David McCall Archive

More Jobs, Higher Wages

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

More Jobs, Higher Wages
Getty Images

John Ralston went into bargaining with Transco last fall intending to negotiate one of the strongest union contracts in his three decades with the company.

Carmakers urgently wanted to get new vehicles to market. The railroads needed to get more autoracks—enclosed rail cars used to transport vehicles—into service.

And Ralston said he and his co-workers, who maintain autoracks and other rail cars at a sprawling yard in Logansport, Ind., had “more work than we could handle.”

He and other members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-00007 ended up exceeding their expectations, winning wage increases of 24 percent over three and a half years along with important benefit enhancements.

It’s one more example of the significant gains that workers across the country are making as the nation continues to add jobs, invest in manufacturing and meet growing demand for products ranging from aluminum and steel to automobiles, appliances and many other kinds of goods.

“They knew they were going to have to offer a pretty substantial wage increase in order to hire more people and keep them there,” Ralston, the local’s recording secretary and a bargaining committee member, said of Transco management.

“I think they knew they were going to have to do something. They really want to add a second shift. They really want to expand our operations,” added Ralston, who repairs the air brake systems on rail cars.

The hiring buzz at Transco reflects a nationwide trend.

Employers created 15 million jobs, hundreds of thousands of them in manufacturing, over the past three and a half years. The nation added another 272,000 jobs in May alone, beating economists’ projections, and workers are benefiting with strong wage gains that outpace the cost of living.

“The American middle class is seeing their economic standing improved. The strong wages and improving living standards are the main takeaway from this very strong jobs report,” Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at the accounting firm RSM US, explained to The Washington Post.

More ...

We’re Here. And We’re Strong.

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

We’re Here. And We’re Strong.
Getty Images

Donneta Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025 and a longtime optical fiber maker at the Corning plant in Wilmington, N.C., knows how important it is for workers intent on forming a union to speak directly with peers who walk in the same shoes.

So Williams agreed to send three of her colleagues to Corning’s Tarboro facility, about 145 miles away, when workers at that site approached the union with questions about organizing.

Local 1025 members shared firsthand accounts of how the union boosted their wages, gave them a voice and kept them safe on the job. And about two weeks ago, the workers at Tarboro filed for an election to join the USW.

They’re among a growing number of workers across the South eager to leverage the power of solidarity and build brighter futures, even as CEOs and Republicans in this part of the country still conspire to hold them down.

“It’s all about making life better,” said Williams, who also serves as a vice president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, noting that workers are organizing across numerous industries in a string of Southern states with traditionally low numbers of union members.

“The narrative on unions in the South needs to change,” she added, pointing out that growing numbers of workers are grasping the benefits of collective action and demanding their fair share in the booming post-pandemic economy.

“We’re here,” she said. “We’re strong. We’re standing up, and we’re fighting with all that we have.”

About 1,400 workers at the Blue Bird electric bus factory in Fort Valley, Ga., last year voted overwhelmingly to organize through the USW.

The vote was a breakthrough for workers on the front lines of a vital, growing industry. It also sent a pointed, defiant message to a Republican governor who lies about unions and tries to prevent Georgians from joining them.

On the heels of that monumental victory, autoworkers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., overcame Republican opposition and voted by a huge majority last month to unionize.

More ...

Solidarity Sends the Bullies Packing

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Sends the Bullies Packing

Management at Amfuel tried to bully Jo Tucker and her 200 co-workers—most of them Black women, a number of them single moms—into accepting dozens of unnecessary concessions in a new contract.

For four years, however, the manufacturing workers in Magnolia, Ark., remained strong and resolute as the company tried to break the union and wear them down.

And then, just as the workers prepared to launch an unfair labor practice strike a couple of weeks ago, Amfuel surrendered. Because of their unflinching solidarity, the workers beat back the concessions and won a contract with life-changing raises, additional holidays and other benefit enhancements.

“We didn’t lose anything,” noted Tucker, a negotiating committee member and the financial secretary for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 607L. “That was good.”

Employers frequently try to kill morale, punish workers, or force them into concessionary contracts by dragging their feet at the bargaining table. But as union members at Amfuel and other companies prove time and again, a united front sends the bullies packing.

“We all hung in there together,” Tucker said of the workers, who make fuel cells for military helicopters and fighter jets. “It wasn’t easy. But we prevailed, and I thank God that we did.”

“It was teamwork,” she added. “Everybody was working together.”

As the workers geared up for bargaining in 2020, Amfuel received an infusion of money from new investors and additional support from the Defense Department and local community leaders. The company embarked on a growth plan, intending to rely ever more heavily on the skilled work force. It even bragged publicly about giving workers a bigger voice on the job.

Yet Amfuel stunned workers with a contract proposal demanding nearly 70 concessions.

Among other untenable proposals, Amfuel wanted to abolish seniority, reduce vacation pay and eliminate the grievance process, which would have made it easier for management to try to eliminate workers for any reason or none at all.

More ...

Building Resilience, Saving Lives

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building Resilience, Saving Lives
Getty Images

Scott Cox sprinted across the field, slogging through ankle-deep water, to where his parents’ house stood moments before.

He found a mountain of debris from the EF5 tornado, a milk truck that the unusually powerful twister had flung into the yard, and his parents’ horse, bleeding, covered with welts, standing dazed near the remnants of the back deck.

And then Cox, a longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW), heard his mother’s cries. He dug her out of the rubble by hand, saving her, only to lose his father, who was too injured even for CPR and perished along with 15 others in Smithville, Miss., that day.

The people of Smithville opened a domed tornado shelter following the April 2011 disaster, but that merely underscored America’s need for a comprehensive, forward-looking approach that empowers communities to fortify defenses, construct new bulwarks and avert climate-related destruction in the first place.

Now, thanks to President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the nation is building that kind of lifesaving resilience.

The USW-backed IIJA delivers billions for projects to end droughts, protect the coasts against hurricanes, harden infrastructure, build stronger buildings, and provide grants for storm-resistant safe rooms.

Mississippi alone received hundreds of millions so far, including $4.8 million announced just this month to upgrade two hurricane evacuation routes.

“The ultimate responsibility of the government is to keep people safe,” observed Cox, president of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 9-8. “That’s the No. 1 priority—and not only safe from enemies foreign and domestic but also from natural disasters.

“Having these resources, I think, is very, very important, especially in rural areas,” continued Cox, describing the Smithville disaster as a “traumatic experience that won’t end.”

More ...

A New Manufacturing Frontier

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A New Manufacturing Frontier
Getty Images

Tom Bixler and several hundred of his co-workers produced top-quality glassware at the Libbey Glass plant in Toledo, Ohio, over the years while keeping the aging equipment there operating through sheer grit.

They even set efficiency standards despite the steep odds and carried the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, all to ensure the sprawling manufacturing complex remained viable and a centerpiece of the local economy.

But while they’re rightly proud of all they’ve done to sustain the facility, Bixler and fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) know they need to continue innovating to build a more secure, sustainable future. They’re now embarking on a critical transformation of their plant that will not only safeguard Northwest Ohio’s glassmaking jobs for decades to come but help forge a new frontier in American manufacturing.

Bixler, president of USW Local 65T, joined U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur last week as they highlighted a federal grant award of up to $45.1 million that will enable the plant to install a pair of larger hybrid electric furnaces intended to boost efficiency, reduce pollution and expand employment.

The cutting-edge furnace technology—combining the advantages of oxygen fuel and electric melting to process the raw materials for glassmaking, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60 percent—has the potential to set a new standard for the industry and revolutionize glass production nationwide.

And this commitment to the glass industry represents just one part of President Joe Biden’s initiative to grow the manufacturing economy with clean energy and union jobs. In all, his administration this month announced $6 billion for 33 decarbonization and modernization projects, deploying a range of new technology, in iron, steel, chemicals, refining, cement, pulp and paper, and other industries.

Historic union-backed legislation—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act—will fund the grants.

“This is something that’s going to blaze a whole new trail,” said Bixler, a mold maker at Libbey for 41 years, who considers the federal grant, to be matched by the company, as Biden’s investment in workers who have worked so hard to preserve the plant and keep the community strong.

More ...

A New Shipbuilding Era

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A New Shipbuilding Era
Getty Images

James Crawford served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps maintaining the radar systems on super-sophisticated warplanes built to fend off enemy attacks from air, sea and land.

But not once during his time in numerous ports as far away as Asia did he see a U.S. commercial vessel plying the seas, a sign, he now realizes, of another kind of threat to the homeland.

America’s security begins with skilled union workers manufacturing the goods, equipment and other essentials, including cargo freighters and tankers, needed to keep the nation independent and free.

And so Crawford joined fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) recently in taking action to resuscitate the country’s decimated commercial shipbuilding industry and end a growing, perilous dependence on Chinese shipping.

The USW and other unions filed a petition with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai seeking an investigation into China’s illegal predatory trade practices, unfair state support for its own commercial shipbuilding industry, and plot to dominate global logistics networks.

China’s network of policies—including massive subsidies for the industry, such as cash payments, tax incentives and other handouts—continues to kill competition in America and other countries. As a result, China not only controls an enormous percentage of the world’s commercial shipbuilding output but wields the power to cut off access to ships it builds and operates at any time, for any reason.

“You can’t go somewhere to fight if you’re weak at home,” observed Crawford, unit president for USW Local 3372-07 who works at Hunt Valve in Salem, Ohio, noting that the U.S. not only needs commercial ships to carry manufactured goods to the far corners of the world but to provide sealift capacity to the military in times of crisis.

The United States once had about 30 major shipyards with 180,000 workers and contracts for more than 70 commercial vessels a year. But tens of thousands of those shipyard jobs disappeared since the 1980s as China hijacked the industry.

Some shipyards, like the USW-represented complex in Newport News, Va., began focusing entirely on military contracts. Others, like the Sun Shipping and Dry Dock complex in Chester, Pa., once the world’s largest shipyard and a center of shipbuilding innovation, simply closed. A casino now occupies the property.

More ...

Building America, Fighting Greed

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building America, Fighting Greed
Getty Images

The widowed single mom attacked grocery shopping with the doggedness of a Marine on a mission.

To provide for her family in the face of corporate price-gouging, she bought off-brand items and selected eggs for protein instead of higher-costing meat. She even worked multiple jobs to keep the family solvent.

And despite the challenges she faced, she never complained, recalled Denny Mitchell, a longtime United Steelworkers (USW) activist who’s filled with admiration for the way the woman raised her family.

Ordinary working people like Mitchell’s friend continue to build America with humble heroism, even as the greedy rich try to cheat them not only at the checkout line but everywhere from the workplace to the halls of power.

“It’s a fight. It’s always a fight,” observed Mitchell, noting that Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick underscored the arrogance of the 1 percent when he flippantly suggested a few weeks ago that struggling families eat cereal for dinner.

Pilnick, who pockets millions in salary and incentive compensation, runs a corporation largely responsible for the rampant price-gouging in the nation’s grocery stores.

Kellogg’s jacked up prices by more than 14 percent over the past couple of years while announcing plans to shower shareholders with stock buybacks and dividends.

Other food-makers joined in the exploitation, raising prices, reducing the amount of product in their packaging or switching to cheaper, lower-quality ingredients that enable them to pad their bottom lines on unwitting consumers’ backs.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania released a report in December assailing numerous companies for “shrinking products to super-size profits.” Among many other examples, Casey revealed that General Mills quietly shaved 1.2 ounces from boxes of Cocoa Puffs in 2021 while Conagra started skimping on ingredients in its Smart Balance spread in 2022, “resulting in a watery product that sparked consumer backlash.”

More ...

Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys
Getty Images

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.

More ...

Solidarity Saved Him

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Saved Him
Getty Images

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.

More ...

Fighting for Time to Heal

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Fighting for Time to Heal
Getty Images

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.

More ...

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.

More ...

Advancing Worker Safety

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Advancing Worker Safety
Getty Images

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.

More ...

A Fighting Chance

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A Fighting Chance
USW members during 2021 ULP strike

Keith Beavers began to cut household expenses and raid his savings when Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) forced him and other union members into an unfair labor practice strike two years ago.

As difficult as it was for Beavers to get by without a paycheck, however, it pained him even more to see colleagues struggle and to know that the multibillion-dollar company intended to hold out long enough to squeeze workers into accepting deep concessions.

Beavers and other members of the United Steelworkers (USW) ultimately turned the tables and beat ATI at its own game, standing strong together for three months until the company signed a fair contract.

Now these USW members are battling to ensure that workers in Pennsylvania never face that kind of unfair fight again. They’re advocating for state-level legislation that would provide unemployment compensation to striking workers and keep employers like ATI from attempting to starve them into submission.

Pro-worker Democrats, led by Reps. Dan Miller and Mandy Steele of Allegheny County, pushed the measure through the state House on a bipartisan basis last month. Now, the bill goes to the Senate.

“This is a tool that would give people the ability to stand up to corporations and help the middle class,” explained Beavers, president of the USW Local 1138 unit representing about 200 workers at ATI’s plant in Vandergrift, Pa.

“We’d be able at the very least to keep food on the table for our families and pay some of our bills and fight the good fight without losing everything,” said Beavers, who advocated for the legislation at a press conference. “All we’re looking for is a way to level the playing field.”

Right now, workers in Pennsylvania receive unemployment compensation benefits when they experience cuts in full-time work hours or lose their jobs because of layoffs, closures or other factors outside their control.

But it’s just as essential for workers to access this lifeline during labor disputes, especially when companies like ATI refuse to bargain in good faith or commit unfair labor practices that force workers onto the picket line.

More ...

Gambling with Americans’ Futures

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Gambling with Americans’ Futures
Getty Images

Vikki Marshall helped to connect unemployed Arizonans with food and shelter during the Reagan-era economic crisis and sometimes found herself on the phone late at night trying to talk a desperate person out of suicide.

These experiences as a social worker and union activist in the 1980s left her keenly aware of the tenuous lives many Americans lead and turned her into a lifelong fighter for the opportunities and resources essential to building more resilient families.

But while Marshall spent decades working alongside other union members to foster economic security, Republicans in Congress did the opposite. They repeatedly attempted to gut Social Security and gamble with Americans’ futures.

It happened again last week. Extremists in the U.S. House demanded $183 million in cuts to the Social Security Administration, along with needless cuts to other vital programs and agencies, to avert a government shutdown.

Democrats defeated the right-wingers once again, preserving the programs and keeping the government running. But Marshall, a longtime member of United Steelworkers (USW), knows the GOP will continue targeting Social Security and torpedo the program if they ever have enough votes to get away with it.

“It isn’t their money to play with,” fumed Marshall, 80, now president of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 39-8 in Tucson, Ariz.

“It’s our survival. It’s ours. We earned it,” she said, noting Americans support Social Security while working and, in return, receive payments during retirement or in cases of disability. “I’m very grateful. I have a pension in addition to my Social Security. A lot of my friends and neighbors do not.”

Millions of retirees rely entirely on Social Security and would fall into poverty without it. And even though Americans overwhelmingly oppose cuts to the hugely popular program, Republicans cannot keep their hands off of it.

Over the years, they tried to privatize Social Security and bet Americans’ futures in the stock market. They plotted to increase the retirement age and hollow out benefits for people already paying into the system, potentially forcing Americans to postpone retirement, scrape by during their golden years, or work until death. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, for example, was once caught on camera saying he wanted to “phase out” Social Security and “pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.”

More ...

Jobs Today, Jobs Tomorrow

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Jobs Today, Jobs Tomorrow
Getty Images

Ryan Andreas helped his union push through legislation for a national infrastructure program two years ago, realizing that historic upgrades to America’s utilities, ports and bridges portended brighter futures for him and his co-workers at Travis Pattern and Foundry.

It turned out exactly as Andreas anticipated. He and his colleagues experienced skyrocketing demand for clamps, vacuum tubing and other products after President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) on Nov. 15, 2021, prompting the company to create hundreds more union jobs and expand production facilities.

“It’s benefited us tremendously,” said Andreas, financial secretary for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 289M, which represents nearly 500 workers at two Travis facilities and another manufacturer in Spokane, Wash. “We’ve almost had to turn away business.”

The IIJA unleashed $1.2 trillion for tens of thousands of projects nationwide. It’s upgrading transportation, communications and energy systems while building back manufacturing capacity, generating hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and investing in the middle class.

In Washington state alone, as U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen noted, the program continues to touch all parts of the economy, creating jobs in construction as well as the “transit, trucking, aviation, rail and maritime sectors.” Andreas and his colleagues just wrapped up work on a big order supplying parts to a company serving the rail industry.

Across the country, investment in plants, mills and other manufacturing facilities doubled since the end of 2021 after increasing only negligibly in the four years before that, according to data from the U.S. Treasury Department and the White House. “The factory construction of today means manufacturing jobs for tomorrow,” Livia Shmavonian, director of Biden’s Made in America office, observed in August.

Travis Pattern and Foundry is among the companies committing to facilities and people because of the IIJA. The 101-year-old family-owned business recently completed a new building, adding 45,000 square feet of production space, and it’s now planning another multimillion-dollar addition to its 170,000-square-foot campus.

“We are always looking to hire more people,” said Andreas, noting the contract he and his fellow union members recently ratified delivers significant wage increases, cuts the time needed to reach the top of the pay scale, and provides other enhancements that will help current and future workers build better lives.

More ...

Pathway to the Middle Class

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Pathway to the Middle Class
Getty Images

Felipe Venegas wears full-body personal protective equipment—and moves carefully and methodically even on the hottest days—because he processes chemicals with the potential to ignite and explode in a heartbeat.

Venegas and his co-workers at Nouryon in La Porte, Texas, put their lives on the line to supply the nation’s need for coatings, cleaning solutions and many other essential products.

Yet the company arbitrarily axed their bonuses about a year ago even as bosses continued pocketing their own premium pay for the work force’s outstanding safety and production record.

It was one more kick in the gut for Venegas and his colleagues, who voted in February to unionize and join the growing numbers of Americans who are harnessing collective power to build better lives. Now, they’re in the process of bargaining their first contract.

Union election petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board soared in the wake of the pandemic as workers in manufacturing, energy, retail and many other industries organized to level the playing field and win their fair share. Workers at thousands of workplaces, including the Nouryon complex in La Porte, Texas, began forming unions this year alone.

“I just felt we had to do something different,” recalled Venegas, a production operator at Nouryon for 15 years who led several dozen co-workers in their successful drive to become members of the United Steelworkers (USW). “We didn’t see a future. We’re finding it harder to stay in the middle class.”

Workers at Nouryon faced the same quandary as millions of other struggling Americans. Instead of moving ahead, they kept falling further behind without a union, Venegas said, citing paltry wage increases, a lackluster retirement plan and other mistreatment at Nouryon, a multibillion-dollar global company that’s co-owned by the Carlyle Group, one of the biggest investment firms in the world.

Nouryon posts whopping revenue on workers’ backs, and the Carlyle Group’s founders appear on Forbes’ real-time list of billionaires. Meanwhile, Venegas and others at the La Porte plant struggle to pay for their families’ medical care.

“It’s horrible,” Venegas said of the company’s health care plan, which requires hefty premium contributions and deductibles even though the physical nature of the job takes a heavy toll on workers’ bodies. “You have to pay 100 percent before you reach your deductible. My deductible is like $5,000.”

More ...

Putting an End to Divide and Conquer

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Putting an End to Divide and Conquer
Getty Images

The single mother, determined to provide the best for her family, poured heart and soul into her job at the Cooper Tire plant in Texarkana, Ark.

Yet, Kerry Halter recalled, the woman made thousands of dollars less every year than co-workers performing the very same job. Even worse, under the plant’s two-tier wage system—paying lower rates to more recently hired workers—she’d never catch up.

Fortunately, Halter and other members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 752L drew a line in the sand during contract negotiations four years ago and forced the company to eliminate the capricious pay system, ensuring all workers at the plant began receiving equal pay for equal work.

Those USW members represented the leading edge of a movement now sweeping the country. In one industry after another, fed-up workers are fighting back against the two-tier systems that employers use to cheat and divide them.

In addition to wages, some employers use two-tier systems to give more recently hired workers lower-quality health care or retirement benefits than other workers or to impose unequal compensation systems on people performing the same work in different locations.

“Greedy corporations and CEOs like to see how much money they can save on the backs of their workers,” said Halter, the Local 752L president. “At some point in time, you just have to say enough is enough, and we’re going to stand up and fight for fair wages and benefits.”

Under Cooper Tire’s system, workers who joined the Texarkana plant beginning in 2009 made only 85 percent of what co-workers hired before them did.

That disparity quickly trapped more and more workers in a cycle of exploitation that cost them thousands of dollars in wages every year while also limiting their vacation pay and other benefits. More veteran workers, meanwhile, disliked making more money than co-workers doing the same jobs right next to them.

“It shouldn’t be about your hire date,” said Halter, noting his 1,500 union members—newer and more veteran workers alike—collectively decided to make evening the scales a priority in 2019 contract talks.

More ...