Posts from Tom Conway

The Blood on Trump’s Hands

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

The Blood on Trump’s Hands
Getty Images

Nick Miclaus realized just how much his Goodyear colleagues appreciated rigorous COVID-19 safety measures when they started recommending them to friends and family working at other companies.

Yet Miclaus, the United Steelworkers (USW) safety coordinator for Goodyear plants across the U.S., knows that his efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus and other dangers hang in the balance because of Donald Trump.

As Trump wielded his office on behalf of corporations seeking greater deregulation and higher profits, American workers increasingly struggled to safeguard themselves not only against COVID-19 but the everyday hazards that kill, sicken and maim them while callous employers look the other way.

“There are some employers who will say, ‘I just need this done. I don’t care if you don’t wear a mask. I don’t care if you don’t wear safety glasses,’” observed Miclaus, a member of USW Local 2L, which represents hundreds of workers at Goodyear’s Akron, Ohio, location.

The federal government long ago created various agencies to protect workers’ rights and safety. But Trump turned them into appendages of corporate America, hamstringing inspectors and other dedicated experts who want to do their jobs as effectively as they did in the past.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, for example, rolled back rules requiring chemical-related companies to take proactive steps to protect workers and the public from chemical disasters and to comprehensively investigate deadly incidents when they occur.

It also failed to thoroughly evaluate the risk of dangerous chemicals used at job sites, helping employers cut corners on safety while exposing workers to substances that could sicken or kill them decades down the road.

“They can’t enjoy their retirement because they’re fighting an illness that could have been prevented,” Miclaus said of the potential long-term impact.

Under Trump, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—the agency ostensibly responsible for workplace safety—left workers to fend for themselves long before the pandemic struck.

The Trump political cronies running the agency let key vacancies go unfilled for years, and the number of OSHA inspectors dropped to 1975 levels even while America’s work force continued to expand.

As vigorous enforcement plummeted, deaths increased. OSHA added insult to injury, removing a list of workplace fatalities from its homepage and burying a less-detailed record of deaths deep in its website.

More ...

Hanging by a Thread

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Hanging by a Thread
Getty Images

Tom Michels worked 31 years at LTV’s iron ore mine in northern Minnesota—and had already started making retirement plans—when the company’s bankruptcy wiped out his job and most of his hard-earned pension.

Michels took a series of odd jobs to make ends meet until he became eligible for the Social Security benefits that now enable the 71-year-old to buy food, cover health care costs and even travel a little with his wife, Vicky.

Yet because of Donald Trump, Michels’ retirement hangs by a thread. If Trump destroys Social Security, as he threatened to do, Michels and millions of other Americans will be cast into poverty with little hope of ever bouncing back.

Some will have no choice but return to the work force and toil until they die. Others, too frail to work and lacking other resources to pay mounting bills, would lose everything they spent their lifetimes building.

“I hate to even think about what’s going to happen if he’s reelected,” observed Michels, a former member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4108 whose income, without Social Security, would fall to just several hundred dollars a month.

“Social Security is not an entitlement. It’s something we bought and paid for. Every hour we worked, we were paying for Social Security,” Michels said, adding Trump has no right to deprive retirees of benefits they earned.

Because of the country’s aging population, Social Security next year will spend more money on benefits for retirees than it takes in through workers’ payroll taxes. Many beneficiaries already struggle because payment amounts set by the government fail to keep up with health care costs.

But instead of shoring up this popular and essential program, Trump wants to kill it.

He repeatedly proposed cutting Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, which provide crucial assistance to Americans no longer able to provide for themselves and their families.

This past winter, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Trump expressed his desire to take up so-called entitlement reform if reelected. Astute retirees like Michels understand that is code for cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare.

More ...

Putting Every American at Risk

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Putting Every American at Risk
Getty Images

Jackie Anklam realized that Donald Trump was failing the American people when her father died of complications of COVID-19 in a Michigan hospital that ran short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its workers.

What outrages her more is that, several months later, Trump not only refuses to learn from his early blunders but blithely flouts the safety measures critical to slowing the virus.

Instead of leading the nation to safety, Trump downplays the pandemic for personal political gain and divides Americans when they most need to pull together.

“He doesn’t care about getting a grip on this. He doesn’t even care about giving it to someone,” said Anklam, noting Trump refused to wear a mask and defied social distancing requirements while health experts warned that such reckless behavior contributed to the rising death toll.

After seeking treatment for his own infection, Anklam observed, Trump took a joy ride on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, potentially exposing the Secret Service agents in his SUV to COVID-19 just so he could wave to supporters. And after cutting short his hospital stay and returning to the White House, Trump still refused to wear a mask even though he risked infecting everyone who came into contact with him, including the photographer forced to snap his picture while he posed on a balcony.

“The president is supposed to put the American people first. He has done everything except that. He has put every American at risk,” said Anklam, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9899, who believes her father contracted pneumonia and died because of PPE shortages and infection-control problems in the hospital treating him for COVID-19.

Nearly 10 months after the pandemic hit the U.S., hospitals and other health care facilities continue to struggle with chronic, drastic shortages of respirators, gloves, gowns and other safety equipment.

Trump never worked to repair broken supply chains. He never used emergency powers that would have forced factories to retool and produce critical supplies.

And he failed to deliver a comprehensive plan for reinvigorating America’s manufacturing base and averting future shortages of essential goods.

Because Trump abandoned his duty, a coalition of organizations, including the USW, filed a federal lawsuit this week demanding the government immediately harness the nation’s manufacturing capacity for production of PPE. While the courts consider the case, more front-line workers will die needlessly.

More ...

Weaponizing the Supreme Court

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Weaponizing the Supreme Court
Getty Images

As a union griever, Jason Haynes fought constant battles against employers ever ready to cheat workers out of overtime pay and other hard-earned benefits.

He’s also seen firsthand how greedy corporations and their Republican cronies relentlessly erode labor protections at the state and national levels, making it increasingly difficult not only for Americans to organize but for union members to exercise long-held rights.

Now, Haynes fears the addition of anti-worker Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court will help the rich tighten their stranglehold on working people.

Donald Trump nominated Barrett to weaponize the nation’s most important court against ordinary Americans. Her confirmation would give the court’s right-wingers a 6-3 majority. And because she refuses to adhere to precedent, Barrett could provide a crucial vote on cases potentially overturning organizing rights, rolling back labor protections and dealing other setbacks to workers.

“Having her on there is definitely not going to do any favors for labor, that’s for sure,” observed Haynes, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6787 who works at ArcelorMittal’s Burns Harbor, Ind., site.

“Labor rights are imperative to giving us a seat at the table,” he noted. “If we’re not sitting at the table, we’re on the menu. Our rights are the only leverage we have.”

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP minions determined to ram through her confirmation, Barrett appears to have a lock on the vacancy created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

But while the 48-year-old Barrett may take Ginsburg’s seat, she’ll never fill her shoes. Ginsburg devoted her career to advancing the interests of women and workers, even as Barrett used her power to tear them down.

As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit since 2017, Barrett has consistently favored corporations over workers and twisted laws to the breaking point in support of her opinions.

Citing a law that exempts over-the-road truckers from overtime for safety reasons, for example, Barrett ruled against workers who sued a transportation company that refused to pay them for extra hours they logged. Even though the Wisconsin company exclusively assigned the workers to yard duty, in which they used tractors to pull trailers short distances between warehouses, Barrett ruled they qualified as truckers engaged in interstate commerce. And that left them ineligible for overtime no matter how many hours their bosses required them to work.

More ...

Giving Workers the Cold Shoulder

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Giving Workers the Cold Shoulder
Getty Images

Robert B. “Bull” Bulman stood up to FreightCar America because of the poor pay and hazardous working conditions at its Cherokee, Ala., factory. But the company savagely retaliated with threats to close the plant and relocate to Mexico.

Then, after thwarting the union drive, FreightCar America opted to offshore those 500 jobs anyway in a greedy gambit to exploit low wages and weak laws south of the border.

Although Donald Trump won the White House with a vow to reinvigorate a manufacturing base essential for America’s future, he failed to stanch the torrent of U.S. corporations absconding to countries with abysmal working conditions and lax environmental regulation.

Right under Trump’s nose, America lost hundreds of factories to offshoring, and corporations relocated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs, all before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the economy into a nosedive. Some of these callous employers, including FreightCar America, even soaked taxpayers for millions of dollars in subsidies and other aid before they cut and run.

“They’re like parasites,” observed Bulman, who will lose his job when FreightCar America abandons its mile-long, 2.2-million-square-foot factory by the end of the year. “They get what they want and leave.”

Bulman, who formerly worked at a United Steelworkers (USW)-represented paper mill, helped lead two organizing drives at FreightCar America because he knew a union would compel the company to provide safer working conditions and give a voice to those performing demanding, hazardous jobs.

But FreightCar America waged vicious anti-union campaigns that included threats to close the plant and—the company’s very name notwithstanding—move the jobs to Mexico. After defeating both organizing drives, the company still sold out its workers.

Although Trump promised to stop companies from playing these heartless games with families’ livelihoods, he refused to intervene with FreightCar America or lift a finger to save manufacturing jobs in a state where workers deeply trusted he’d fight for them.

He gave the cold shoulder to FreightCar America workers who called and emailed the White House with pleas for help, just as he ignored USW members who sought assistance this year before Goodyear closed its nearly-100-year-old Gadsden, Ala., tire plant and moved several hundred remaining jobs to Mexico.

Mickey Ray Williams, the former president of Local 12, reached out to several administration officials and provided them with a presentation outlining Goodyear’s refusal to invest in the Gadsden factory even as it pumped more and more money into a Mexican site paying workers only a few dollars an hour.

Goodyear’s offshoring of the Assurance All-Season tire developed—and long manufactured—in Gadsden was exactly the kind of nefarious practice Trump bragged he would curb.

More ...

Trump’s Biggest Con

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Trump’s Biggest Con
Getty Images

Bob Kemper recalls the hope Donald Trump intentionally stirred in 2016 by pledging to revive manufacturing and keep factories busy producing steel, aluminum and other materials for a major infrastructure overhaul.

Kemper knows that seductive rhetoric won over many Americans, including some of his co-workers at U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Works in Michigan.

Over the past four years, however, Trump repeatedly showed Kemper’s colleagues and millions of other workers that his vow to save manufacturing was just a con to win the election, not a promise he ever intended to keep.

Trump failed to deliver the manufacturing renaissance that propelled him to the White House and then stood idly by while wave after wave of factory closures devastated the very families who pinned their hopes on him.

Instead of bringing industry back, as he boasted during a visit to Detroit in 2016, Trump turned a blind eye when U.S. Steel last year announced it would lay off as many as 1,500 workers at Great Lakes and idle much of the complex because of low demand for steel.

“It was a feint and a lie,” Kemper, grievance chairman for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1299, which represents Great Lakes workers, said of Trump’s pledge. “He told Americans what they wanted to hear. It’s all broken promises.”

On Trump’s watch, hundreds of factories like Great Lakes went dark—and America’s manufacturing sector fell into recession—even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. His botched response to the health crisis further wrecked the economy and forced still more producers of steel, aluminum, paper and other products to cut back or close.

Since Trump took office, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers lost family-sustaining jobs, including more than 16,000 in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in the year before the pandemic alone.

The factory closures decimated local communities and further eroded America’s capacity to produce critical goods like face masks for health care workers and supplies for the armed forces, putting the nation’s security at risk.

“Heaven forbid we ever get into a real conflict, and we don’t have the capability to produce our own steel for our military,” Kemper noted.

In 2016, Trump repeatedly touted a massive infrastructure program that would fund urgently needed improvements to the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, locks, dams, ports and drinking water systems.

More ...

Saving American Democracy

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Saving American Democracy
Getty Images

Kristi Serwin knows that Americans clamoring for social justice and decent treatment of working people can correct the nation’s course only with a fair, accessible election.

But she’s also observed the nation’s dire shortages of poll workers result in long lines and force the closure of polling places around the country, depressing the voter turnout needed to drive change.

Serwin refuses to let that plight befall her Ohio community, so she signed up to serve on a precinct election board, ensuring her neighbors have convenient access to the ballot box Nov. 3.

Without many more volunteers like her, American democracy will hang in the balance this Election Day.

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated the ranks of the nation’s poll workers at the very time Donald Trump’s spurious attacks on the legitimacy of mail-in votes make conveniently located, fully staffed voting places more important than ever.

If they’re confronted with long lines at the polls or forced out of their regular voting places, some Americans will just skip the election, no matter how high the stakes—and no matter how critical it is that their voices be heard—this year. And if America fails to conduct a fair, robust election, democracy dies.

Because this election will shape the nation for years to come, the labor movement urges members across the country to emulate Serwin’s example and perform a patriotic service that will safeguard America’s future.

Poll workers set up voting machines, check in voters, accept completed ballots and transport them to county seats for tabulation. During the primary and general elections, these unsung heroes log long hours so their fellow citizens can exercise an indispensable constitutional right.

“If I can make sure somebody’s line is shorter or give them a convenient place to vote, I’m sure as heck going to do it,” said Serwin, a control room operator at BP-Husky Toledo and member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 346. “I felt it was something I needed to do.”

Most Americans want to have the option of voting by mail this year because they fear contracting COVID-19 at polling places.

However, Trump falsely claims that mail-in ballots invite voter fraud, and his Republican allies already filed a blizzard of lawsuits aimed at thwarting mail balloting. His shameful efforts to discount mail-in votes and silence Americans’ voices, driven solely by his fear of losing the election, make traditional polling places more essential than ever.

More ...

Still Failing Health Care Workers

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Still Failing Health Care Workers
Getty Images

American Red Cross workers travel from one community to another conducting the blood drives that save countless lives in emergency departments and operating rooms.

But they struggle to perform that vital work while keeping themselves safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many health care employers, the Red Cross fails to consistently follow social distancing and other coronavirus safety guidelines.

“Safety shouldn’t be only if it’s feasible,” observed United Steelworkers (USW) Local 254 President Darryl Ford, who represents hundreds of Red Cross workers in Georgia and Alabama. “It should be all the time.”

Eight months after COVID-19 hit America, the nation continues to fail the thousands of health care workers who put their lives on the line each day to help others survive the pandemic.

They still face chronic shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) because the U.S. never fixed the broken supply chains that resulted in highly publicized scarcities of face masks, respirators and other crucial equipment last winter. Some employers refuse to take even common-sense measures to keep workers safe.

The Red Cross failed to provide face shields to protect Ford and his colleagues from blood spatter. And when a company that made the devices offered them for free, the Red Cross declined because of what it deemed the low quality.

“If it’s snowing outside and you don’t have a coat to give me, but you do have a sweater, give me the damn sweater,” fumed Ford, noting his members prefer some protection to none.

Employers’ short-sighted practices not only pose lethal risks to health care workers but ultimately will endanger the patients they serve, especially if a second wave of the virus strikes this winter.

Hospitals, nursing homes and other employers, for example, regularly work health care professionals to the bone despite the danger that understaffing poses both to workers and patients.

Across the country, tens of thousands of patients and workers died after contracting COVID-19 in nursing homes. And although employers had months to fill vacancies and resolve other problems affecting care during the pandemic, workers in these virus hotspots still face severe staffing shortages, lack of PPE or both.

“It’s challenging and it’s stressful,” explained Lynair Gardner, unit griever for USW Local 7898, which represents certified nursing assistants (CNAs), dietary and environmental services workers and other staff members at Prince George Healthcare Center in Georgetown, S.C. “But you’re there for people who can’t help themselves. Sometimes, you have to put that compassion first.”

More ...

As Un-American As You Can Get

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

As Un-American As You Can Get
Getty Images

Joel Buchanan’s stomach turned when he watched poll workers deny ballots to Latinx voters ostensibly because the names and addresses on their driver’s licenses didn’t match those on election records.

And his blood boiled when election officials closed polling stations in poor neighborhoods, deliberately disenfranchising citizens unable to travel to other communities to cast their ballots.

“It’s ugly, and as un-American as you can get,” the retired Steelworker and Navy veteran said of the voter suppression he’s observed as a campaign activist and poll watcher in various states.

Although dismayed by the duplicity he witnessed during two decades of political activism, Buchanan never expected to see an American president openly try to steal an election by disenfranchising millions of voters.

But that’s what’s happening. Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to tear down the U.S. Postal Service and cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots are nothing but a desperate attempt to undermine American democracy.

“We’re talking about an assault on our rights and our form of government,” noted Buchanan, a longtime member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2102, who first got involved in politics because local elected officials failed to support union members during a 1997 steel mill strike in his hometown of Pueblo, Colo.

“When a president tries to manipulate the post office to benefit himself in an election, what’s going to happen if he wins that election?” Buchanan asked. “What’s the next step? These are scary times.”

Trump and his new, hand-picked postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, dismantled critically important mail-sorting machines, banned postal worker overtime, reduced hours at some post offices and eliminated trips to intentionally delay the delivery of mail-in ballots beyond election deadlines.

That would disenfranchise millions of Americans who want to vote by mail this year because they fear contracting COVID-19 at the polls.

Amid a ferocious public backlash and threats of lawsuits from more than 20 states, DeJoy this week agreed to suspend the changes.

But the danger of Trump suppressing votes during a crucial election remains very real.

More ...

America’s Grifter-in-Chief

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

America’s Grifter-in-Chief
Getty Images

Kenny Overstreet scrounges every penny—and even sells the eggs his chickens lay—to make ends meet after Packaging Corp. of America (PCA) furloughed him and hundreds of other workers at its Jackson, Ala., site.

Before the COVID-19 recession struck, the 61-year-old saved a little whenever he could for the retirement he planned to take in a couple of years.

But now, he scrimps to pay monthly bills and prays PCA calls him back to work before he blows through the nest egg he spent decades building.

Millions of unemployed workers need strong, rational leadership to guide them through these perilous times. But instead of a sage and ardent champion in the White House, they’re stuck with a president whose incompetence fueled the pandemic’s spread and hastened the economy’s collapse.

Donald Trump downplayed the coronavirus until it overwhelmed the country, failed to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to front-line workers and blustered as unemployment soared to the highest level since the Great Depression.

But it wasn’t enough for Trump to spectacularly fail at his job.

Trump tried to use the turmoil as cover for stealing Americans’ Social Security benefits and consigning millions of workers to retirements of grinding poverty.

What he called a stimulus program is really one of his biggest cons. He proposed deferring payroll taxes and eventually eliminating them under the guise of leaving a little more money in Americans’ paychecks.

Not only would that have provided no help to millions of unemployed workers like Overstreet, who don’t have paychecks right now, but payroll taxes are what the nation uses to fund Social Security and Medicare. Cutting them would advance the Republicans’ long-sought goal of eliminating the retirement safety net, forcing tens of millions of elderly and disabled retirees to scratch out a living on their own.

Workers love Social Security. Most happily pay into the system, considering it an investment in their future and that of their fellow Americans. Yet Republicans illogically denounce Social Security and Medicare as giveaways and repeatedly try to kill them.

That infuriates Overstreet, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9-361, who regards Social Security as a vital and hard-earned part of his retirement.

More ...

Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

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

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

More ...

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work