Category: From the USW International President

Seizing the Moment

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Seizing the Moment
Getty Images

When COVID-19 forced the 66-bed Maryhill Manor into lockdown, a resolute Veronica Dixon and her colleagues realized they had to make a choice: band together or fall apart.

So they put in longer hours, shouldered extra duties and leaned on each other to keep the Niagara, Wis., nursing facility operating as the coronavirus swept through, sickening dozens of residents and staff members.

What saved Maryhill Manor also offers hope for a country convulsed by storms. Only by working together can Americans end the pandemic, create a more equitable society and build a just economic system.

Dixon, a cook at the nursing home and the financial secretary of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 3168, noted that COVID-19 exacerbated the inequality that mires millions in poverty and tears at the nation’s social fabric.

“How can you not come together and try to work it out?” she asked.

“The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer,” observed Dixon, who’s seen more people in Niagara struggle since a local paper mill shut down, eliminating hundreds of family-sustaining jobs, more than a decade ago. “There has to be something in between so people can live a decent life and not worry about how to pay their bills.”

So many Americans see the nation at a crossroads that they came together in record numbers to elect Joe Biden, charting a course for healing and progress.

Then, in runoff elections for U.S. Senate this month, Georgia voters propelled the nation yet another step along the path of change by electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, inclusive candidates committed to progress.

“You can’t lie about the numbers,” Dixon said of the historic election results. “People want change.”

But it isn’t enough for Americans to band together at the ballot box. It’s just as important to rally behind the initiatives that build a fairer country, just as the solidarity of union workers yielded the 40-hour work week, decent benefits and workplace safety in previous decades.

More ...

A Life-Saving Partnership

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Life-Saving Partnership
Getty Images

For months, Penny Burroughs kept a close eye on working conditions at PCI Pharma Services and worried about her colleagues contracting COVID-19.

Burroughs and other representatives of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 286 collaborated with the pharmaceutical packaging company on intensive safety plans—even on-site medical care and a shuttle service—to protect workers.

And because these cooperative, proactive measures helped to keep the virus out of the Philadelphia plant, PCI had hundreds of healthy, energized workers ready to leap into action when pharmaceutical manufacturers sought assistance packaging and distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

While the pandemic drove home the need to reinvigorate the nation’s manufacturing base, it also underscored employers’ obligation to keep Americans safe on the job.

The foresight demonstrated by PCI and Local 286, for example, will help the nation vanquish a virus that’s claimed at least 359,000 U.S. lives so far and pushed unemployment to the highest level since the Great Depression.

Since the first shipment of vaccine arrived at PCI’s facility several weeks ago—escorted by U.S. marshals—workers already helped to distribute hundreds of thousands of life-saving doses.

Even as they do their part to battle the pandemic, Burroughs and her colleagues also continue labeling, assembling, packaging and shipping their regular customers’ orders for items like blood-pressure medications, auto-injectors, over-the-counter pain relievers and other products that consumers still need every day.

Union members always performed their jobs with the utmost diligence, realizing that the medications they provide to hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies helped to keep fellow Americans—maybe even their own friends and family members—well.

But the exceptional dedication and loyalty they demonstrated during the pandemic highlighted just how much the company relies on them.

Helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines—a process that involves labeling the vials before packaging them for shipment—created new levels of pride and enthusiasm at the plant.

More ...

‘Standing Up for What’s Right’

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

‘Standing Up for What’s Right’
Getty Images

Vermeshia Slay burns up the phone lines these days, encouraging Georgia voters to join the burgeoning grassroots movement to transform America’s future.

After delivering a crucial victory for Joe Biden in November, Slay and millions of other change-hungry Georgia voters set their sights on something even bigger.

They want to help the new administration put America on the path to health and shared prosperity.

By electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the state’s Jan. 5 runoff elections for the U.S. Senate, Georgians will lock in congressional support for Biden’s agenda to defeat COVID-19 and build an economy that works for everyone.

Moving America forward matters so much to Slay, an American Red Cross laboratory worker and unit chair of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 254, that the longtime voter threw herself into campaigning for the first time.

Slay operates a one-person phone bank from her suburban Atlanta living room, urging one registered voter after another to join the surge of Georgians pushing their state—and the country—in a fresh direction. She wants voters to make sure they grasp the importance of electing Warnock and Ossoff and giving Democrats a Senate majority in January.

Many of those on the other end of the line tell her, “We’re with you.”

More than a million Georgians requested mail-in ballots for the runoffs, and hundreds of thousands lined up this week for the start of early balloting—more signs that the voters who turned out in record numbers for Biden want a further hand in charting America’s future.

“It’s a lot of people coming together and standing up for what’s right,” Slay said, noting that young voters, Black women, suburbanites and beleaguered health care workers, among many other groups, coalesced into a movement for change.

Their goals include social justice, economic equality, affordable health care and an end to a pandemic that’s wiped out far too many lives and jobs.

“I think everybody is about fed up,” declared Slay, who saw her own hours at the Red Cross temporarily reduced when COVID-19 affected blood-collection efforts last spring. The experience gave her a firsthand look at the financial challenges many of her neighbors faced even before the health crisis struck.

More ...

Never Again

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Never Again
Getty Images

Brian Banks and his colleagues at Nipro Glass log 60- or 70-hour weeks right now in a grueling race to produce the glass tubing and vials essential to distributing millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Banks, a maintenance mechanic for nearly three decades, often feared over the years that the Millville, N.J., complex would close like so many other glass-making facilities around the country. If it had, America would struggle all the more to turn the corner on a pandemic that’s already claimed 275,000 U.S. lives.

COVID-19 laid bare the decades-long decline of manufacturing that left the nation straining to produce the face masks, ventilators, glass and other items needed to contain the coronavirus. Now, with vaccines nearly ready for distribution, America has an opportunity to defeat the virus and revive a manufacturing base crucial for protecting the country from future crises.

Of all the responsibilities that President-elect Joe Biden faces upon taking office Jan. 20, none demands more attention—and requires greater urgency—than ramping up production capacity and rebuilding broken supply chains to keep America safe.

Biden’s Build Back Better campaign will make common-sense investments in U.S. manufacturing that put millions to work and ensure a reliable, high-quality supply of critical goods, like the Nipro vials that are used not only to store COVID-19 vaccine but also the other drugs needed to treat hospitalized patients.

“It’s comforting for us to know that what we’re doing is contributing to something major,” explained Banks, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 219M, which represents the 200 or so dedicated workers keeping Nipro’s two Millville plants operating around the clock.

“There used to be lots of different places where we could get this glass. They’ve left. If we didn’t have this plant, where would we get it from?” asked Banks, who saw his own local shrink by thousands of members as several local glass facilities closed in recent decades.

In the urgent scramble to build stockpiles of vaccine that can be swiftly released for distribution once federal regulators give approval, multiple drug-makers approached Nipro for help.

The company added production capacity to help meet the flood of orders and relied on workers to put in extra shifts. However, as Banks noted, the nation could have more easily addressed the surging demand if it still had the large number of producers it did in years past and marshaled those collective resources to ramp up glass production.

“The product is still being made, just not in the U.S. It could have stayed here,” said Banks, who already wonders whether Nipro will embrace America’s long-term need for manufacturing and maintain its recently added capacity once the pandemic ends.

More ...

Shared Sacrifice

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Shared Sacrifice
Getty Images

Chad Longpre Shepersky repeatedly took COVID-19 tests—and waited on pins and needles for results each time—during a coronavirus outbreak at Guardian Angels Health & Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, Minn.

Longpre Shepersky, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), never contracted the virus. But he watched in agony as dozens of his patients and co-workers fell ill and fought for their lives.

As a weary nation enters the holiday season, Americans have an opportunity to help health care workers like Longpre Shepersky and start bringing the raging pandemic under control.

Consistently wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions will slow COVID-19’s spread and provide much-needed relief to the front-line workers battling burnout as well as the virus.

“Everyone should do their part,” insisted Longpre Shepersky, financial secretary and steward for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9349, which represents workers at Guardian Angels. “Just the other day, I witnessed people in Walmart not wearing masks or following 6-foot distancing. Too many people aren’t doing what they can to fight the virus.”

As infection rates soar to their highest levels nationwide, the 10-month-old pandemic continues to take a disproportionately deadly toll on frail, vulnerable nursing home residents and the people who care for them.

So many residents and workers at Guardian Angels contracted the virus that the Minnesota National Guard last month sent a five-person team to help keep the 90-bed facility operating. Even then, as he worried about his own safety and mourned the deaths of several patients, Longpre Shepersky logged grueling amounts of overtime to fill in for ill colleagues.

“It got to the point where you dreaded going to work because you didn’t know what the day was going to bring,” recalled Longpre Shepersky, a CNA for 21 years who considers his co-workers and patients a second family. “But there was no one else there to do it. I just pulled up my Big Boy pants and went in to work and got through the day.”

Many nursing home workers endured staffing shortages at their facilities long before the pandemic. Because of low Medicaid payments for patient care, among other reasons, facilities paid low wages, skimped on staff or battled chronic turnover.

When COVID-19 struck, turnover and staff sicknesses compounded the chronic understaffing.

More ...

A Duty to Act

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Duty to Act
Getty Images

Tim O’Daniel and his co-workers at Cleveland Clinic Akron General confront additional cases of COVID-19 every day in a hospital so busy it’s sometimes difficult to find an empty bed.

They’re also battling rising frustration after waiting months for comprehensive coronavirus testing and other federal resources essential to containing the pandemic.

Americans voted overwhelmingly in the Nov. 3 election to support the nation’s health care workers and go on the offensive against COVID-19.

But while President-elect Joe Biden assembles a team of scientific advisers and finalizes his strategy for defeating the virus, there’s no reason to wait until he takes office Jan. 20 to begin turning the corner.

Americans can come together to demand that the Republican-controlled Senate immediately pass a common-sense bill providing coronavirus testing, contact-tracing programs and funds that states could use to give hazard pay to essential workers, like health care professionals.

Right now, one person—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—stands in the way of America’s fight against COVID-19. Instead of rushing to give Americans the support they demand, he defies the will of the people and lets the bill languish while the pandemic death toll mounts.

“We’re paying with our lives,” noted O’Daniel, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014L, who just days ago lost a colleague to COVID-19. “We’re paying with our health."

The House already approved the bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which also would set workplace safety standards for the duration of the pandemic and ensure a reliable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the front-line workers putting themselves in harm’s way.

McConnell refused to take up the HEROES Act before the election—even as infection rates soared—because saving lives meant less than to him than ramming through Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and cementing the court’s right-wing majority for decades to come.

“The confirmation of that justice did nothing to help the American people right now,” observed O’Daniel, who’s infuriated that McConnell and other Republican senators “can act on a dime” for partisan political gain while dithering for months on measures essential to controlling COVID-19.

More ...

Democracy in Action

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Democracy in Action
Getty Images

Ken Yatsko wrote hundreds of postcards and made thousands of phone calls as part of a campaign encouraging fellow union members to perform their civic duty in Tuesday’s election.

And having done his part to generate a record turnout, Yatsko now expects every vote to be counted.

He and other Americans witnessed an unprecedented exercise in democracy as legions of patriotic voters braved COVID-19, long lines at polling places and other hardships to cast ballots in a crucial election.

Now, it’s essential to bring the process to its fair and proper end, one that respects the sacrifices voters made—the risks they took—to put the nation on the road to change. That means accurately counting all 160 million ballots—the most ever cast in a presidential election—and ensuring every voter’s voice is heard.

“The people have spoken,” noted Yatsko, a U.S. Steel retiree and the vice president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 7-1, who was still making get-out-the-vote phone calls on the eve of the election. “The will of the people is that you count the votes, and add them up, and you have a winner.”

The surging turnout rate—the highest for a presidential contest in more than a century—reflected Americans’ demand that the nation finally mount a comprehensive fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and take decisive steps to rebuild the country’s broken economy.

Joe Biden, who unveiled an aggressive strategy for leading the nation’s recovery, received more votes than any presidential candidate in history.

Because Biden urged his supporters to vote remotely because of the pandemic, it’s taking local election boards longer than usual to tabulate an unprecedented number of mail-in votes.

Elections officials knew this would be the case—and let the public know—well before Election Day. Now, to uphold democracy, these officials need to take as much time as necessary to perform a comprehensive, accurate count.

More ...

Keeping Democracy Alive

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Keeping Democracy Alive
Getty Images

Bill Finkle will brave COVID-19 and drive around Kansas City all day Tuesday, giving free rides to seniors who need a lift to the polls.

Finkle passionately believes both in giving citizens every opportunity to vote and in properly counting every ballot cast.

Yet while ordinary citizens like him risk their very lives to keep democracy running, notorious liar Donald Trump pursues an unprecedented campaign to undermine the will of the people in an attempt to steal a second term.

“You can’t put anything past him,” noted Finkle, 73, treasurer of the Steelworkers Organization of Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 34-3 and vice president of the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans.

“He’s trying to throw democracy right down the drain,” said Finkle, who joined the Marines at 18 and spent three years defending the Constitution that Trump disgraces. “If that happens, God help us.”

Trump began plotting his heist months ago as the COVID-19 pandemic fueled unprecedented demand for mail-in ballots from Americans worried about contracting the coronavirus at crowded polling places.

Any other president would have used his office to expand mail-in balloting and ensure that all voters have their voices heard. Mail-in ballots are a practical and secure form of voting that members of the armed forces, homebound seniors and Americans living overseas all relied on for decades, without controversy, until Trump manufactured one.

Because he fears Americans’ wrath after bungling the nation’s pandemic response and sending the economy into a nosedive, Trump resolved to disenfranchise—to silence—those he suspected would hold him accountable for his failures.

He tried to destroy the U.S. Postal Service to thwart the delivery of mail-in ballots. And he repeatedly went to court to disenfranchise Americans who voted remotely, even though he hypocritically cast his own ballot by mail.

“It’s just something for him to say to discredit the election,” Ben Armstrong, a trustee for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 377, said of Trump’s groundless claims about a “rigged” outcome.

 “That way, if he loses, he’ll have something to take to the Supreme Court. I do believe that if he were ahead in the polls, it would never be an issue,” explained Armstrong, whose work at International Paper in Georgetown, S.C., includes making ballot stock for elections.

More ...

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 ...

Stronger Together

Stronger Together