Posts from Tom Conway

America’s Infrastructure Crisis

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Rich Carmona spent decades upgrading his 1970s ranch home in Midland, Mich.

He lovingly installed new flooring and doors and remodeled the bathrooms. After finishing the kitchen 18 months ago, he finally had the house the way he liked it.

Then the 96-year-old Edenville Dam failed amid heavy rains May 19, unleashing a torrent of water that drowned roads, swept some houses off of their foundations and left others, including Carmona’s, in ruins.

If America maintained its infrastructure with the same care Carmona did his home, this never would have happened.

However, U.S. leaders long failed to invest in the nation’s roads, bridges and dams, turning them into crumbling hazards that put Americans’ lives and dreams at risk.

Four years ago, Donald Trump pledged a $1 trillion national infrastructure program. But he failed to deliver any rebuilding campaign at all. Americans still drive over decrepit bridges and raise their families in the shadows of aging dams.

Now, as the country struggles to rebound economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, an infrastructure campaign is more essential than ever.

Rebuilding the nation’s transportation and energy systems would provide work for millions of Americans who lost jobs—or risk losing them—because of the economic slump triggered by the coronavirus.

Upgraded roads, bridges and waterways would facilitate an expansion of commerce for years to come. And a major infrastructure push will protect the lives and investments of Americans who are tired of being placed in harm’s way.

“What is it going to take?” asked Carmona, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12075 and a logistics operator at Dow Chemical in Midland. “How much devastation? How much loss of life?”

Thousands of residents fled when the Edenville Dam burst, triggering a flood that overtopped a second dam and inundated Midland and other communities.

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Rebuilding America’s Manufacturing Muscle

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

As Goodyear began phasing out a tire plant in Alabama and shifting operations to a cheaper facility in Mexico a few years ago, Jeremy Hughes worried about the loss of his livelihood and the impact on his hometown.

Hughes also worried about the future of America. Sooner or later, he realized, the decline of U.S. manufacturing would put the entire nation at risk.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, that day has come.

Failed U.S. trade policies incentivized corporations to offshore family-sustaining manufacturing jobs, like the one Hughes lost, and left America dangerously dependent on other countries for consumer goods, industrial products and even the medical supplies critically needed to fight COVID-19.

America imports much of the personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns and gloves, used by health care workers.

When the pandemic struck, America lacked the production capacity to meet the surging demand for PPE. It couldn’t import sufficient quantities from China, a major global supplier, either.

The loss of Goodyear jobs in Gadsden, Ala., and China’s control of PPE supplies are two symptoms of America’s other pandemic—manufacturing decay.

Right now, the U.S.—once the world’s most powerful manufacturer—cannot produce on its own soil the items it most needs.

It has no vision for the future of manufacturing, no plan for leveraging the nation’s industrial capacity in emergencies.

If America fails to rebuild its manufacturing base, it will be just as vulnerable in the next crisis, whether that is a disease, war or natural disaster.

“We have to start buying American-made products. I can’t stress that enough,” said Hughes, the treasurer of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 12L. “The union has been preaching this for years.”

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Killing the Messenger

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Bill Boone was a fresh-faced 23-year-old in 1952 when he cast his first ballot for U.S. president, while proudly serving aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea.

The U.S. Postal Service carried that vote untold miles to the election board in Boone’s hometown of Benton, Ark., and he’s considered “the mail” an essential part of life ever since.

Today, the 90-year-old retired Steelworker relies on the postal service to deliver his medicines, Social Security checks and letters from relatives. A dedicated letter carrier even walks the mail up the driveway—past the mailbox—to Boone’s front door.

“I told him, ‘You can’t retire until I die,’” Boone said.

The postal service delivers to every U.S. address, no matter how isolated, and charges consistent, reasonable rates to all customers. It’s a lifeline for military members and the elderly. It keeps commerce humming and the country connected.

Americans love the postal service. Yet Donald Trump wants to kill it.

The postal service lost billions of dollars as businesses scaled back operations or closed during the pandemic. The agency usually supports itself with sales of stamps and other products. But now, without as much as $75 billion in emergency federal aid, it will go bankrupt in months.

Americans under stay-at-home orders, with limited access to stores and restaurants, need the postal service more than ever. They overwhelmingly support saving it.

But Trump refuses to help unless the agency quadruples rates on packages it delivers for Amazon and other companies. Because Amazon, UPS and FedEx won’t deliver to some addresses, such as those in rural areas, they often rely on the postal service to carry packages the so-called “last mile”to a recipient’s door.

If the postal service raised rates, these companies would merely pass along the higher costs to their customers. And many Americans, like the 30 million or so who just lost their jobs because of the pandemic, can’t afford that.

The death of the postal service would deprive Americans of a way to vote, pay bills, apply for passports, get prescriptions, send letters, receive tax refunds, collect Social Security and ship items ranging from gold bars to cremated remains.

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Mitch McConnell’s Moral Bankruptcy

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

States that spent millions of dollars fighting the coronavirus asked the federal government for help plugging huge holes in their budgets.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave them the finger instead.

The Kentucky Republican said he’d rather let states go bankrupt than come to their aid. He claims they’d have funds to weather the crisis if they didn’t spend money on frivolous things like pensions for cops and road workers.

It’s just like McConnell to exploit the pandemic for his right-wing, small-government, anti-worker agenda.

Withholding money from cash-starved states or letting them declare bankruptcy would lead to draconian slashes in social welfare programs and layoffs of state troopers, corrections officers and other essential workers. And, as McConnell desires, states would face pressure to renege on pensions for workers and retirees.

The cuts would increase poverty, send income inequality soaring to even higher levels and break what’s left of the middle class.

In his long war on workers, this is McConnell’s most morally bankrupt ploy yet.

States stepped into the breach and spent millions on the pandemic only because Donald Trump botched the federal government’s response, putting hundreds of millions of lives at risk.

When the Trump administration failed to provide respirators and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, states scrounged supplies on their own. The federal government failed to deliver ventilators needed to keep critically ill patients breathing, so governors scavenged those as well.

Shortages of these items even forced states into bidding wars, something that drove up the budget deficits that McConnell now refuses to help governors address.

If states hadn’t spent this money, more people would have died.

On top of the money spent fighting the coronavirus, states lost billions in tax revenue as businesses closed and workers lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

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The Fox in the Henhouse

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Thousands of workers across America begged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to investigate when their employers failed to take steps to protect them from COVID-19.

They reported a lack of face masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer. They warned of having to share desks and stand right next to one another on production lines, despite the need for social distancing to slow the spread of the disease.

They put their faith in OSHA and waited for the agency to come to their aid.

But help never came.

OSHA—the agency responsible for America’s workplace safety—left workers to fend for themselves during the biggest health crisis in recent history.

There’s a reason for the agency’s dereliction of duty.

The agency’s boss, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. He’s a longtime corporate lawyer who’s never cared about workers’ welfare.

Scalia—the son of the late right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia— made a fortune at a Beltway law firm helping greedy corporations cheat workers out of decent pay and skimp on safety.

He criticized OSHA for overzealous inspections. He opposed rules to protect Americans from repetitive strain injuries. He opposed health care benefits for low-wage laborers and argued that workers, not employers, should pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) needed on the job.

Now, with Scalia in charge, it’s no wonder OSHA ignores demands for inspections and turns a blind eye when workers request respirators, gloves and other measures to save them from COVID-19.

Even during a pandemic, Scalia wants to make sure corporations don’t spend a penny more or go a step further than they deem strictly necessary. His disregard for working class people makes the virus all the more dangerous.

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America's Backbone

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

At the start of each shift, Eric Jarvis takes a handful of anti-bacterial wipes and sanitizes the equipment he uses at the Packaging Corp. of America mill in Valdosta, Ga.

He worries about getting the coronavirus every time he leaves for work, but knows the nation depends on paper workers like him to produce the linerboard that goes into the cardboard boxes used to ship millions of items to stores and homes each day.

Jarvis, president of USW Local 646, may not be on the front lines of the pandemic in the same way as nurses and first responders. But he and other manufacturing workers also fulfill a vital role on the nation’s production lines, ensuring that Americans still have the food, medicine, toiletries and other items crucial for everyday life.

“If we don’t make boxes, then the grocery stores don’t have groceries,” Jarvis said.

“We know our job is an essential job," he said of the local's 235 members. "You can see the pride in the workers doing their jobs out there.”

Truck drivers, bakers, transit operators, grocery store clerks, warehouse packers and manufacturing workers form the backbone of America’s economy.

They show up every day and get the job done, performing so reliably that the nation long took their work for granted. No one questioned, for example, whether stores would have toilet paper and cleaning products.

Then the pandemic struck, and surging demand for consumer goods exposed America’s dependence on the blue-collar workers who supply almost every need.

Life would grind to a halt without them.

Right now, these workers risk COVID-19 by laboring in groups at mills, factories, warehouses and stores while many other Americans do their jobs alone at home. It angers Jarvis to think that service workers put their lives on the line for the poverty-level wages common in their industry.

“I hope people never forget that,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis and his co-workers protect themselves as best they can.

Besides wiping down equipment, they stagger their starting times to reduce contact with one another. They wait in their cars and trucks before a shift instead of congregating at the time clock. Inside the mill, they remain at their work stations unless their presence elsewhere is a necessity.

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America's Backbone

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

At the start of each shift, Eric Jarvis takes a handful of anti-bacterial wipes and sanitizes the equipment he uses at the Packaging Corp. of America mill in Valdosta, Ga.

He worries about getting the coronavirus every time he leaves for work, but knows the nation depends on paper workers to produce the cardboard boxes used to ship millions of items to stores and homes each day.

Jarvis, president of USW Local 646, may not be on the front lines of the pandemic in the same way as nurses and first responders. But he and other manufacturing workers also fulfill a vital role on the nation’s production lines, ensuring that Americans still have the food, medicine, toiletries and other items crucial for everyday life.

“If we don’t make boxes, then the grocery stores don’t have groceries,” Jarvis said of the local’s 235 members. “We know our job is an essential job. You can see the pride in the workers doing their jobs out there.”

Truck drivers, bakers, transit operators, grocery store clerks, warehouse packers and manufacturing workers form the backbone of America’s economy.

They show up every day and get the job done, performing so reliably that the nation long took their work for granted. No one questioned, for example, whether stores would have toilet paper and cleaning products.

Then the pandemic struck, and surging demand for consumer goods exposed America’s dependence on the blue-collar workers who supply almost every need.

Life would grind to a halt without them.

Right now, these workers risk COVID-19 by laboring in groups at mills, factories, warehouses and stores while many other Americans do their jobs alone at home. It angers Jarvis to think that service workers put their lives on the line for the poverty-level wages common in their industry.

“I hope people never forget that,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis and his co-workers protect themselves as best they can.

Besides wiping down equipment, they stagger their starting times to reduce contact with one another. They wait in their cars and trucks before a shift instead of congregating at the time clock. Inside the mill, they remain at their work stations unless their presence elsewhere is a necessity.

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The Leadership Hoax

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Health care workers continue to put their lives on the line, caring for patients despite critical shortages of the safety gear they need to protect themselves from COVID-19.

To help, factories now churn out face shields, masks and gowns. And millions of workers stay home to slow the spread of the disease.

Americans from all walks of life stepped up to battle COVID-19.

With one glaring exception—Donald Trump.

Trump’s arrogance and failures compound a crisis that’s already damaged the economy and put thousands of Americans in early graves.

He’s a tweeter, not a leader.

Trump denied that the coronavirus was a risk until it overran the country, ignoring the warnings of intelligence agencies and public officials who tracked the threat from overseas.

Heeding those warnings would have given the nation time to get COVID-19 tests and safety gear to hospitals and doctors’ offices.

But Trump claimed he knew better than the experts. As late as Feb. 28, he called concerns about the virus a  “hoax”during a political rally in South Carolina.

News of the first American death from COVID-19 came just hours later. About 5,000 more Americans died since then. Before the virus runs its course, the toll could top 240,000.

But Trump’s rallies reveal where his priorities truly lie:  his own political skin and ratings in the polls. 

It’s one thing to adopt an optimistic tone and project an image of strength to assure the country—and the markets—that things will turn out all right.

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Homeless Vets Confront A New Enemy—COVID-19

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Under normal circumstances, Jerry Porter would be spending his time helping the veterans he finds in tent camps and run-down housing.

But the escalating threat of COVID-19 forces the community activist and retired Steelworker to remain at home for now, even though vulnerable vets need him more than ever.

As the coronavirus spreads across America, the poor bear the brunt of a pandemic that’s exposed the deep class lines in U.S. society.

The rich have big savings accounts and quality health care. They’ll emerge from the crisis just fine.

But Americans at the margins, including homeless vets who rely on a frayed safety net stretched to the breaking point by COVID-19, now face an even greater struggle to survive.

“I don’t know where they end up,” rued Porter, 75, a Vietnam veteran and longtime member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 105 who worked more than 40 years at the aluminum plant in Davenport, Iowa, now owned by Arconic.

Porter and a group of friends work together to help veterans in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois.

But now, they’re heeding the request of public health officials. They stay home to help their community slow the spread of COVID-19.

That prevents them from helping veterans like the one Porter found sleeping on a squalid mattress in a “junky” house. He got the man into a clean apartment and—thanks to a friend who owned a bedding store—a new mattress and box spring for just $180.

Just as alarming, COVID-19 halted the fund-raising supporting that kind of intervention. Local veterans groups just canceled a taco dinner and a poppy sale that together raise about $6,000 each year.

For some veterans, that money is the difference between sleeping indoors or on the street.

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Killer Of A Cure

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

The spread of COVID-19 put Americans’ lives at risk. But even as people across the country hunker down in their homes to protect themselves, they have more to fear.

Stock market swings, business closings and other COVID-19 disruptions threaten the nation’s economic well-being.

Some members of Congress want to address the fallout by lifting tariffs on imports from China and other countries, believing that giving Americans access to a flood of cheaper goods will stimulate the economy.

But what might seem like a quick cure would actually jeopardize America’s long-term health.

America’s steel and aluminum industries are still trying to bounce back from years of dumping and other illegal trade practices, from China and other nations, which caused widescale factory closures and job losses.

Removing tariffs on those products now just invites more of the cheating that led to the penalties in the first place.

Chinese goods, for example, would swamp U.S. markets at the worst possible time, as American industries—still trying to recover from the illegal trade of the past—also face the COVID-19 economic slowdown.  In the wake of increased dumping, U.S. factories would be forced to scale back or close, throwing more Americans out of work.

Members of Congress have to ask themselves: Whose side are they on?

The Chinese government subsidizes steel, aluminum and other manufacturing with cash, loans that producers don’t have to repay, and other kinds of aid. Then China dumps products in foreign markets at artificially low prices, undercutting domestic producers and costing workers their jobs.

From 2001 to 2018, America lost 3.7 million jobs—2.8 million of them in manufacturing—because of the trade imbalance with China. That imbalance was driven largely by unfair competition. The uneven playing field also dragged down wages and benefits for Americans who managed to continue to work.

Unleashing a flood of Chinese goods on U.S. markets now would put America in the same position again, only worse because American factories and workers are still grappling with the unprecedented effects of COVID-19.

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Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work