Category: Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

Steel for Wind Power
Getty Images

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.

 

Protecting the Gulf

Protecting the Gulf
Getty Images

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. 

Hurricane Laura struck the Gulf Coast in August with unusually fierce 150-mph winds that caused more than two dozen deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

Three weeks later, Hurricane Sally pummeled the Gulf with more flooding and destruction.

With storms growing stronger, lasting longer and even hitting more often because of climate change, the Gulf Coast urgently needs new infrastructure to save lives and safeguard critical industrial sites.

New barriers, for example, could protect the huge oil and chemical complex in the Houston-Galveston area that provides much of America’s jet fuel, refining capacity and petrochemical production.

A Rice University study warned that a 24-foot storm surge could cause storage tanks to fail, releasing nearly 90 million gallons of oil and hazardous substances into nearby neighborhoods and then Galveston Bay, one of the most important estuaries in the U.S. 

Damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 served as a warning. Floodwaters overwhelmed the power systems at Arkema Inc.’s chemical plant, causing organic peroxides to catch fire, explode and spew toxic fumes into the air. Hundreds of residents had to evacuate.

To protect the Houston-Galveston area from storm surge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a plan to build a barrier system: floodgates, with some sets being 650 feet wide, equal to a 60-story building laid on its side; a beach and dune complex; and ecosystem restoration projects along the Texas coast. But this work could take 10 to 15 years to complete.

Rice University researchers propose a Galveston Bay Park Plan that could be built more quickly. These man-made islands would function both as storm surge barriers and recreation areas.

A combination of natural and mechanized infrastructure along the Gulf Coast would support jobs, enhance the economic viability of coastal communities and help protect prime industrial areas from increasingly ferocious storms.

Saving the Nation’s Parks

Saving the Nation’s Parks
Getty Images

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. 

The wildfires ravaging the West Coast not only pose imminent danger to iconic national parks like Crater Lake in Oregon and the Redwoods in California, but threaten the future of all of America’s beloved scenic places.

As climate change fuels the federal government’s need to spend more of National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service budgets on wildfire suppression, massive maintenance backlogs and decrepit infrastructure threaten the entire system of national parks and forests.

A long-overdue infusion of funds into the roads, bridges, tunnels, dams and marinas in these treasured spaces would generate jobs and preserve landmark sites for generations to come.

The infrastructure networks in the nation’s parks long have failed to meet modern-day demand. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave parks a D+ rating in its 2017 infrastructure report card, citing chronic underfunding and deferred maintenance.

Just this year, a large portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is owned and managed by the NPS, collapsed due to heavy rains and slope failures. Projects to prevent disasters like this one get pushed further down the road as wildfire management squeezes agency budgets more each year.

Congress recently passed the Great American Outdoors Act,  allocating billions in new funding for the NPS.

But that’s just a first step in a long yet vital process to bring parks and forests to 21st-century standards. America’s big, open spaces cannot afford to suffer additional neglect.

The Big Drip

The Big Drip
Getty Images

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. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

The Lock and Dam Choke Point

The Lock and Dam Choke Point
Getty Images

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.

When the massive Bonneville lock cracked last fall on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, shipments of grain, logs and other freight bottlenecked as crews hustled to save the deteriorating structure from total failure. 

Farmers in the middle of the wheat harvest and others who rely on the Columbia to ship goods as far as Asia endured crippling delays until the lock reopened a month later. 

Because many other decaying locks and dams also are at risk of failure that could choke the nation’s commerce, only a major infrastructure investment can keep America’s inland waterways open.

Most U.S. locks and dams are well beyond their 50-year design life, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates necessary upgrades to inland waterways will cost $4.9 billion.

Importantly, investments in lock and dam infrastructure would increase the nation’s capacity to export goods. In 2017, nearly half of all vessels on American inland waterways experienced lock delays, with the average delay more than doubling from 64 minutes in 2000 to 143 minutes in 2015. 

In a testimony on trade earlier this year, USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown stressed that the nation’s inland waterways are essential trade routes that congressional leaders must act quickly to upgrade. 

“Our member employers have highlighted port and lock infrastructure upgrades as an item that could not only help them get goods to market, but also significantly reduce costs,” said Brown. 

An infrastructure investment with strong Buy American provisions would improve shipping efficiency and increase demand for domestically-produced steel and other manufactured goods, fueling good, family-sustaining jobs for decades to come. 

 

Keeping Motorists Alive

Keeping Motorists Alive
Getty Images

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.

Used to delineate traffic lanes and illuminate hazards, reflective signs and road markings help keep motorists safe in poor driving conditions.

But because of America’s long failure to invest in its crumbling infrastructure, these protective devices aren’t as prevalent—or saving as many lives—as they could be.

Rebuilding America’s dilapidated roads and highways with the latest in reflective technology would not only keep drivers secure but also support American workers, like the United Steelworkers (USW) members who manufacture reflective materials at the 3M operation in Guin, Ala.

“Our members take pride in their work and realize that what they do is important for safety on the roads and highways,” said Local 9-675 President Phillip Markham. “This work also keeps our small, rural community alive.”

Local 9-675 represents 210 workers who produce reflective sheeting, an adhesive-backed film with tiny, glass beads that reflect light back to the driver’s eyes. This sheeting is used around the world on traffic signs and vehicles, such as ambulances, to improve visibility.

Markham and his co-workers also manufacture a wide range of pavement marking tapes to brighten roadways and help motorists see where they are going. These features especially protect older drivers and out-of-town motorists struggling to navigate unfamiliar roads in bad conditions.

Each year, thousands of Americans die in crashes on wet roads, many of them during periods of reduced visibility.

But the kinds of safety materials produced by Local 9-675 members have been shown to reduce injury-involved crashes in rainy conditions.

Incorporating reflective technology into a major upgrade of America’s roads would enable the skilled workers at 3M to help more motorists safely find their way.

No Broadband, No Education

No Broadband, No Education
Getty Images

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.

COVID-19 this spring forced tens of thousands of students in the Fontana, Calif., Unified School District (FUSD), like students across the nation, to learn from home. So the district—including members of USW Local 8599—leapt into action to help ensure all students could log into class.

The district established a private network to deliver high-speed wireless internet to students and teachers in their homes, while USW members in the technology and library departments distributed laptops to all 36,000 students.

The massive undertaking—condensing a project originally slated for three years into just three months—demonstrates the power of committing to widely-needed infrastructure projects that can quickly and efficiently provide students with the broadband access that is now every bit as essential as electricity. 

Yet, local solutions can only take the nation so far, as millions of other students and educators across the country still struggle to get online. Only a national effort, initiated and funded by Congress, can provide the universal broadband access required for education in 2020.

So far, congressional Republicans and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have done little to solve the broadband divide issue for students, forcing superintendents to scrape together funds and find piecemeal solutions. 

Numerous Democratic bills, including the Moving Forward Act, passed by the House in July, and the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, recently introduced in the House and Senate, include plans to fund broadband infrastructure. But the Republican Senate has dragged its feet on these and other important coronavirus relief bills. 

The 12 million American students without internet at home will continue to fall further behind as universal broadband is delayed.

The Fontana school district proved that expanding broadband infrastructure is not only possible, but is necessary for the future of education. Now, thousands of other school districts around the country need resources for similar projects. 

It is time for Congress to commit to long-range broadband investments that will help students learn and keep the nation connected.

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage
Getty Images

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.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.

 

Freight can’t wait

Freight can’t wait
Getty Images

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.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

The high cost of failing infrastructure

The high cost of failing infrastructure
Jim Varnum's flooded house.

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.

Residents of Midland, Mich., will spend months rebuilding their homes and their lives after the failure of two dams triggered massive flooding along the Tittabawassee River in May.

The tragedy is a grim reminder of America’s pressing need to upgrade infrastructure like the aging Edenville Dam, which broke during a heavy storm and unleashed a torrent of water that caused a second impoundment to fail as well.

The flooding damaged or destroyed more than 2,500 buildings. The cleanup will cost an estimated $200 million—money that would have better spent upgrading Michigan’s dams and averting disaster.

USW Local 12075, which represents about 850 workers at the Dow-DuPont-Corteva-Trinseo-Sk Saran complex in Midland, has numerous members affected by the flooding. While some only had to mop up water in their basements others experienced major damage or even lost their homes.

“We definitely need to put money into infrastructure because things are falling apart,” lamented Local 12075 Vice President Jim Varnum, who works at DuPont.

Varnum and his family are living in a camper while they repair their home. They already installed the floors, drywall and insulation. Now, they’re ordering doors, kitchen cabinets, beds and other furniture.

Federal regulators long complained that Boyce Hydro Power LLC, owner of both dams, refused to make critically needed improvements to the Edenville structure.

But many other dams across the country also are aging, in poor condition and at risk of collapsing.

“Without the government putting emphasis on fixing our infrastructure—roads, dams, bridges, water system, etc.—we’re going to see more disasters like what happened to Midland and the surrounding area,” Varnum said.

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