Thomas M. Conway

President’s Perspective

Tom Conway USW International President

America’s Tipping Point

America’s Tipping Point
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E.J. Jenkins vividly recalls the day his mom worked a voter registration drive at a grocery store in Gary, Ind., and followed one recalcitrant young man to his car, coaxing and cajoling him until he walked back inside and added his name to the rolls.

Jenkins took her lead and grew into a dogged activist who will spend days, even weeks, texting, calling and urging even complete strangers to vote.

This kind of activism has never been more vital as Republicans in at least 43 states attempt to manipulate the political process and deny their fellow Americans a voice, putting democracy at risk.

After a huge turnout of Black voters in Georgia catapulted two Democrats to the Senate last year, Republican-led states introduced hundreds of bills and passed nearly three dozen laws aimed at either disenfranchising the poor, citizens of color and other vulnerable groups or throwing up roadblocks making it difficult for them to vote.

Only bold action in the Senate—passing legislation to preserve voting rights—can halt these attacks and ensure a government of all the people.

“It’s really the tipping point. We’re losing right now,” warned Jenkins, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014, noting the wave of voter suppression harkens to an age when the nation’s leaders first denied the ballot box to Americans based on race, gender and socioeconomic status and later used poll taxes and poll tests to turn away Black voters.

Right now, Georgia isn’t the only state where Republicans fear higher turnout of Black voters. Black citizens represent 12.5 percent of U.S. voters, up from 11.5 percent in 2000, with high percentages living in battleground states—like Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—where Republicans pushed voter-suppression legislation after 2020.

Some of the new laws around the country restrict mail-in balloting and eliminate drop-off boxes, making it more difficult for people with disabilities and workers juggling multiple jobs to cast their votes. Others impose onerous voter identification requirements that disproportionately burden voters of color.

These laws, many of them facing legal challenges from civil rights groups, concentrate power in fewer hands and undercut ordinary Americans’ capacity to shape the country and their communities.

The franchise enables Americans to fight for a just tax system, equitable infrastructure, fairly funded schools and responsible policing. The ballot box paves the way to a country where every voice is heard. The greater the number of voters, the more resilient and representative democracy will be.

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Manchin Abandons West Virginia’s Working Families

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Manchin Abandons West Virginia’s Working Families
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Ed Barnette long ago realized that affordable child care and paid sick leave, among other resources, would be essential to helping West Virginians build better lives and save what’s left of the middle class.

He just never expected that when America was finally on the cusp of providing these essentials, West Virginia’s Democratic senator would join pro-corporate Republicans in blocking the way.

But that’s exactly what happened. In thwarting the Build Back Better legislation, Sen. Joe Manchin turned his back on the working families whose support catapulted him to power in the first place.

“It’s almost like he forgot where his roots are,” fumed Barnette, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5668, which represents hundreds of workers at the Constellium plant in Ravenswood, W.Va. “He comes from a blue-collar state. When you say ‘West Virginia,’ the first thing you picture is a worker with a hard hat.”

“Surely, he won’t do it,” Barnette recalled saying to himself in the days before Manchin decided to withhold his vote and block the bill. “He did, and I just thought, ‘Damn it! You’re supposed to be working for us.’”

Barnette rejoiced last fall when Congress passed a historic, $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Like other states, West Virginia urgently needs improvements to its roads and bridges, schools and airports, energy systems, locks and dams, and communications networks.

But Barnette understands that the infrastructure legislation will have the biggest impact—and create the greatest number of manufacturing and construction jobs—only in conjunction with the $2 trillion Build Back Better bill.

Build Back Better would provide access to affordable child care and pave the way for more parents, especially more single parents, to enter the work force. It would ensure workers receive up to four weeks of paid family medical leave, so they could battle life’s challenges while continuing to support their families.

And it would provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, putting all of America’s children on the road to productive lives.

“It will do nothing but help the working people and middle class of West Virginia,” said Barnette, citing West Virginia’s high poverty rate and population loss.

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Harm to One is Harm to All

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Harm to One is Harm to All
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Patrick Stock, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 105, wasn’t going to let anyone stop him from supporting the United Auto Workers’ strike against Deere & Co.

When a court issued an injunction limiting the number of picketers at a Deere facility in Davenport, Iowa, Stock gathered about 30 members of his local and other unions and organized a rally along a four-lane highway within sight of the plant gate.

He and the others gave up their afternoon—and risked injury from the vehicles whizzing past—because Deere’s attack on the Auto Workers was an attack on them, too.

Union contracts provide decent wages and benefits along with safe working conditions, retirement security and a means for workers to stand up for themselves.

One company’s efforts to gut a contract and trample on workers emboldens others to follow suit. That’s why workers from across the labor movement band together to protect one another.

They walk each other’s picket lines. They fire off letters of support to the local newspapers. They attend rallies and stick signs in their yards.

They also boycott offending employers and take up collections to ensure striking workers have food, diapers and other necessities.

Solidarity serves as a counterweight to corporate power and helps to preserve what’s left of the middle class.

“We see the big picture, and we support everybody,” Stock said, adding he’s certain other unions will back his members, who work at Arconic’s Davenport Works, during their next contract negotiations.

Workers throughout the country put their lives on the line and worked exhausting amounts of overtime to keep factories operating during the pandemic.

Despite those sacrifices, however, companies like Deere doubled down on greed. Even employers that made record profits during the pandemic want to further bloat their bottom lines on the backs of those who stepped up during the crisis.

That’s forced workers into a wave of strikes around the country and underscored the power of solidarity in holding employers accountable.

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Building Back OSHA

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Building Back OSHA
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When Ron Brady drives through highway construction zones, he makes a point of looking for safety violations that threaten workers’ lives.

He’s seen more and more of them the past few years as employers, emboldened by the weakened state of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), grew increasingly comfortable flouting the rules.

Funding and staffing shortages engineered by the previous presidential administration hobbled OSHA and put workers in numerous industries at risk. But now, Congress is poised to pass a bill that would help revitalize the agency and provide the resources needed to protect workers in a growing economy.

Along with many other provisions helping workers and their families, the Build Back Better legislation recently approved by the House would position OSHA to respond to more work sites, investigate additional complaints and proactively address a greater number of hazards.

“They’ve been woefully understaffed for a long time,” observed Brady, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 14614, which represents about 1,200 workers in the chemical, construction, gaming, manufacturing and other industries in West Virginia.

“They’re very professional,” he said of OSHA inspectors. “I’ve always found them to be very well trained. I think a lot of them are frustrated. They don’t have the resources to really do the job. There simply aren’t enough of them to cover it.”

The number of OSHA inspectors fell to the lowest level in half a century, and the agency conducted fewer investigations into top hazards like chemical exposure and musculoskeletal risks, as the previous president deliberately undercut the agency to benefit corporations.

Brady maintained a close watch on his members’ safety.

But in recent years, he said, he’s seen other construction workers navigate high beams without fall protection and risk their lives in work zones lacking the proper signage. And he knows that the starving of OSHA also put workers in other industries at higher risk.

“Everybody’s cutting corners and cutting budgets and trying to do more with fewer people. It’s something that’s going to get worse and worse,” Brady said.

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The Loud and Clear Call for Medicare Expansion

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

The Loud and Clear Call for Medicare Expansion
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Growing up, Tom Hay helped to raise hogs and crops on the family farm, never thinking to protect his ears from the din of tractors, combines and other machinery.

And while his United Steelworkers (USW) contract provided safety controls and protective measures during his decades at Titan Tire, he wasn’t surprised when hearing tests revealed his ears aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

Right now, Congress is on the cusp of helping millions of Americans like Hay live better lives. In addition to enhancing access to prekindergarten and battling climate change, among many other overdue improvements, Build Back Better legislation would expand Medicare to cover hearing aids and other auditory care for the first time.

Hay knows that just like a strong heart and powerful lungs, robust hearing is essential for seniors’ health, safety and fulfillment.

They need to hear honking horns warning them that they’ve stepped into oncoming traffic. They need to hear the sirens of police cars and ambulances that zoom up behind them in traffic. And they need to hear the alarms alerting them to fires, intruders and other dangers at home.

Yet even though about half of Americans 60 and older struggle with hearing loss—and even though voters overwhelmingly support Medicare coverage for auditory services—the nation has long relegated hearing care to the back burner.

As a result, many seniors delay getting hearing aids or forgo them altogether because of the expense, which can run to thousands of dollars. Numerous retirees shared these sorts of stories with Hay while he served as president of USW Local 164, the union representing workers at Titan Tire in Des Moines, Iowa.

“They go get a hearing test and realize they can’t hear anything,” Hay recalled. “Then, when they find out what it’s going to cost, it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I don’t know where the money is going to come from.’ They about fall over.”

Today’s hearing aids provide more help than ever before, and that’s all the more reason to get them to those in need.

They’re compact and highly sophisticated, delivering superior sound quality along with Bluetooth capability that connects users with their electronic devices. Vendors even offer remote support.

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Stronger Together

Stronger Together