Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

Seizing the Moment

Seizing the Moment
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When COVID-19 forced the 66-bed Maryhill Manor into lockdown, a resolute Veronica Dixon and her colleagues realized they had to make a choice: band together or fall apart.

So they put in longer hours, shouldered extra duties and leaned on each other to keep the Niagara, Wis., nursing facility operating as the coronavirus swept through, sickening dozens of residents and staff members.

What saved Maryhill Manor also offers hope for a country convulsed by storms. Only by working together can Americans end the pandemic, create a more equitable society and build a just economic system.

Dixon, a cook at the nursing home and the financial secretary of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 3168, noted that COVID-19 exacerbated the inequality that mires millions in poverty and tears at the nation’s social fabric.

“How can you not come together and try to work it out?” she asked.

“The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer,” observed Dixon, who’s seen more people in Niagara struggle since a local paper mill shut down, eliminating hundreds of family-sustaining jobs, more than a decade ago. “There has to be something in between so people can live a decent life and not worry about how to pay their bills.”

So many Americans see the nation at a crossroads that they came together in record numbers to elect Joe Biden, charting a course for healing and progress.

Then, in runoff elections for U.S. Senate this month, Georgia voters propelled the nation yet another step along the path of change by electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, inclusive candidates committed to progress.

“You can’t lie about the numbers,” Dixon said of the historic election results. “People want change.”

But it isn’t enough for Americans to band together at the ballot box. It’s just as important to rally behind the initiatives that build a fairer country, just as the solidarity of union workers yielded the 40-hour work week, decent benefits and workplace safety in previous decades.

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A Life-Saving Partnership

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Life-Saving Partnership
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For months, Penny Burroughs kept a close eye on working conditions at PCI Pharma Services and worried about her colleagues contracting COVID-19.

Burroughs and other representatives of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 286 collaborated with the pharmaceutical packaging company on intensive safety plans—even on-site medical care and a shuttle service—to protect workers.

And because these cooperative, proactive measures helped to keep the virus out of the Philadelphia plant, PCI had hundreds of healthy, energized workers ready to leap into action when pharmaceutical manufacturers sought assistance packaging and distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

While the pandemic drove home the need to reinvigorate the nation’s manufacturing base, it also underscored employers’ obligation to keep Americans safe on the job.

The foresight demonstrated by PCI and Local 286, for example, will help the nation vanquish a virus that’s claimed at least 359,000 U.S. lives so far and pushed unemployment to the highest level since the Great Depression.

Since the first shipment of vaccine arrived at PCI’s facility several weeks ago—escorted by U.S. marshals—workers already helped to distribute hundreds of thousands of life-saving doses.

Even as they do their part to battle the pandemic, Burroughs and her colleagues also continue labeling, assembling, packaging and shipping their regular customers’ orders for items like blood-pressure medications, auto-injectors, over-the-counter pain relievers and other products that consumers still need every day.

Union members always performed their jobs with the utmost diligence, realizing that the medications they provide to hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies helped to keep fellow Americans—maybe even their own friends and family members—well.

But the exceptional dedication and loyalty they demonstrated during the pandemic highlighted just how much the company relies on them.

Helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines—a process that involves labeling the vials before packaging them for shipment—created new levels of pride and enthusiasm at the plant.

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‘Standing Up for What’s Right’

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

‘Standing Up for What’s Right’
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Vermeshia Slay burns up the phone lines these days, encouraging Georgia voters to join the burgeoning grassroots movement to transform America’s future.

After delivering a crucial victory for Joe Biden in November, Slay and millions of other change-hungry Georgia voters set their sights on something even bigger.

They want to help the new administration put America on the path to health and shared prosperity.

By electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the state’s Jan. 5 runoff elections for the U.S. Senate, Georgians will lock in congressional support for Biden’s agenda to defeat COVID-19 and build an economy that works for everyone.

Moving America forward matters so much to Slay, an American Red Cross laboratory worker and unit chair of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 254, that the longtime voter threw herself into campaigning for the first time.

Slay operates a one-person phone bank from her suburban Atlanta living room, urging one registered voter after another to join the surge of Georgians pushing their state—and the country—in a fresh direction. She wants voters to make sure they grasp the importance of electing Warnock and Ossoff and giving Democrats a Senate majority in January.

Many of those on the other end of the line tell her, “We’re with you.”

More than a million Georgians requested mail-in ballots for the runoffs, and hundreds of thousands lined up this week for the start of early balloting—more signs that the voters who turned out in record numbers for Biden want a further hand in charting America’s future.

“It’s a lot of people coming together and standing up for what’s right,” Slay said, noting that young voters, Black women, suburbanites and beleaguered health care workers, among many other groups, coalesced into a movement for change.

Their goals include social justice, economic equality, affordable health care and an end to a pandemic that’s wiped out far too many lives and jobs.

“I think everybody is about fed up,” declared Slay, who saw her own hours at the Red Cross temporarily reduced when COVID-19 affected blood-collection efforts last spring. The experience gave her a firsthand look at the financial challenges many of her neighbors faced even before the health crisis struck.

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Never Again

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Never Again
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Brian Banks and his colleagues at Nipro Glass log 60- or 70-hour weeks right now in a grueling race to produce the glass tubing and vials essential to distributing millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Banks, a maintenance mechanic for nearly three decades, often feared over the years that the Millville, N.J., complex would close like so many other glass-making facilities around the country. If it had, America would struggle all the more to turn the corner on a pandemic that’s already claimed 275,000 U.S. lives.

COVID-19 laid bare the decades-long decline of manufacturing that left the nation straining to produce the face masks, ventilators, glass and other items needed to contain the coronavirus. Now, with vaccines nearly ready for distribution, America has an opportunity to defeat the virus and revive a manufacturing base crucial for protecting the country from future crises.

Of all the responsibilities that President-elect Joe Biden faces upon taking office Jan. 20, none demands more attention—and requires greater urgency—than ramping up production capacity and rebuilding broken supply chains to keep America safe.

Biden’s Build Back Better campaign will make common-sense investments in U.S. manufacturing that put millions to work and ensure a reliable, high-quality supply of critical goods, like the Nipro vials that are used not only to store COVID-19 vaccine but also the other drugs needed to treat hospitalized patients.

“It’s comforting for us to know that what we’re doing is contributing to something major,” explained Banks, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 219M, which represents the 200 or so dedicated workers keeping Nipro’s two Millville plants operating around the clock.

“There used to be lots of different places where we could get this glass. They’ve left. If we didn’t have this plant, where would we get it from?” asked Banks, who saw his own local shrink by thousands of members as several local glass facilities closed in recent decades.

In the urgent scramble to build stockpiles of vaccine that can be swiftly released for distribution once federal regulators give approval, multiple drug-makers approached Nipro for help.

The company added production capacity to help meet the flood of orders and relied on workers to put in extra shifts. However, as Banks noted, the nation could have more easily addressed the surging demand if it still had the large number of producers it did in years past and marshaled those collective resources to ramp up glass production.

“The product is still being made, just not in the U.S. It could have stayed here,” said Banks, who already wonders whether Nipro will embrace America’s long-term need for manufacturing and maintain its recently added capacity once the pandemic ends.

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Shared Sacrifice

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Shared Sacrifice
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Chad Longpre Shepersky repeatedly took COVID-19 tests—and waited on pins and needles for results each time—during a coronavirus outbreak at Guardian Angels Health & Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, Minn.

Longpre Shepersky, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), never contracted the virus. But he watched in agony as dozens of his patients and co-workers fell ill and fought for their lives.

As a weary nation enters the holiday season, Americans have an opportunity to help health care workers like Longpre Shepersky and start bringing the raging pandemic under control.

Consistently wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions will slow COVID-19’s spread and provide much-needed relief to the front-line workers battling burnout as well as the virus.

“Everyone should do their part,” insisted Longpre Shepersky, financial secretary and steward for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9349, which represents workers at Guardian Angels. “Just the other day, I witnessed people in Walmart not wearing masks or following 6-foot distancing. Too many people aren’t doing what they can to fight the virus.”

As infection rates soar to their highest levels nationwide, the 10-month-old pandemic continues to take a disproportionately deadly toll on frail, vulnerable nursing home residents and the people who care for them.

So many residents and workers at Guardian Angels contracted the virus that the Minnesota National Guard last month sent a five-person team to help keep the 90-bed facility operating. Even then, as he worried about his own safety and mourned the deaths of several patients, Longpre Shepersky logged grueling amounts of overtime to fill in for ill colleagues.

“It got to the point where you dreaded going to work because you didn’t know what the day was going to bring,” recalled Longpre Shepersky, a CNA for 21 years who considers his co-workers and patients a second family. “But there was no one else there to do it. I just pulled up my Big Boy pants and went in to work and got through the day.”

Many nursing home workers endured staffing shortages at their facilities long before the pandemic. Because of low Medicaid payments for patient care, among other reasons, facilities paid low wages, skimped on staff or battled chronic turnover.

When COVID-19 struck, turnover and staff sicknesses compounded the chronic understaffing.

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Union Matters

Weathering the Storm

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Columbia, Mo., faces a perilous winter because COVID-19 budget losses forced layoffs of snow-fighting workers and could even prompt the city to cut back on road salt.

The pandemic drastically reduced tax revenue, leaving local and state governments across America to slash budgets for public works departments and other essential services.

Unless the Republican-controlled Senate finally passes a stimulus bill providing billions in local and state aid, many communities will be forced to fight treacherous weather with smaller workforces and fewer resources than usual, ultimately putting the public at risk.

A stimulus bill--such as the one the House already passed--would not only help Columbia and other beleaguered cities keep road crews on the job but also enable them to maintain essential cold weather infrastructure like storage facilities and drainage systems.

And leading economists agree that relief to cities and states would fuel America’s economic comeback and help ensure the nation’s future health.

As millions of Americans brace for a dark winter, federal support for local governments will be essential to helping the country weather COVID-19 and other storms.

Stronger Together

Stronger Together