brown took to the podium at the USW Civil and Human Rights Conference this past July in Minneapolis and spoke on what her momentous appointment signifies.

“It’s not about me,” Brown said to the packed ballroom of USW activists. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to lead this union. It’s about what I represent for the present and future of this union. It’s about what you represent.”

Gerard, before stepping down, noted the importance of this expansion for women and people of color in leadership, and applauded the union’s commitment to diversity.

“We represent more different kinds of workers in more and more sectors, and our board is changing to reflect that growth,” said Gerard. “The USW is committed to bringing forward the next generation of labor leaders and to provide the tools, training, and opportunity they will need to succeed.”

Roxanne Brown and Cathy Drummond march with a group of Steelworkers in Minneapolis for workers' and immigrants' rights during the USW Civil and Human Rights Conference.

Brown has a broad base of experience working for legislation that supports USW members and all working people. She also works with the various companies and associations that are impacted by regulations and laws under consideration in the nation’s agencies and Congress. She began working for the USW legislative department in 1999.

With Brown stationed in Washington, D.C., to head the union’s policy initiatives, Kim Miller, previously the director of the USW Rapid Response program, will take on the position of Assistant to the President to help advise the officers in Pittsburgh on these vital legislative and political issues.

For more than two decades, Miller has fought to advance workers’ rights, first as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill and later for the USW.

Following in the fierce activist’s footsteps, Amber Miller (no relation) is the new USW Rapid Response Director. Miller began her career at Chase Brass and Copper Co. in Montpelier, Ohio, where she served in a variety of leadership roles, including local union president. When she came to Pittsburgh in 2012, Miller joined the Rapid Response staff. As director, she will help USW members use their collective voice to engage with legislative issues that impact their workplaces and labor contracts.

Kim Miller, Assistant to the President, (left) with Amber Miller, Director of Rapid Response (right).

Anna Fendley, most recently an associate legislative director in the D.C. office, is also assuming the newly created position of director of regulatory and state policy. In her new role, she will further the union’s goal to proactively influence state-level policies to keep USW members working and to create high-quality jobs in their communities. She will also continue her work on federal policy impacting safety and health, as well as building and maintaining coalitions with other policy-oriented organizations such as the BlueGreen Alliance.

“The laws and policies enacted at both the national and state level have a huge impact on nearly all of the diverse sectors where our members work,” said Brown. “Our union is lucky to have this new team leading these fights.”

Women are growing into leadership positions across all planes of the union, including in the districts. At the end of July, newly installed District 1 Director Donnie Blatt named Teresa Hartley as Assistant to the Director.

In 2000, Hartley began working at the Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, where she became a member of USW Local 207L. She quickly became active in the local, serving as chair of the local union’s Women of Steel (WOS) Committee. Hartley attended five years of WOS leadership courses, learning about all aspects of the union and how to advocate on behalf of workers.

For Hartley, the experience serving as the district’s civil rights coordinator and Women of Steel coordinator was beyond invaluable.

“This union gave me a voice,” Hartley said. “I have been afforded the opportunity to work closely with the sisters, brothers and siblings in our district, and to provide the same opportunities and education to them that I have had for myself.”

And the woman power doesn’t stop, or begin, here.

Earlier this year, Cathy Drummond was named Assistant to the Director for District 11. Drummond began her career of activism at Duluth Clinic—Hibbing when the workers organized a unionization drive in 1998.  Her activism was crucial in those negotiating efforts, which resulted in over 2,000 new members and the charter of Local Union 9460.

Drummond was elected Unit President and Vice President in 2000, and began working with the USW as a staff representative in 2004. She also has served as the District 11 Women of Steel Coordinator since the summer of 2011.

At the last WOS conference held in Toronto in October 2018, USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann told the crowd, “There is nothing stronger than a Woman of Steel.” According to these recent movements of women leaders within the union, it’s easy to see he is not wrong.

Workplace violence in health care highlighted at USW health and safety conference

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 13:08

The opening session of the USW Health, Safety and Environment Conference last week highlighted the epidemic of workplace violence in health care by urging attendees to support a vital bill working its way through the U.S. Congress.

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act would mandate that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) create a national standard requiring health care and social service employers to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.

“There’s a lot more to safety than just making ‘safety’ your first slide on the deck,” USW International President Tom Conway told the packed ballroom in Pittsburgh on Monday, Sept. 9. “The work that you’re doing is crucial to the lives of our members. Your work makes sure they go home to their families.”

A Thursday morning panel on workplace violence in health care took a deeper dive into the unfortunate necessity of this legislation. Since 2012, violence against health care workers has increased by 30 percent, a humbling statistic mentioned in a powerful video screened to the conference attendees.

USW Director of Regulatory and State Policy Anna Fendley, based in Washington, D.C., spoke to the health and safety activists about the union’s work behind pushing for this to change. Members and staff, aided by the Rapid Response department, been meeting in person with representatives both in the nation’s capital and in offices across the United States as well as making phone calls to representatives, urging them to vote ‘yes.’

USW Director of Regulatory and State Policy Anna Fendley talks to the Health, Safety, and Environment Conference about the Safe Jobs Now campaign.

Ryan Fairley, a former paramedic who now works in the union’s organizing department, spoke on the panel about his personal experience dealing with violence as an emergency responder.

Once, while responding to an overdose incident, he almost became a statistic when the patient he was treating and transporting became violent, ripping out their IVs and thrashing their arms. Alone in the back of the ambulance, Fairley was vulnerable, and getting the driver to phone police for assistance was no easy task. One way to help remedy this is through mandatory training on de-escalation and communication between emergency responders, including dispatchers. An enforceable standard, like the one proposed in the bill, would be key to achieving this and making sure.

“Workplace violence should not be ‘just part of the job,’” he told the crowd, which included health care industry members.

USW’s Tamara Lefcowitz updated the conference attendees on the work of the Health Care Workers Council, which strives to do more than serve its own industry.

“The council doesn’t limit advocating for health care members to employers and legislators,” she said. “We want to create connections across all industrial sectors and build solidarity with our union brothers and sisters.”  

The council has also been pounding the pavement with the union’s Safe Jobs Now campaign to make sure the bill gets moved through the House and onto the Senate. To Lefcowitz, if anyone can do it, it’s the Steelworkers.

“The USW made its reputation on being a fighting union,” she said.


A variety of health care industry workers attended the USW Health, Safety, and Environment Conference.

Rapid Response Director Amber Miller, who started her union career at a brass foundry in Ohio, reiterated Lefcowitz’s focus on unity and recognizing that an injury to one truly is an injury to all.

“Our solidarity across our sectors is our strength,” Miller said, “and we need that in order to push this forward.”

To learn more about the Safe Jobs Now campaign and how you can help move the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act through Congress, click here.

USW District 2 Members Taking Action for Rapid Response Postcard Campaign

Fri, 09/13/2019 - 06:39

Local 14540 is pictured here taking action around our “Safe Jobs Now” campaign. While they all work for the road commission in Mio, Michigan, many of them have family members and friends who work in the healthcare field. A shout out to those pictured for staying after hours to meet with Sue Browne, Rapid Response Coordinator for District 2, to talk about the program and for participating in this action.


Pictured left to right: Todd George, Jeremy Clayton, Bryan Hudson, Paul Rowden, Paul Winchell, Rodd Layman

Thank you to all of you who have participated in our current “Safe Jobs Now” Rapid Response campaign in support of the The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309/S. 851), which would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure these workplaces develop and implement violence prevention plans, something that is long overdue.

We will be taking our message to Capitol Hill at our National Rapid Response and Legislative Conference in October, and will be hand-delivering the postcards you sent in.

Click here to learn more about this campaign.


Pictured: Local President Rodd Layman

USW Members Mourn Fallen Co-Workers

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 12:48

Day two of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Conference included perhaps the most somber moment of the weeklong event, as the more than 1,600 attendees paid tribute to 46 co-workers who lost their lives since the last conference in March 2018.

The audience in the Pittsburgh convention center stood in silence for several minutes as the names of fallen workers slowly scrolled past on video screens. The memorial included a poetry reading by USW member Connie Brown and a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” by USW Emergency Response Team (ERT) Coordinator Duronda Pope.

Seeing the names, ages, local numbers and workplaces of the dead “brings importance to the work that we do here,” said International President Tom Conway as he welcomed company safety representatives for the first day of joint labor-management workshops. 

Coming to a consensus on health and safety issues is a good foundation on which union members and bosses can build a collaborative relationship that extends to other issues, Conway said.

When a worker dies or suffers a catastrophic injury, it doesn’t matter whether that worker was union or non-union, management or contractor, said ERT Director Al McDougall, whose team responds immediately any time a USW workplace suffers such an event.

McDougall encouraged all locals to contact the ERT as soon as they experience a tragic incident using the 24-hour ERT hotline: (866) 526-3480. 

Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn said he has seen firsthand why preventing such incidents must be the union’s top priority, recalling the day he witnessed his best friend lose his life while on the job in a glass plant.  

“When you experience that, you never forget about it,” Shinn said. “That’s why we are so dedicated to what we do.”

International Vice President Fred Redmond said that coming up with solutions to safety issues is easier when management takes a proactive role.

Redmond cited as an example the 40-year battle the USW waged to implement stricter federal standards for workplace beryllium exposure.

For decades, companies opposed a new standard, and action was delayed. Then the USW partnered with Materion Brush, one of the world’s largest producers of beryllium, and change became a reality. New standards began taking effect in 2017. 

“Collaboration isn’t easy, but it is absolutely necessary,” Redmond said.

Another issue for which labor-management cooperation is key is the problem of workplace violence, he said. Redmond noted that health care workers in particular are vulnerable due to violent outbursts from patients or family members. The USW represents 50,000 workers in health care fields.

Redmond urged members to contact their congressional representatives and tell them to vote for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309/S. 851), which would require workplaces to develop and implement violence prevention plans.

“The health care industry needs to get this message,” he said.

Ultimately, the most successful workplace health and safety programs are those in which every member is involved, said International Vice President David McCall. 

“We are our co-workers and our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers,” McCall said. “This is work that can never stop.”

 

USW Members Kick Off Health & Safety Conference

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 08:27

More than 1,600 activists from USW and Communications Workers of America (CWA) locals, along with managers at USW- and CWA-represented companies, are in Pittsburgh this week aiming to make their workplaces safer and healthier.

“The work that you’re doing is crucial to the union,” International President Tom Conway told the crowd at the outset of Monday’s union-only session that kicked off the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Conference.

Conway said that at one point in the history of the steel industry, 500 workers died each year, just in Pittsburgh-area mills.

“In many ways, the work that you do this week grows out of that history,” he said.

The newly installed president said that the work of making facilities safer goes hand-in-hand with organizing and growing the union.

“The foundation of our union is the safety and health work that we do,” Conway said. “We’re not going to leave that work undone.”

Bobby “Mac” McAuliffe, director of District 10, which comprises the state of Pennsylvania, welcomed the delegates to Pittsburgh by reminding them that the knowledge they gain at the week-long event belongs to every member of the USW.

“Take what you learn back to your locals,” McAuliffe said. “Talk about it. You learn more sometimes after the workshops are over by talking to each other.”

Ken Neumann, national director for Canada, said that grassroots activism is the key to making permanent, positive change on safety issues.

“There is nothing more fundamental than making sure we can count on coming home at the end of the day,” Neumann said. “That’s why the Steelworkers will continue to lead.”

Other speakers at Monday’s session included USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Mike Wright, AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Rebecca Reindel, and CWA Deputy Director of Health and Safety Micki Siegel de Hernandez.

Wright closed out Monday’s plenary session by moderating a panel discussion about a health and safety issue that stretches well beyond USW workplaces – the topic of climate change.

The panel included USW members, scientists and environmentalists, all of whom agreed that workers must be an integral part the discussion on climate policy. The session ended with questions and comments from delegates.

Brandi Sanders, a refinery worker and member of Local 13-1, said that the USW and its allies must focus not just on combatting the effects of climate change but also on making sure that the transition to a “green” economy includes good-paying union jobs for all workers.

“That’s why we need you in this fight,” Wright said.

USW petition drive persists for workplace violence bill

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 10:56

Members across the country continue to collect petition cards in support of the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. The bill would mandate that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) create a national standard requiring health care and social service employers to develop and implement a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan.

This legislation is especially important given that healthcare and social service workers face extremely high rates of workplace violence. Many of our members know this all too well, which is why the union’s Rapid Response department has taken on this vital campaign.

Women of Steel from District 11, joined by Assistant to the Director Cathy Drummond, spent some time volunteering for the cause last weekend at the Minnesota State Fair by collecting signatures from attendees. 

For more information about the campaign and how to sign one yourself, click here.

USW BASF Council Leverages Solidarity in Dealing with World’s Largest Chemical Company

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 12:04

In June 1984, BASF shut its doors on 370 operators and maintenance workers at its Geismar, La., chemical plant in what would become one of the nation’s longest lockouts in U.S. labor history. It took solidarity, collective action and alliances with local and national groups, but after five and a half years, Local 620 ratified a new contract and got everybody back to work.

Thirty-five years later, BASF is still a corporate behemoth, but the USW has taken steps to build bargaining power and safeguard against this kind of protracted work stoppage.

The BASF Council, which met this year on July 29-30 in McIntyre, Ga., has been one of the most concrete ways workers from all the BASF units can share their stories, help each other plan for bargaining and ensure unity and solidarity across locations.

“The council has really matured into a great tool for each local,” said District 9 Director Daniel Flippo, who heads the BASF Council. “We leverage each one’s strength and solidarity to ensure that we are one, not only in bargaining, but also in day-to-day contract administration.”

For Doug Watts, chairman of the Local 13-620 BASF group at Geismar, La., the council has two primary benefits.

“It brought together groups representing sites we never would have had contact with because they were from different business groups,” said Watts.

“Second, BASF says it does not engage in pattern bargaining, but it actually does. It depends on where you’re at in the bargaining cycle. The council can give you a heads up. It’s a really good communication tool. It would be hard bargaining with the company without the council.”

Local 10-074 Scores Contract Win

Building power training and solidarity from within the USW BASF Council paid off big last spring when Local 10-074 in Monaca, Pa., ratified a new contract that beat back concessions, increased wages and strengthened contract language.

Drawing on what they’d learned in Building Power training, the bargaining committee circulated three new stickers throughout the 80-person unit for three weeks. Members also signed a solidarity poster, which they placed on a union bulletin board in clear view of members and management alike.

Unit President Wil Lynn consulted with the council in addressing proposed concessions, like changing from an eight- to a 12-hour schedule. With the weight of the council behind them, the unit was able to avoid major give-backs.

The contract also included a 2.95 percent wage increase each year of the six-year contract, improved successorship, union leave and health and safety language, and kept workers’ premium contribution the same.

Solidarity in Bargaining

Local 10-074 Unit President Wil Lynn said his unit’s new contract was at the end of the bargaining cycle.

“To be able to say, ‘This is what the company is telling me,’ helps,” said Lynn. “It makes the company be more honest on the direction it’s trying to go.”

The council also chooses its yearly meeting location strategically, holding it close to a bargaining location as a demonstration of solidarity.

Locals 9-233, 9-237 and 9-237-1 in Middle Georgia begin negotiations on Sept. 4. Their contracts expire Sept. 30.

Twenty-six people—19 of them were council delegates—toured four of the company’s sites in the area, and Tommy Daniels, president of Local 9-237, said he felt the council meeting helped the Middle Georgia locals prepare for bargaining.

“It showed the locals that we have the backing of the other USW locals,” he said. “It also prepared us to know what they have been through and what they came up against in their contracts.”

Daniels said he found the presentations to be helpful, especially the financial analysis of BASF, which showed the company’s profits and the CEO’s salary.

“This is information we do not normally get, and we can say to BASF, ‘You are not as broke or poor as you say you are.’”

Beyond Bargaining

Securing fair contracts at all the union’s BASF locations is a top priority, but the council does important work between bargaining cycles as well.

During the council meeting the locals discussed bargaining trends, challenges and successes in dealing with management, and grievances and arbitrations.  They also discussed health and safety, long- and short term disability practices and the company’s new leadership.

Keith Gilmer, Local 10-074 trustee from BASF’s Monaca, Pa., plant acknowledged the value of the council meetings and conference calls.

“If something happens at one site, we talk about it. It gives my local an idea of how we could handle an issue based on discussions with other sites.”

Also important is the camaraderie that’s developed between the council members.

“The yearly council meeting is like a family reunion,” Daniels said, “catching up on what’s going on at the other places. We’re more like friends getting information from each other than council members.”

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