Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

The Threat of Supreme Injustice

The Threat of Supreme Injustice

Joe Oliveira and his co-workers relied greatly on donations of food and gift cards after going on an unfair labor practice strike against multibillion-dollar specialty steelmaker ATI in 2021.

They cut household expenses to the bone, burned through their savings despite the public’s generous support of their cause, and held fundraisers to help one another cover mortgages and car payments during 3½ months on the picket line.

As much as the strike tested workers, however, it pressured ATI even more and ultimately enabled Oliveira and more than 1,300 other members of the United Steelworkers (USW) to secure long-overdue raises and stave off the company’s attempt to gut benefits.

Corporations so fear this kind of worker power that they’re asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rig the scales and help them kill future strikes before they even begin.

Glacier Northwest, a company in the state of Washington, sued the International Brotherhood of Teamsters seeking compensation for ready-mix concrete that went to waste amid a weeklong drivers’ strike in 2017.

The Washington Supreme Court threw out the case, but Glacier Northwest appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, betting a right-wing majority that’s already proven its animosity toward unions will seize the opportunity to kick working people once again.

Corporations anticipate that a ruling in favor of Glacier Northwest will encourage a frenzy of similarly frivolous claims against unions nationwide, bleeding precious resources and eviscerating workers’ right to strike.

The justices held arguments on the case Jan. 10 but it’s not known when the court will rule.

“That’s our greatest strength,” said Oliveira, vice president of USW Local 1357 in New Bedford, Mass., pointing out that the right to strike helped working people over many decades win not only fair wages but retirement security, safer working conditions and fairness on the job.

“It’s rotten when it comes to that point,” he said. “It’s very hard on families. It’s not any fun. But I think it’s probably the greatest weapon we have in our arsenal.”

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A Sacred Pact with Working Families

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Sacred Pact with Working Families
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Cliff Carlton was the 10th of 11 children and one of three still living at home when his father, a coal miner, died unexpectedly at 67.

Only his dad’s Social Security benefits, along with vegetables from the family’s small farm in southwestern Virginia, kept the household afloat during the lean years that followed.

That battle for survival made Carlton a lifelong champion of Social Security and a tireless opponent of the Republicans in Congress who keep trying to kill this lifeline for the middle class.

“It’s not a gift. It’s money that we’re due,” explained Carlton, vice president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 8-UR2 and president of the Virginia Alliance for Retired Americans.

“We put money into it. We deserve it back,” continued Carlton, 70, a retired tire manufacturing worker and longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW) who’s attended rallies and lobbied Congress on behalf of Social Security for 30 years.

Republicans long hoped to privatize Social Security, preferring to gamble Americans’ futures on the stock market rather than force the wealthy to pay their fair share of the taxes needed to sustain the program. Fortunately, congressional Democrats, union members and other Americans torpedoed these schemes.

But now there’s a new threat. To secure enough votes to become speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy toadied to extremist Republicans whose demands for radical budget cuts once again put Social Security and Medicare at risk.

Pro-corporate Republicans openly plot to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age, moves that would force millions of Americans to work longer and delay their retirements. Some Republicans even want to gut the current funding formula, slashing payments to Americans with other income, regardless of how much they pay into the program.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare warns that this kind of con, called means-testing, would end Social Security as Americans know it and take benefits even from those with “very modest incomes.”

“If you lose something, you don’t ever get it back,” observed Carlton, who fears that Republican toying with Social Security will break seniors already living on the margins amid skyrocketing medical costs and mounting bills stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Building the Essential Supply Chain

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Building the Essential Supply Chain
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Matt Thomas was driving Interstate 75 through the Detroit area about two years ago when he caught his first glimpse of “dead” cars—the partially manufactured vehicles marooned on sprawling factory lots amid the shortage of microchips needed for the autos’ safety, entertainment and GPS systems.

The sight sickened Thomas not only because his own set of wheels was getting along in years but because he recognized that he and other union workers stand ready to meet America’s growing demand for ever-more-sophisticated chips.

Federal legislation enacted in August is finally empowering workers for this crucial role. The CHIPS and Science Act, which unions and their Democratic allies pushed through Congress, invests billions to ramp up semiconductor manufacturing across the country and build out the supply chains providing essential materials, parts and components to chip makers.

That will end America’s dangerous over-reliance on foreign chip producers, whose pandemic-related production disruptions and inability to meet surging demand continue to stymie production of new vehicles. Strengthening the nation’s semiconductor industry also will ensure a more reliable supply of the chips needed for many other kinds of consumer goods, along with communications networks, energy systems and the military equipment essential for national security.

The legislation already sparked dozens of manufacturing projects with the potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs all along supply chains.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have these made domestically. There’s no reason why we should have to depend on someone else for production,” said Thomas, a steward for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12075-24, noting he and his co-workers look for the legislation to boost demand for products like the semiconductor resin they make at a DuPont plant in Midland, Mich.

Manufacturers continually strive to add brainpower to electronic devices, and the advanced packaging resin produced by Local 12075-24 members helps to accomplish this goal. Information on and among chips speeds “up and down, back and forth” with the resin, known as Cyclotene, explained Thomas.

These and other supply chain links are so critical to a robust semiconductor industry that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer chose a USW-represented glass plant in Canton, N.Y., as a backdrop for promoting the CHIPS and Science Act shortly after President Joe Biden signed the legislation in August.

“It’s incredibly important what our plant does,” said Anthony Badlam, president of USW Local 1026, whose members at the Corning facility make specialty glass that’s used as lenses in machines that imprint information on chips.

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Living Proof

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Living Proof
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James Boutcher seized control of his future several years ago when foreign dumping cost him his entry-level position amid a series of job cuts at Century Aluminum in Hawesville, Ky.

He enrolled in the federal government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, went back to school to become an electrician and graduated with high-demand skills affording lasting protection in an evolving economy.

Now, on the heels of yet another wave of layoffs at Century Aluminum, Boutcher wants Republicans in Congress to join Democrats in quickly reestablishing TAA so hundreds of other workers have the same opportunity he did to start over.

Century Aluminum began idling the smelter in June, citing rising energy costs sparked by Russia’s war on Ukraine. TAA expired at the very same time amid the lack of Republican support, leaving about 500 members of USW Local 9423 at the Hawesville plant—and a growing number of other Americans harmed by globalization—to fend for themselves.

“It needs to be there,” Boutcher said of TAA, which Congress created decades ago to assist workers who lose their livelihoods because of the adverse effects of world trade. “If anyone has any doubts, I’m living proof.”

The importance of the program only continues to grow because of the war in Ukraine, foreign competitors’ efforts to subvert fair trade laws and other factors outside workers’ control. In the 2021 fiscal year alone, the program enrolled 107,000 additional workers, up 12 percent from 2020, with many of the new participants living in states like Texas, Nebraska and Wisconsin where Republicans so far refuse to support the program.

TAA covered tuition, books, mileage, supplies and other expenses for displaced workers who opted to go to college or trade school so they could upskill, as Boutcher did, or change career paths.

The program provided case management, career counseling and job search services. And it provided relocation assistance to workers who had to move for new employment and temporary wage support to eligible workers whose new jobs paid less than their previous ones.

“I was not out a penny,” said Boutcher, recalling how a counselor at Owensboro Community and Technical College regularly reviewed his grades to ensure his compliance with TAA requirements and keep him on the path to graduation.

The program bought tools he needed for hands-on learning and enabled him to take extra classes so that, on top of his associate degree focusing on industrial electricity, he graduated with knowledge of residential and commercial work.

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Investing in Workers’ Rights

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Investing in Workers’ Rights
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Some workers began delaying doctor’s appointments and others started delving deeply into their pockets for care when Tecnocap illegally slashed health benefits at its Glen Dale, W.Va., manufacturing plant last year.

One worker even put thousands of dollars of chemotherapy charges on credit cards to save his wife’s life.

Lisa Wilds, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 152M, assured her colleagues that the company would be held accountable for the harm it inflicted on them. And just as she anticipated, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge issued a ruling in August that ordered Tecnocap to reinstate the old health plan and reimburse workers, with interest, for all expenses they incurred because of the company’s wrongdoing.

When employers like Tecnocap break the law, workers rely on the NLRB to enforce their rights. But a funding crisis imperils that mission at a time more and more Americans need the agency’s protection.

The NLRB hasn’t had an increase in its $274 million annual budget since the 2014 fiscal year, even though its workload skyrocketed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union organizing drives, overseen by the NLRB, increased 53 percent over the past year as workers in manufacturing, e-commerce, health care and numerous other industries banded together for the higher wages, affordable health care, paid sick leave and other advantages that only collective action can deliver.

Employers doubled down on misconduct amid this wave of worker empowerment, with unfair labor practice charges—the complaints workers file when companies violate their rights—increasing 19 percent during the same 12-month period.

Fortunately, the NLRB stepped in to save the jobs of workers illegally fired for union activity, force companies to bargain in good faith and prohibit employers from spying on and demeaning workers.

“There is no way to put into words the value and importance of the NLRB,” explained Wilds, who stands to recoup about $7,000 herself after the agency ordered Tecnocap to reimburse the workers for medical bills.

This was just one of numerous times she and her co-workers turned to the NLRB for help over the years. In 2018, for example, Tecnocap illegally locked out workers for nine days, refusing to let them work, in an effort to break the union during contract negotiations.

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Stronger Together

Stronger Together