David McCall

President’s Perspective

David McCall USW International President

Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys

Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys
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Tanya Gaines and her co-workers launched a union drive 10 years ago because it was the only way to win livable wages, fair treatment and safe working conditions at the Golden Dragon copper tube manufacturing plant in Pine Hill, Ala., one of the state’s poorest areas.

Workers anticipated management’s opposition, but they felt blindsided when Alabama’s Republican governor at the time, Robert Bentley, also came out against the organizing drive and wrote a letter demanding they vote against the union.

Gaines and her colleagues stood up to Bentley’s bullying, joined the United Steelworkers (USW) and began building better lives.

More and more workers across the South seek the same path forward that union membership provides. But they’re still forced to defy Republican officials who’d rather toady to wealthy corporations than support workers’ fight for a fair economy.

Autoworkers in Alabama, for example, vowed to stay the course last month after the state’s current governor, Republican Kay Ivey, publicly rebuked their efforts to unionize a Mercedes-Benz plant.

Equally furious USW members and other workers in South Carolina demanded that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster correct course after he bragged during his state of the state address last month that he’d oppose unions “to the gates of hell.”

Unionizing is entirely the workers’ choice, a right guaranteed under federal law. And yet Ivey and McMaster stuck their noses where they didn’t belong, just like Bentley did with the workers at Golden Dragon in 2014.

“It was like a slap in the face,” Gaines, who grew up in a union family and learned the power of solidarity at a young age, said of Bentley’s interference.

“We’re here on site, doing the job. He had no idea of the problem it was to work here,” she added, recalling the exploitation that workers faced. “We need a voice. This is our voice.”

Gaines said she and her co-workers continue battling Golden Dragon over safety and other issues—a fight she can’t imagine waging without the protections and resources the USW provides.

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Solidarity Saved Him

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Saved Him
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Christopher Betterley arrived at the Altamont Veterans Facility in Buffalo, N.Y., a few years ago needing a home, a haircut and a fresh start after treatment for alcohol use.

He saw a sign tacked to the shelter’s dining room wall advertising jobs at the nearby Sumitomo tire plant, so he cleaned himself up, went for an interview and quickly impressed both management and leaders of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 135L.

But while the new job opened doors for Betterley, it was really union solidarity that saved him. He learned the trade from longtime union tire builders, leaned on the USW family that rallied around him, and pieced his life back together.

As Betterley discovered, unions lift up all workers. They fight for fair treatment and look out for the most vulnerable. They provide a path forward.

“When they took a chance on me, it really was them giving me a second shot,” explained Betterley, who deployed to Afghanistan during his six-year year stint in the New York Army National Guard.

“I’m not shy about any of this. It’s what happened,” continued Betterley, who’s proud of his military service but acknowledged that the experience contributed to the tough times he encountered later on.

“Things weren’t very great in my life prior to me starting to work with the Steelworkers,” he said. “I was hungry to get back on my feet and turn things around for myself. Working with the Steelworkers union gave me an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Betterley, a New York native, never worked in a manufacturing environment or belonged to a union before. But Local 135L members showed him the ropes.

They explained the power of collective action and outlined the union contract, which makes the workers at Sumitomo some of the best compensated tire makers in the world.

Union colleagues also ensured that Betterley received steel-toed boots and other personal protective equipment to keep him safe on the job. They helped him secure overtime hours and access the additional skills that paved the way to even higher wages.

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Fighting for Time to Heal

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Fighting for Time to Heal
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Mike Morales’s doctor advised him to take four weeks off for an important procedure, and the longtime crane operator readily agreed, secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t lose a dime in pay or face other repercussions at work.

Morales’ union contract enabled him to step away from his job at the Chevron Phillips plastics complex in Pasadena, Texas, to attend to his health.

He received regular pay during his absence and returned to work when he was able to do so. Morales, a unit recording secretary with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-227, recalled having just one concern during his convalescence—getting well.

Workers across the country need the same peace of mind while recovering from surgery or sickness. They need time to care for ill loved ones, bond with infants or welcome other new family members without risking their jobs or forfeiting the income needed to keep their households afloat.

And they need to be empowered to escape domestic violence, ensure family stability during a service member’s deployment or confront other emergencies without throwing themselves on the mercy of employers.

A bipartisan House committee recently released a “draft framework” of a leave plan, which would give states and employers new incentives to provide more workers with paid time off for emergencies. But that’s a far cry from the mandatory, universal and uniform leave available to workers in many countries.

Unfortunately, Americans’ access to paid leave right now depends largely on where they work and whether they’re fortunate enough to belong to a union. And many still have no paid sick leave at all, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a great benefit to us,” observed Morales, who’s stayed at the Chevron Phillips site for 43 years partly because of the USW-negotiated leave allotment, which renews periodically and even enables him to take days off to help family members.

He empathizes with contract workers at the site, saying they face the same life crises as union counterparts but lack the weeks or days off needed to effectively deal with them.

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Putting Money in Workers’ Pockets

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Putting Money in Workers’ Pockets
Joe Biden at a USW picnic in 2022

Libbi Urban’s co-workers broke into applause at the union hall last year when they learned that their new contract with Cleveland-Cliffs not only increased wages by a whopping 20 percent but provided greater work-life balance and even enabled them to retire earlier than planned.

They’d spent years fighting for some of the improvements. But this time, they wielded extra bargaining power because of the hot economy that President Joe Biden engineered with bold investments and a deep commitment to working people.

Workers in aluminum, auto, steel, tire, mining, paper, heavy equipment, service, health care and package delivery, among other industries, all racked up historic contract gains as the economy exploded under the current administration.

Biden inherited a nation battered by COVID-19. But under his steady leadership, America turned the tide.

His Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) unleashed $1.2 trillion to upgrade transportation, communications and energy networks with union labor and union-made materials and parts. His CHIPS and Science Act catalyzed billions more to boost production of semiconductors and rebuild crucial supply chains.

“We came out of COVID. The demand for steel was picking up,” said Urban, a longtime vice president with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9231 in New Carlisle, Ind., recalling the backdrop for negotiations with Cleveland-Cliffs.

“People were starting to buy and build. Everything hit just right for us,” continued Urban, one of 12,000 USW members in six states to benefit from the new contract.

The same scenario is playing out in one industry after another.

Wages nationwide are now growing at a faster rate than they did in the years before the pandemic. They’re outpacing inflation, which under Biden’s careful handling has dropped for months in a row without triggering the recession doubters feared.

The nation’s unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent during the early days of the pandemic, the highest level since the Great Depression. But it’s plummeted since Biden took the helm, registering just 3.7 percent—a historic low—last month.

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Advancing Worker Safety

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Advancing Worker Safety
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Kyle Downour, unit chair for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-346, threw himself into consoling fellow union members after a fire and explosion killed two co-workers at the BP-Husky refinery in Oregon, Ohio, last year.

But Downour, overwhelmed and stretched thin, realized that he was the one who needed support when federal investigators carried out a painstaking inspection of the damaged facility and held follow-up meetings.

Fortunately, a representative of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Department arrived to help. He also took part in the walk-through and raised crucial issues, helping to launch the thorough investigation that ultimately held BP accountable for the tragedy.

Workers in numerous industries across the country need the same kind of trusted, reliable assistance in a crisis, and a proposed rule under consideration by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would help ensure that they get it.

The so-called “walkaround rule” would underscore workers’ right to have representatives of their choice—officials from their international union, for example—take part in OSHA inspections in the wake of safety complaints or incidents like the one at the Ohio refinery.

“It was all priceless,” Downour said of the help he and the membership received from the union’s HSE Department during the inspection and months-long investigation. “They were on top of something before I could even get to the point of thinking about it.”

Right now, some employers try to stop local unions from bringing in outside representatives for inspections.

These companies fear the added scrutiny. Even in the aftermath of severe injuries or fatalities, they care more about exercising control than leveraging all of the resources available to find out what failed and avert future calamities.

The walkaround rule would stop employers from trying to stack the deck. And it would give workers a stronger voice and greater confidence in inspections.

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