Tom Conway Archive (Page 2)

The Infrastructure Program’s Chain Reaction

The Infrastructure Program’s Chain Reaction

Chris Frydenger and his co-workers at the Mueller Co. in Decatur, Ill., began ramping up production of valves, couplings and other products used in water and gas systems soon after President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) last year.

But the life-changing impact of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure program really struck Frydenger, grievance chair for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-838, when management reached out to the union with an unprecedented proposal.

The company asked to reopen the local’s contract and negotiate an additional pay increase so it could hire and retain enough workers to meet the dramatic spike in orders. “Everybody in the union got a raise,” Frydenger recalled.

Historic improvements to America’s roads, bridges, airports, public utilities and communications networks have generated surging demand for aluminum and steel as well as raw materials like nickel and ore and the pipes, batteries, valves and other components needed for thousands of infrastructure projects.

That demand, in turn, continues to create family-sustaining jobs, put more money in workers’ pockets and lift the middle class, just as labor unions and their Democratic allies predicted when they pushed the legislation through Congress and onto Biden’s desk.

“This story needs to be told, for sure. It at least doubled our business in a short period of time,” said Frydenger, noting the local’s 408 members not only received middle-of-the-contract pay increases but continue to avail themselves of all the overtime they want.

Workers use that extra money to buy cars and appliances, remodel their houses and support local businesses, among many other purposes, helping to extend the IIJA’s reach to virtually every segment of the local economy.

“It’s had such an impact that in our new hire orientations, our general manager talks about it,” Frydenger said of the IIJA. “That’s how big an impact it’s had on sales. He gives all the credit to the infrastructure bill.”

The billions allocated for drinking water, sewer and stormwater upgrades will enable utilities across the nation to extend distribution systems, replace aging pipes, curtail runoff and address lead and other contaminants. And investments in natural gas infrastructure—as well as solar, wind and hydrogen power—will help the country build a more secure, reliable energy base.

Domestic procurement requirements in the infrastructure law will ensure these projects rely on products such as those made at the Decatur plant. What makes Frydenger happier still is knowing that his union brothers and sisters up and down the supply chain also have brighter futures because of the infrastructure push.

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Solidarity Lifts Workers over Life’s Struggles

Solidarity Lifts Workers over Life’s Struggles
Photo courtesy of Mayra Rivera

Navigating washed-out roads and piles of debris, Mayra Rivera quickly began checking on co-workers and neighbors after Hurricane Fiona battered Puerto Rico last month.

Rivera, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8198, realized she’d spend months if not years helping the island navigate a daunting cleanup and recovery process. But her immediate goal was ensuring community members had the basics:

Safe food. Clean drinking water. And, just as important, a shoulder for survivors to lean on as they began picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

While labor unions continue their traditional fights for decent wages, affordable health care and safe working conditions, they’re also stepping up to help workers manage stress and the threats to mental health that they encounter on and off the job.

Rivera, whose local represents municipal workers in the southern coastal city of Ponce, collaborated with the USW’s Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education in recent years to deliver disaster and mental resilience training to island communities pummeled by a string of hurricanes and earthquakes.

The training includes techniques for helping families prepare physically and psychologically for disasters, such as assembling “go bags” to sustain them in case of extended evacuations. The program, adapted from resources and materials developed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Training Program, also helps to boost residents’ safety and confidence by demonstrating how to guard against contaminants, downed power lines and other hazards that hurricanes leave in their wake.

And the training showcases strategies—like providing social support, as Rivera offered in Fiona’s aftermath—to help survivors maintain the resilience essential to persevering after tragedy strikes. Rivera knows that the same solidarity that lifts up workers on the job also can help disaster survivors get through their darkest days.

“They start talking and talking and talking. They need to talk. People need to be heard,” said Rivera, recalling how eagerly residents related their experiences to her after Fiona knocked out power to the entire island, destroyed infrastructure and flattened entire communities.

Providing this kind of outlet is especially critical, she noted, to maintain hope among people who were still trying to bounce back from 5-year-old Hurricane Maria when Fiona walloped them again.

Tarps still covered thousands of homes that lost their roofs during Maria. Fiona destroyed some of the same infrastructure all over again. The wave of disasters created a looming mental health crisis that Rivera says her union is well suited to help address.

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Voting to Continue America’s Progress

Voting to Continue America’s Progress
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Al Polk will bid his wife goodbye on Oct. 11 and set out for New Hampshire with boots, gloves, heavy coat, windshield scraper and shovel in the trunk of his Chevy Impala.

As the weather grows colder over the next few weeks, the fight for America’s future will also reach a turning point. And there’s no way the 79-year-old will let brutal temperatures, ice or snowstorms impede his efforts to turn out Granite State voters for the crucial Nov. 8 election.

Polk, a Massachusetts resident and member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), is among thousands of union activists across the country committed to knocking on doors, handing out leaflets and organizing rallies to support the pro-worker candidates needed to continue moving America forward the next two years.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe in it,” declared Polk, who served as president of his United Steelworkers (USW) local at Cleveland Twist Drill in Mansfield, Mass., for 20 years and then worked on the union staff before retiring in 2015.

Polk has volunteered for election work in New Hampshire for decades.

He’s lived in hotels for weeks at a stretch, just as he intends to do again this year. He’s endured drenching rain as well as early winter snowstorms forcing him to shovel out his car before long days of door-knocking.

He’s talked with thousands of fellow union members, securing untold votes with his respectful doorstep advocacy, and handed out thousands of flyers at USW-represented workplaces like the Manchester Water Works, New Hampshire Ball Bearings in Laconia and 3M in Tilton.

And while every election has its pivotal issues—the Democrats’ tireless work on invigorating the economy and growing the middle class proved decisive factors in 2020, for example—Polk cannot remember another time when voters in New Hampshire and throughout the country faced so stark a choice as they do this year.

“Keep the forward movement or stand still,” explained Polk, who expects to log many miles traveling around the state to highlight the string of accomplishments that pro-worker officials and their union allies racked up since President Joe Biden took office just 20 months ago.

That list of accomplishments includes the American Rescue Plan, which provided the child care assistance and other support that families needed to survive the COVID-19 pandemic while also saving the retirements of 1.3 million Americans enrolled in faltering multiemployer pension plans.

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Bringing Workers’ Sensibility to Local Government

Bringing Workers’ Sensibility to Local Government
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When a group of custodians in York County, South Carolina, learned their bosses planned to sell them out to save a few pennies, they knew exactly who to turn to for help—a fellow worker who’d walked in the very same shoes.

County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey, a longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW) and a former custodian himself, assured the county workers that he had their backs. Roddey ultimately helped quash the scheme to contract out the county’s janitorial services, a victory both for the custodians and the taxpayers relying on their quality work.

Electing more union members like Roddey to councils and mayoral posts will help to combat right-wing attacks on workers and hold local government accountable to the ordinary people it’s intended to serve.

“We speak for the American worker,” Roddey, a member of USW Local 1924 who works at New-Indy Containerboard, said of union members. “We speak for the middle class. The agenda is not about us if we are not at the table.”

If the county had privatized cleaning services, any small budgetary savings would have paled next to the pain inflicted on the custodians, Roddey said, noting officials out of touch with working people “don’t too quickly grasp these scenarios.”

“The perspective of the people who sign the front of the paycheck is different from the perspective of the people who sign the back of the paycheck,” said Roddey, whose colleagues on the council include three business owners. “I bring that back-of-the-paycheck perspective to everything I do.”

Attacks on working people aren’t unique to South Carolina.

After the school board in Putnam, Conn., contracted out custodial services, for example, workers lost access to their pension system even though they’d been promised no change in benefits.

In recent months, USW-represented school bus drivers in Bay City, Mich., beat back efforts to contract out their work, while union members in Los Angeles County, California, won their own fight against privatization.

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The Path Forward for Communities Like Lost Creek

The Path Forward for Communities Like Lost Creek
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Carl Asher clung to a wooden post on his porch for three hours—yelling for help in the darkness, water lapping at his neck —before risking it all.

He threw himself into the torrent below and, guided by a neighbor’s spotlight, swam several hundred feet against a punishing current to high ground. Asher and his wife, Tonya, a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) who was at work at the time, lost their home, five vehicles, a camper, and their 12-year-old cat, Ebony, in historic flooding that killed 39 and obliterated parts of Eastern Kentucky in July.

Climate change rendered these communities and countless others across the country vulnerable to increasingly frequent and powerful storms.

The nation long responded to these calamities with patchwork repairs that failed to provide lasting improvements or real protection. But now, America’s $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is delivering the stronger, more resilient roads, broadband networks and water systems that comprehensively guard against not only floods but wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters.

The IIJA, which President Joe Biden signed in November, earmarks billions for flood prevention and mitigation projects alone. That includes shoring up dilapidated dams, strengthening coastal defenses, overhauling the stormwater systems needed to manage heavy rains, relocating drinking water lines out of flood zones and upgrading sewer systems to prevent the overflows that occur during major storms.

And the IIJA includes funds for dredging long-neglected waterways, while also allocating hundreds of millions of dollars more each year to a program that elevates homes in at-risk areas so that others will be spared what the Ashers and other Kentuckians endured this summer.

The couple, longtime residents of the small community called Lost Creek, completed a screened-in porch and a concrete driveway and added to a memory garden dedicated to their late son, Matthew, in the months before the flood.

The water rose so rapidly that night that Carl Asher dropped a box of valuables he had gathered and shimmied up the porch for safety. The flood eventually triggered a fire, which caused the second floor to collapse into the first and ended any hope of saving their home of 16 years.

“If I was there, I would not have survived. I cannot swim. I would not have made it,” said Tonya Asher, a member of USW Local 14637 who works at the Appalachian Regional Healthcare medical center in nearby Hazard, Ky., noting the current her husband battled was so strong it “literally ripped his clothes off of him. By the time he reached the neighbors, he was just shaking.”

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Making Worker Power A Constitutional Right

Making Worker Power A Constitutional Right
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Chris Frydenger’s young co-workers at the Mueller Co. performed the same work and brought the same dedication to their jobs as he did, but the manufacturer’s two-tier wage system exploited newer hires by paying them thousands less each year.

Outraged by the unfairness, Frydenger and the entire membership of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-838 in Decatur, Ill., took a stand during contract negotiations a few years ago and not only beat back the inequitable pay system but won younger members catch-up raises of more than 21 percent.

That collective victory remains one of the proudest moments in Frydenger’s life. And now it’s fueling his fight to make worker power a constitutional right in his home state.

A Nov. 8 referendum will give Illinois voters the opportunity to enact a “Workers’ Rights Amendment” to the state constitution, enshrining in the state’s highest law Illinoisans’ freedom to join unions and bargain collectively for better lives while also barring future legislation that would erode worker strength.

The ballot question passed the Legislature on a bipartisan basis last year, a sign of how much the measure reflects the people’s will. As they educate more voters about the referendum, Frydenger and other activists find almost unanimous support for a measure that would give workers greater control of their destinies, beyond the clutches of CEOs, pro-corporate politicians and other anti-labor forces.

“I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t be in support of this,” said Frydenger, grievance chair and Rapid Response coordinator for Local 7-838, who’s canvassing neighborhoods, distributing leaflets and making phone calls to make sure workers know that their very futures are on the ballot this year.

The Workers’ Rights Amendment would help future generations negotiate the family-supporting wages needed to sustain the middle class and the nation’s economy. It would safeguard Illinoisans’ right to a voice on the job, including the freedom to call out unsafe working conditions without fear of reprisal.

And it would ensure workers can band together, as Frydenger and his colleagues did, to hold employers accountable. Frydenger recalled the local’s negotiating committee tossing a pile of worker surveys on the bargaining table—all demanding elimination of the two-tier wage system—and telling management there’s no way union members would ever vote for a contract that retained it.

The constitutional amendment has deep emotional meaning to Frydenger, who observed that it would confer “sacred,” “fundamental” and “essential” status on workers’ rights at a time that more and more Americans view union membership as the path forward.

“Every time I turn on the news, I see an Amazon location or another Starbucks store voting in a union,” he said, noting a new Gallup poll this week showed that 71 percent of Americans support organized labor, the most since 1965.

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Fighting the Shadow Pandemic

Fighting the Shadow Pandemic
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Losing two co-workers to domestic violence over a three-year span left Emily Brannon and other members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 310L reeling.

But their grief, Brannon noted, also launched them on a quest to save others. They helped to negotiate paid domestic violence leave into their contract with Bridgestone-Firestone, enabling other colleagues experiencing intimate partner violence to step away, focus on getting safe and return to work when they’re able to do so.

As intimate partner violence continues to increase, the unions that protect workers on the job are also fighting to keep them safe when they go home.

Brannon’s USW local in Des Moines, Iowa, is one of dozens in the United States and Canada with contract language providing domestic violence survivors with the resources crucial to breaking free of their abusers.

And the drive to empower survivors continues to grow. The USW just ratified contracts with two major employers in the paper sector, Domtar and Packaging Corp. of America (PCA), that extend similar protections and resources to thousands more workers at dozens of mills and box plants.

“I think it shows that we’re sensitive to the issues of our members,” explained Brannon, treasurer of Local 310L and a member of the local’s Women of Steel committee, who knew both of the members fatally shot by their abusers between 2014 and 2017. “We have a very diverse workforce and a diverse membership, and there are a variety of issues outside of work that the members may be dealing with.”

“Any time we can address a safety issue, we will. That’s one of the reasons you have a union in the first place,” added Brannon, noting the union also honors the members lost to domestic violence through a partnership with Soaring Hearts Foundation, a nonprofit in Des Moines advocating for victims of violence.

Domestic violence increased significantly with the lockdowns, economic strain and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming known as the “shadow pandemic.” In all, about 20 percent of women and 14 percent of men across the United States have experienced “severe physical violence” from intimate partners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Financial security is key to helping survivors leave abusive partners and stay away from them. “There’s a lot on the line,” Brannon said, noting many survivors also have to provide for children.

Union-negotiated domestic violence leave helps to bridge this need. It provides paid or unpaid time off for court appearances, relocation, counseling and more, enabling survivors to attend to pressing obligations without expending vacation or sick days.

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Denying Workers a Voice at Any Cost

Denying Workers a Voice at Any Cost
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Robert B. “Bull” Bulman and his co-workers at the FreightCar America plant in Cherokee, Ala., only wanted decent pay and a safe work environment.

But when they tried to form a union to achieve these basic goals a few years ago, the company declared war on them. It bullied union supporters, threatened to move the plant to Mexico and heaped extra abuse on Bulman, one of the leading activists, telling him he couldn’t leave his work station, even to use the restroom, without permission.

As more and more Americans exercise their right to unionize, greedy employers are stooping ever lower into the gutter and pulling every dirty stunt imaginable to try to thwart them.

Chipotle, Amy’s Kitchen and other employers closed worksites where workers opted to unionize, preferring to turn their backs on customers than give those toiling on the front lines a seat at the table. Amazon and other employers have fired or otherwise retaliated against union organizers, just like FreightCar America did to Bulman, even though this kind of misconduct breaks federal law.

And companies like Apple and Trader Joe’s continue to wage scorched-earth campaigns in which they flood worksites with anti-union propaganda and force workers into captive audience meetings where they disparage organized labor, belittle union supporters and threaten their families’ well-being. Companies spend billions on “union avoidance consultants” to oversee these meetings and other union-busting efforts, then write off the expenses at tax time.

“It boils down to one thing—corporate greed,” observed Bulman, who experienced the advantages of USW membership when he worked at a paper mill and knew that a union also would benefit workers at FreightCar America.

“They can’t stand to lose control. They want to keep the ‘little man’ as ‘little’ as possible. They’ll do whatever it takes—lie, cheat, steal,” added Bulman, recalling how FreightCar America inflicted such misery on workers that they voted against the union.

But now, in the wake of a pandemic that showed Americans how much they need the protections unions provide, a growing number of workers are fighting back and proving union-busting to be a losing game. Unfair labor practice (ULP) charges against employers skyrocketed 14 percent this year, according to the National Labor Relations Board, reflecting not only management’s increasing desperation to thwart unions but workers’ growing determination to hold bosses accountable for illegal interference in union drives.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, for example, has said that he’d never accept a union. But baristas across America and Canada are showing him he has no choice.

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A Bulwark for Workers

A Bulwark for Workers
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The Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Ala., was always a part of Cindy Beshears’ life.

She attended her grandfather’s retirement party there as a child, worked two summers at the plant as a college student in the 1980s and accepted a full-time job on the production floor in 2004 after leaving a career in retail.

Goodyear devastated the community when it closed the plant two years ago after shifting hundreds of jobs to Mexico, but fortunately, the federal government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program provided Beshears and her co-workers with training and other support that helped them through some of the darkest days they’ll ever know.

While thousands of other American workers continue to be harmed by unfair trade, they’ll be denied the same lifeline unless Congress moves quickly to reestablish TAA.

The program expired June 30 because Republicans refused to join Democrats in extending it. Until Congress reinstates the program, the Labor Department cannot consider any additional petitions for TAA assistance. The United Steelworkers (USW), other unions and Democratic lawmakers such as Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are working to salvage the program, workers’ only real bulwark against the damage inflicted by globalization.

“It’s definitely worth fighting to save,” Beshears said of TAA, created in the 1970s to provide skills-building, employment services and other assistance to workers who lose jobs or wages because of bad trade.

In the 2021 fiscal year alone, the program enrolled more than 107,000 workers in various industries.

“It covers tuition and books. It covers school supplies. It provided a laptop for me. If you have to travel for your classes, it will pay a mileage stipend,” explained Beshears, a former member of USW Local 12L who enrolled in TAA to obtain an associate degree in paralegal studies from Gadsden State Community College.

“It even paid for caps and gowns if we wanted to walk for graduation,” added Beshears, who completed her schooling in May, recalling the pride she felt as her former co-workers also set out on new careers in nursing, child care, welding, transportation and other fields.

“I was very concerned that these people were going to lose hope and that we were going to see a lot of bad things. I would have been one who sat there and wallowed in self-pity, thinking, ‘Oh, I put all that time in, and now I have nothing.’” Beshears said, calling TAA “as valuable mentally and emotionally” as it is educationally.

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Why Workers Are Turning to Unions

Why Workers Are Turning to Unions
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Amy Dennett long endured understaffing, low pay and indifferent bosses in her job at the American Red Cross in Asheville, N.C.

But she decided she’d had enough when management’s failure to provide basic resources forced her and her co-workers to build, jury-rig and dig into their own pockets for items needed to operate the blood donation center.

Dennett helped lead a union drive in 2020, resulting in the group’s vote to join the United Steelworkers (USW), and the 24 workers gained raises, greatly improved health care and much-needed equipment even before signing their first contract.

More and more workers like Dennett are realizing that unions fight for them every day, providing a path forward even in tumultuous times like a pandemic.

Gallup surveyed Americans on their confidence in 16 U.S. institutions ranging from the Supreme Court to television news. Over the past year, Gallup found, Americans’ confidence fell in all of them except one—organized labor.

“That doesn’t surprise me. We’re supposed to have faith in our elected officials and other leaders. But it’s a lot easier for a worker to have faith in the guy standing next to them than a guy in some other place you’ve never met who’s supposed to represent you,” Dennett said of the findings, noting that unions helped workers during the pandemic while many of the 16 institutions failed or exploited them.

With the help of a lone Democrat, for example, the Republicans in Congress killed legislation that would have expanded struggling families’ access to education, health care and child care.

Some banks socked borrowers with illegal late fees and charges despite their enrollment in a pandemic program temporarily pausing mortgage payments, compounding the homeowners’ hardships.

Corporations jacked up prices on food and other essentials, raking in ever-higher profits on the backs of working Americans. And tech companies like Amazon and Apple tried to beat back workers’ fights for better wages and working conditions.

In stark contrast to all of this, unions stepped up during the pandemic because their members needed them more than ever. They not only empowered workers to secure the personal protective equipment, paid sick leave and affordable health care they needed to safeguard their families but continued winning the raises and benefits essential for years to come.

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Harnessing Workers’ Power for Safety on the Job

Harnessing Workers’ Power for Safety on the Job
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A worker at the International Paper mill in Prattville, Ala., was performing routine maintenance on a paper-making machine a couple of weeks ago when he discovered liquid in a place it didn’t belong.

He stopped work and reported the hazard, triggering an inspection that revealed a punctured condensate line leaking water that was hotter than 140 degrees and would have scalded the worker or fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW). Instead of causing a serious health and safety risk, the leak was repaired without incident.

“We fixed the issue,” recalled Chad Baker, a USW Local 1458 trustee and safety representative. “It took about 30 minutes, and we continued on with our work, and nobody got hurt.”

Unions empower workers to help build safer workplaces and ensure they have the freedom to act without fear of reprisal.

No one knows the dangers of a job better than the people facing them every day. That’s why the USW’s contract with International Paper gives workers “stop-work authority”—the power to halt a job when they identify a threat and resume work after their concerns have been adequately addressed.

“We find smaller issues like that a lot,” Baker said, referring to the leaky condensate line. “Most of the time, they’re handled in a very efficient manner.”

Workers forming unions at Amazon and Starbucks, among other companies, want better wages and benefits. But they’re also fighting for the workplace protections union workers enjoy every day.

Amazon’s production quotas resulted in a shocking injury rate of 6.8 per every 100 warehouse workers in 2021. That was more than double the overall warehouse industry rate and 20 percent higher than Amazon’s 2020 record, according to an analysis of data the company provided to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Driving for Amazon is also perilous. About 20 percent of drivers suffered injuries last year, up 40 percent from 2020, with many of these workers reporting that they felt pressured to take unnecessary risks, like forgoing seat belts and skipping breaks, to meet the company’s relentless delivery schedules.

Unions fight against all of this. They enable workers to hold employers accountable. That’s why Amazon and other companies pull every trick in the book to try to keep workers from organizing.

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Gouging Americans out of House and Home

Gouging Americans out of House and Home
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Bill Boone eats very little meat and avoids expensive gourmet foods altogether.

Yet Boone’s grocery bill still tops $280 a week at a Kroger in Benton, Ark., thanks to profiteering on a scale the 92-year-old says he has never witnessed before.

Corporations may try to blame the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for astronomical price increases, but that’s merely a cover story for shameless price-gouging that’s left millions of Americans struggling to survive.

“Big money people are the trouble,” summed up Boone, a longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW) who recently saw the price of his favorite coffee double.

“It’s all these brands,” Boone, who worked at Reynolds and Alcoa, said of the rampant price hikes. “It’s all the basic things people have in their homes, like salt and pepper. I feel badly for these families with three and four kids.”

As struggling Americans burn through their savings and scrimp on meals to make ends meet, companies that jacked up prices on everything from cereal to toiletries post ever-higher profits.

While parents take second jobs and even hire out their children as movers and gardeners to make extra money, CEOs brag about the exploitation that’s enabling them to pad their own pockets and shower shareholders with dividends.

“A little bit of inflation is always good in our business,” declared Rodney McMullen, CEO of Kroger, which raised prices on customers like Boone before raking in $1.5 billion in operating profits for the first quarter this year.

Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of diapers and other essentials, plans to raise prices throughout the year even though it’s forecasting higher profits. “The consumer is resilient,” said Andre Schulten, the company’s chief financial officer, blithely dismissing the pain he’s inflicting.

Not even President Joe Biden’s public shaming of oil companies was enough to curb their unprecedented profit-mongering. They still refuse to increase production, even as the average cost of a gallon of gas hovers around $5 and truckers like Boone’s son-in-law spend hundreds of dollars to fill up their rigs.

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Stopping Attacks on Health Care Workers

Stopping Attacks on Health Care Workers
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The young man in Cleveland Clinic Akron General’s behavioral crisis intervention unit hadn’t communicated much during his hospitalization, but he showed no signs of violence until Brian Eckley tried to draw his blood early one morning.

The patient stood up, sat back down, rose again and then punched Eckley, a state-tested nurse aide and senior technician, in the left jaw.

Keeping his cool despite the pain, Eckley dodged more punches as he held the needle and tourniquet out of the patient’s reach, banged on the treatment room windows and called for help.

Attacks on health care workers have reached epidemic levels across the country, exacerbating turnover, turning caregivers into patients and further fraying systems of care already worn thin by COVID-19. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, twice passed by the House and just reintroduced in the Senate, would require employers to implement the safeguards needed to help keep Eckley and millions of his peers safe on the job.

The legislation—supported by numerous labor unions, trade groups and other stakeholders—would direct the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to develop a standard requiring health care providers to implement safety plans for clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other treatment facilities.

The bill calls for facilities to consider measures such as alarm systems, physical barriers and strategic staffing, including having workers in hazardous situations operate in teams. To ensure the plans are as comprehensive and effective as possible, facilities would have to devise them with the input of workers on the front lines and address the specific hazards in each work area or unit.

“Having a safety officer on the unit 24/7 would be a wonderful first step,” observed Eckley, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014L, who had calmed down his combative patient by the time a security guard in another part of the hospital complex arrived at the behavioral health unit.

“They just don’t have what we need to do the job safely,” he said of health care employers around the country. “They do the bare minimum, and it’s more reactive than proactive.”

Even before COVID-19, health care workers faced five times more violence on the job than their counterparts in most other professions. Incidents skyrocketed during the pandemic as the crisis exacted a heavy toll on Americans’ emotional health and patients, relatives and community members grew frustrated with staffing shortages at medical facilities.

The violence is now so pervasive that many health care workers are victimized over and over again. Eckley, for example, has been punched repeatedly, stabbed with a pen, and bitten by an HIV-positive patient who disliked the meal he was served. He’s also witnessed numerous attacks on co-workers and once watched a patient batter a door to get to a jar of candy on the other side.

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Outsourcing Children’s Safety

Outsourcing Children’s Safety
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Early in the school year, a kindergartner on Joni Meyer’s school bus got motion sickness and threw up all over himself—and his brother, his cousin and his laptop.

Meyer pulled over, soothed the anguished child, cleaned everybody up as best she could and then drove the bus to school.

Over 34 years, Meyer has served as chauffeur, counselor, confidant, nurse and guardian angel to countless children like these in Bay City, Mich. She’s skillfully navigated a 35-foot, 14-ton bus over serpentine roads and through treacherous winter storms, safely delivering what she calls “our precious cargo” to schools and football games. Now, in gratitude for Meyer’s dedication, officials in the Bay City Public Schools intend to kick her to the curb.

The school district recently notified Meyer and her 25 co-workers, represented by United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7380, of plans to eliminate their jobs and outsource transportation to a for-profit company. By continuing down this road, they’ll join the ranks of short-sighted employers who auction off crucial services to the lowest bidders, potentially saving a few bucks but gambling on safety.

Out-of-town drivers will never know Bay City’s rural roads or care about the community’s 8,150 students like Meyer and her co-workers, some of whom log upwards of 150 miles during work days that—because of split shifts—begin at 5 a.m. and end 12 hours later.

“I really enjoy my job. I enjoy my children. They’re sort of like extended family to us,” said Meyer, Local 7380’s unit president and the district’s second-most-senior driver, who wonders where a private contractor would even find replacements.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts around the country have struggled to recruit and retain drivers. Because of the shortage, some districts closed schools or cut service while others called in the National Guard for help, put teachers behind the wheel or paid parents to transport their own kids. So far this year, bus companies contracted by one Maryland school district missed more than 3,000 trips, leaving hundreds of students and parents in the lurch.

Bay City already has the dedicated, reliable work force that other school districts crave. Teachers, elected officials, other community leaders and parents are rallying around the drivers, demanding the school district keep them on the job and avert the potential nightmare contracting out would bring.

“It’s terribly sad and unfortunate and quite disappointing because it’s going to rock these kids’ boats. Some of these kids come from homes that aren’t really stable. This is one stable thing they have in their lives,” Kristin McDonell, a Bay City parent, said of district drivers. “I trust these drivers. They’re part of our backbone. It means a lot to them to be contributing to their community in this way.”

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Restoring America’s Manufacturing Might

Restoring America’s Manufacturing Might
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Montrell Steib recalls the young electrician rattling off his expertise in the latest technology and systems, hoping to make a good impression during his job interview at Atlantic Alumina in Gramercy, La.

But a supervisor took the wind out of the worker’s sails, saying he’d be working on old and temperamental equipment at the nation’s last remaining alumina refinery and that keeping the aging facility operating with Band-Aids would be a far cry from what he expected.

Steib, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 5702, relates that story to underscore the feeble state of U.S. supply chains and the need to equip America’s workers with the tools and resources needed to compete globally.

Although both the Senate and House each passed long-overdue legislation to overhaul the nation’s manufacturing base, only the House’s version, the America COMPETES Act, provides billions in direct investments essential to preserving critical industrial infrastructure like the Gramercy refinery.

“This is it. This is all we have,” said Steib, one of about 270 USW members who work there, noting that losing the facility would make America entirely dependent on other nations for the alumina essential to the automotive, health care, consumer goods and numerous other industries.

The long decline of American manufacturing constitutes a national security threat that recent shortages of face masks and semiconductors threw into sharp relief. America lags behind other countries not only in the production of these goods but in the manufacturing of aluminum and steel, commercial shipbuilding and the mining of essential minerals.

“Together, a U.S. business climate that has favored short-term shareholder earnings (versus long-term capital investment), deindustrialization, and an abstract, radical vision of ‘free trade,’ without fair trade enforcement, have severely damaged America’s ability to arm itself today and in the future,” the Defense Department warned in a report last year.

The America COMPETES Act would provide loans and grants for upgrading manufacturing facilities so that workers like Steib no longer have to scrounge parts or cannibalize some machines to keep others running. The investments also would enable employers to expand production, which Local 5702 members see an urgent need to do.

“Everything we can make is already sold,” Steib observed of current market conditions. “I wish we could open up more alumina facilities in the U.S.”

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Taxing Billionaires the Right Way

Taxing Billionaires the Right Way
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The single mom appeared at the church in Davenport, Iowa, where Vera Kelly volunteered and asked for some food to share with her children.

But not just any food, Kelly recalled, noting the woman only wanted items she could keep in the car where the family lived and cook on the charcoal grill that served as their kitchen.

Civic-minded activists like Kelly do all they can to assist the less fortunate and lift up their communities. But only fixing America’s broken tax system, as President Joe Biden has proposed, will force the super-rich to pay their fair share and curb the rampant economic inequality that’s turned the nation into a land of haves and have-nots.

“They have the money. We don’t have it,” Kelly, a member of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 11-4 and the vice president of the Davenport NAACP, said of America’s billionaires. “Some of them got it by hook or by crook, and we worked honestly.”

“If you’re a billionaire, you’re never going to go broke,” added Kelly, who supports Biden’s plan calling for the wealthiest citizens to finally begin paying what they’ve long owed. “They can live off the interest on their money.”

The 77-year-old Kelly, who spends Saturday mornings distributing boxes of cereal, sugar, frozen chicken and other items at a local food pantry, worked 32 years at the former Alcoa plant, now operated by Arconic, near her home. Her husband, B.W. Kelly, who died in November 2020, worked at Deere & Co. for 33 years.

The two paid taxes on every dime they ever earned, considering it not only a duty but a privilege to support America’s social programs as well as essentials like infrastructure funding, medical research and the national defense.

But instead of holding up their end like the Kellys, America’s richest citizens let the rest of the country carry them. A rigged system lets billionaires exploit tax-avoidance tricks unavailable to the masses. The uber-rich shirk their obligations to society and freeload off of everyone else while squandering ever-growing sums on jets, mega-yachts, spaceships and even private islands.

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” Kelly said, referring to the income inequality that’s been growing for decades. “That’s the way that happens.”

“They look down on people,” she said of billionaires. “They think they’re entitled.”

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On the Front Lines of Nuclear Safety

On the Front Lines of Nuclear Safety
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Jim Key’s blood ran cold a few years ago as he listened to a former worker at Chernobyl recount the explosion, fires and panic that swept through the power plant as the world’s worst nuclear disaster unfolded in April 1986.

The most wrenching part of the speaker’s conference presentation came when he saluted co-workers and first responders who fell sick and died in the weeks, months and years after exposure to the intensely radioactive environment.

The memory of that talk came flooding back to Key as Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine unleashed new risks at Chernobyl and underscored the heroic work of nuclear industry workers across the globe.

These workers normally operate behind the scenes in each country, outside the view of a public barely conscious of how much it relies on them to keep their communities safe.

That’s by design, explained Key, president of the United Steelworkers (USW) Atomic Energy Workers Council and former vice president at large of USW Local 8-550, noting the high level of confidentiality involved in the work.

“We just have always gone about it quietly. No fanfare, no ticker-tape parade,” he said, noting many of the USW members involved in this work have security clearances and cannot talk about their specific roles.

USW members at Paducah, Ky., and Portsmouth, Ohio, continue to decontaminate and decommission gaseous diffusion plants built in the 1950s to produce enriched uranium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program and power plants. Other USW members work on remediating the former plutonium production facility in Hanford, Wash., established during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project.

“These plants have provided a tremendous service to our nation, and the people who worked in them have been termed Cold War patriots,” explained Key, adding that USW members at these sites today still perform a dangerous duty breaking down contaminated plant components, shipping them out and undertaking many other kinds of clean-up work.

These workers—along with their USW siblings at other nuclear sites in Idaho, New Mexico and Tennessee—receive extensive training to detect radioactivity, operate sensitive equipment and ensure the integrity of work sites while keeping themselves as safe as possible. The USW’s Tony Mazzocchi Center even volunteered to train a new generation of radiation control technicians who work on the front lines of safety at sites like Paducah and Portsmouth.

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Uniting for Ukraine

Uniting for Ukraine
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Terry Bohuslawsky spoke Ukrainian before he ever learned English, attended Ukrainian schools in Cleveland and, along with his classmates, looked forward each year to decorating the elaborate Easter eggs known as pysanky.

Bohuslawsky, whose parents emigrated from Ukraine, continued to honor his heritage in adulthood. He worked with others to preserve the culture at home while contributing to hospitals, churches and other causes in Ukraine to help the people there rebuild after communism.

Now, in the face of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s aggression, Bohuslawsky knows that Ukraine’s future depends on a bond much more powerful than the one he and his friends have with their ethnic homeland. It will take the solidarity of working people around the world to help save the Ukrainians and deter future aggression.

“It’s like being in the union,” observed Bohuslawsky, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 979 and an electrician at the Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill that stands near the city’s original Ukrainian settlement. “We all fight for the same reasons. We all fight for what we deserve.”

Since Putin’s unprovoked attack, working people around the world rallied around Ukraine.

The global union IndustriAll began soliciting donations for immediate help and Ukrainians’ long-term needs. Trade unions in Poland, Slovakia and several other countries sent members and trucks to the Ukrainian border to pick up refugees. USW members in Canada donated to Red Cross relief efforts as well as to overseas unions that are aiding war victims, while labor leaders across America called for public pension funds to divest assets related to Putin’s regime.

“It kind of gives you goosebumps,” Bohuslawsky said of the worldwide resistance to Putin.

“We have to fight now,” he explained. “They’re attacking us today, but they’ll be after someone else tomorrow.”

Energy embargoes represent the biggest development yet in this remarkable mobilization of international citizens and unparalleled movement to weaponize shared sacrifice in the fight against tyranny.

The USW, whose 30,000 oil workers account for about two-thirds of America’s oil refining capacity, took a critical step Monday when it not only demanded that the U.S. halt imports of Russian crude but vowed to oppose “with every lever available to us” the processing of Russian-sourced oil on American soil. Cutting off Russian oil deprives Putin of money he needs to continue the destruction of Ukraine.

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Safeguarding Democracy

Safeguarding Democracy
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The guard shacks, razor-wire fences and gun-toting soldiers struck fear into Cynthia Overby when she traveled with an American university group behind the Iron Curtain in 1971.

Even worse was the utter despair she witnessed in people living under the weight of authoritarianism, a memory that inspired her lifelong commitment to safeguarding liberty at home.

Millions of Overby’s union siblings join her in that battle every day. Union members stand on the front lines of democracy and guard America’s freedoms with the same solidarity and collective power they wield in the workplace.

“Democracy is fragile,” observed Overby, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 7-34-2 in Granite City, Ill., noting that Russia’s attack on Ukrainian democracy reminds her of the devastation and misery wrought by other repressive regimes.

“We saw statues of Stalin,” she said of her visit to the Eastern Bloc many years ago. “We saw people living in poverty. We saw oppression, and people didn’t smile. I’ve never forgotten that. I don’t want to live that way.”

Union members and retirees like Overby are accustomed to electing union leaders, voting on contracts and having a voice on the job, and that also makes them fierce advocates for government by the people.

They circulate petitions for pro-worker candidates, then make thousands of phone calls, send out thousands of postcards and knock on countless doors to get those people elected. They turn out the vote on Election Day, often offering to drive neighbors to the polls or serving as precinct election workers to ensure efficient, convenient balloting.

There’s no denying that this advocacy protects Americans’ freedoms.

According to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute, the higher a state’s union density, the less likely legislators have been to push through restrictive voting laws. On the other hand, the report found, more than 70% of states with low numbers of union members mounted at least one successful attack on voting rights between 2011 and 2019.

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Cross-Border Solidarity Will Forge Economic Justice

Cross-Border Solidarity Will Forge Economic Justice
USW members at a union meeting in Lázaro Cárdenas, Mexico

What Tom O’Shei remembers most about his visit to Mexico in 2019 is the determination he glimpsed in the hundreds of Mexican workers who paraded through the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas and stopped to pray at a monument honoring a pair of murdered union activists.

Although the marchers gathered to remember the past, O’Shei knew their thoughts were also fixed on a future day when they’d win their fight for labor rights and help build a fairer economy across North America.

That day is edging closer under the 19-month-old United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which American labor leaders and their allies pushed over the finish line with provisions aimed at ending the exploitation of workers in all three countries.

Thousands of workers at a General Motors plant in Silao, a few hundred miles north of Lázaro Cárdenas, voted by a landslide earlier this month to join a real union and fight for decent pay and working conditions. And long-mistreated workers at auto parts manufacturer Tridonex, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, are scheduled to vote Monday on choosing their own union.

These are vital, promising steps under the USMCA, which requires Mexico to enforce the labor rights needed to lift up workers there and, in turn, level the playing field for workers north of the border.

“I’m sure it’s going to help with other facilities going forward,” explained O’Shei, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 135L, who looks for workers at other Mexican plants to emulate the union drives at GM and Tridonex. “They’re no different than us. They want to be able to feed their families.”

“When they do well, we do well, because our work is less likely to be outsourced to a country paying its workers a decent wage,” added O’Shei, who represents hundreds of USW members at the Sumitomo plant in Tonawanda, N.Y., and twice joined USW delegations that traveled to Mexico to stand in solidarity with union supporters there.

Under the USMCA’s failed predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), employers shifted a million manufacturing jobs to Mexico to take advantage of the low wages as well as the lack of labor rights, weak safety standards and lax environmental regulation.

This race to the bottom decimated northern manufacturing communities while holding Mexican workers in poverty. Workers at the GM plant in Silao, for example, make only a few dollars an hour.

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Exploiting Young Workers

Exploiting Young Workers
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The newcomer to Bob Garrou’s high school wrestling program had won his first match, and was growing in confidence, when he abruptly quit the team.

It sickened Garrou to learn why. A local store summarily fired the teen when he balked at working more than the 16 hours he already put in each week, leading the dejected youth to conclude he had to give up sports so he’d be available to cater to his next employer’s every whim.

Rather than provide the decent wages and health care needed to hire adults, more and more employers prefer to line their pockets on the backs of vulnerable teenagers like the young man who left Garrou’s team.

The abuse skyrocketed as employers cut corners in the COVID-19 economy. A Walgreens in South Carolina flouted child labor laws by hiring a 12-year-old. Alabama chicken plants exploited migrant teens to keep production going. A 16-year-old boy tripped and fell 11 stories to his death after a contractor illegally put him to work on the roof of a Tennessee hotel.

Other callous employers assigned teens prohibited work like operating potentially lethal machinery, climbing ladders and working as deck hands, while chains like Wendy’s and Chipotle drove youths to work ever longer hours, often past legal limits. And if all of that isn’t bad enough, some Republicans want to make it even easier for bosses to take advantage of young workers.

Garrou said he’s grateful that Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers last week vetoed a bill, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature, that would have let some employers dramatically extend working hours for 14- and 15-year-olds across the state.

Wisconsin law mandates quitting times of 7 p.m. during the school year and 9 p.m. during the summer for workers in that age group. But the Republicans’ bill—opposed by the Child Labor Coalition—would have allowed smaller businesses to work them until 11 p.m. as long as schools were closed the following day.

“They’re trying to hold these kids hostage because they don’t want to pay adults a real wage,” noted Garrou, who in addition to coaching wrestling and other youth sports is the president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 248 and safety coordinator at a Packaging Corp. of America facility in Wisconsin.

As COVID-19 raged, millions of adults quit their jobs, fed up with greedy employers who not only failed to pay decent wages but refused to provide the health care and sick leave they needed to survive the pandemic. Struggling to remain open, yet unwilling to meet adult workers’ needs, employers set their sights on teenagers.

One restaurant chain CEO who’s hired dozens of teens put it this way: “We need bodies.”

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Young Workers Rising

Young Workers Rising
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Sarah Broad was 14 years old and just several months into her job at a McDonald’s in southwestern Canada when a customer berated her about cold fries, started swearing and threw a hamburger at her.

No matter how often she encountered that kind of cruelty there, or in jobs at Walmart or Starbucks over the next 12 years, callous managers expected her to just smile through the abuse and keep working.

But when the risk of COVID-19 made the daily outrages all the harder to bear, Broad realized that she needed to take control of her future. She and her fellow baristas at the Starbucks in Victoria, British Columbia, met for dinner one night and decided to join the growing ranks of young workers who are unionizing to build better lives and stronger communities.

Today, about 18 months after becoming members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2009, Broad and about 30 co-workers watch with pride as their peers at other Starbucks in the U.S. and Canada form their own unions.

But this generational wave of unionism transcends any one employer or industry. Increasing numbers of millennials and zoomers in the public sector, tech field, gig economy, nonprofit community, education and other sectors also view collective action as the path to a brighter future.

Amid a broken economy that’s left millions behind, these workers want decent wages and benefits, along with a voice on the job and the respect their labor earns. Too often, workers struggle to make ends meet, sometimes despite juggling two or more part-time jobs, while enduring the kinds of abuse that Broad encountered at one employer after another.

“This isn’t unskilled labor,” Broad said, referring to service workers. “They are working very hard.”

Just as Broad and her colleagues hoped, the union made a quick and crucial difference, helping the workers achieve not only wage increases but a much safer work environment.

Early in the pandemic, a manager ordered one of Broad’s co-workers to remove a face shield—saying it wasn’t company-approved personal protective equipment (PPE)—even though the barista feared passing COVID-19 to an immunocompromised roommate.

Broad said that incident infuriated other workers and helped to catalyze the union drive. In the end, they negotiated a contract that established a health and safety committee, giving them real input into PPE and other protections.

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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

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

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

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

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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Everyone Benefits

Everyone Benefits
"We Supply America" bus tour

Donneta Williams and her co-workers at the Corning plant in Wilmington, N.C., hail from different backgrounds and hold diverse views.

But just as they team up on the production floor to make top-quality products powering the internet, they banded together to push for a long-overdue infrastructure program that’s destined to lift up their community and countless others across America.

They didn’t fight alone. Williams and her colleagues were among a veritable army of Steelworkers and other activists from all over America whose unstinting advocacy helped to propel a historic infrastructure package through Congress and into the Oval Office.

Their rallies, letters, phone calls, tweets and visits to congressional offices provided the heft behind the bipartisan legislation that cleared the House last week, just as their steely resolve helped to deliver the Senate’s vote in August.

“It unified us,” Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025, said of the bill, now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature, which will invest billions in roads, bridges, seaports, locks and dams, manufacturing facilities, energy systems and communications networks.

“Everyone benefits,” she said, noting the infrastructure program will create and sustain millions of union manufacturing and construction jobs while modernizing the nation and revitalizing its manufacturing base. “It’s not about one particular party or one particular person. It’s about the nation as a whole and our future and what can be accomplished when everybody works together.”

Williams and her colleagues make optical fiber, the backbone of broadband networks, a product as fine as thread that carries voice, data and video over the information superhighway at tremendous speed. Across the nation, however, the availability of high-speed broadband remains grossly uneven, and even some of Williams’ co-workers can’t access it for their own families.

That absurdity inflamed Local 1025’s support for an infrastructure program that will deliver affordable, high-quality internet to every American’s door while also bringing urgently needed repairs to school buildings, expanding the clean economy and upgrading crumbling, congested roads in Wilmington and other cities.

Williams and her co-workers sent their representatives and senators hundreds of postcards and emails championing the infrastructure legislation. And when the USW’s multi-city “We Supply America” bus tour rolled into Wilmington in August to promote the bill, many of Williams’ co-workers donned blue-and-yellow T-shirts and turned out for a rally to show they were all in.

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Confronting the Next Crisis

Confronting the Next Crisis
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Workers at the Sibanye-Stillwater complex in Montana mine minerals used to fight cancer, produce life-saving surgical instruments and manufacture the wind turbines and solar panels essential for the clean economy.

They touch so many facets of American life that Ed Lorash, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 11-0001, considers their work essential to national security.

Lorash knows that without strong supply chains stretching from mining to manufacturing, the nation is vulnerable, not just to a shortage of consumer goods but to any number of crises from pandemics to natural disasters that could undermine America’s safety. And only revitalizing an industrial base decimated by bad trade will eliminate the country’s dangerous dependence on foreign products and protect America’s freedom.

“It keeps your enemy at bay,” Lorash said of a robust manufacturing sector. Foreign producers can cut off supplies for economic or political reasons, he noted, or raise prices on a whim.

“I just think we really need to look at making things here,” he said. “Then, if we get a surplus, we can sell it.”

Over the past quarter century, greedy corporations closed hundreds of U.S. manufacturing facilities and offshored more than a million jobs to countries with low wages, weak labor laws and poor environmental standards.

But that wasn’t the only blow to America’s security. China and other competitor nations compounded the damage by dumping unfairly traded goods in U.S. markets, killing millions more jobs and further decimating the domestic manufacturing base.

COVID-19 threw the damage into sharp relief. Hollowed-out supply chains left the nation unable to produce the face masks, ventilators and other medical equipment essential for fighting the pandemic.

Next, shortages of semiconductors, resulting from pandemic-related manufacturing slowdowns overseas, disrupted the U.S. auto industry and decimated inventories of cars and trucks.

America once made 37 percent of the world’s computer chips, used not only in vehicles but electronics and myriad other high-tech products. Now, the U.S. accounts for only 12 percent of global production and buys much of what it needs from overseas.

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Rebuilding the Middle Class

Rebuilding the Middle Class
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With business already strong and a national infrastructure program likely to further increase demand for its products, DuPont realized it needed a strategy to find more workers.

So it did what any sensible employer would do—turned to the union for help. DuPont approached United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12075 about the possibility of a worker recruitment campaign highlighting the availability of union jobs, which provide the benefits, security and dignity more and more Americans seek in the wake of COVID-19.

Major investments in America’s infrastructure will modernize the nation and revitalize its industrial base. But an infrastructure program is about more than rebuilding roads and bridges. It’s about creating more of those family-sustaining union jobs and rebuilding the middle class.

It’s about creating an economy that’s not only more powerful but more just.

In August, the Senate took the critical first step by passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would pave the way for long-overdue improvements in roads, water systems, school buildings, airports, communications networks, energy systems and manufacturing facilities.

Now, the House needs to pass its own version of the legislation and set the nation on a path to shared prosperity.

“We are waiting for them to finish up, so we can move on,” said Local 12075 President Kent Holsing, noting he represents hundreds of workers at DuPont, Dow and other chemical companies in the Midland, Mich., area who are ready to handle the added business that an infrastructure program would generate.

“We make lots of products that are used in building construction,” Holsing explained. “We make products that go into water-treatment plants. We make a number of products that go into cars. Investment in infrastructure is an investment in products, and investment in products is an investment in jobs.”

But DuPont needs more workers to take on those jobs. Holsing said that when company representatives asked which USW benefits it ought to highlight in recruitment efforts, he and his colleagues told them “everything from worker representation to the college scholarship program.”

The pandemic underscored the withered state of America’s manufacturing base and marked a turning point for Americans fed up with the low-wage, nonunion jobs that proliferated amid industrial decline.

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