Monumental leadership changes for women in the USW

This summer brought sweeping changes to USW’s International Executive Board, as well as to other vital positions within the union. As President Leo Gerard stepped down to enjoy retirement in July, along with Vice President at Large Carol Landry, Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson, and Vice President Jon Geenen, a new generation of leaders have stepped in to take the helm.

Among this fresh slate, including International President Thomas M. Conway, is the largest group of women to ever hold leadership positions in the union at once, especially on the Executive Board, which now includes Roxanne Brown and Leeann Foster.

Filling Geenen’s seat as Vice President is Leeann Foster, who previously served as Assistant to the International President and has served as Associate General Counsel since the 2005 USW/PACE merger. Together with Geenen, Foster has led the USW paper industry through difficult bargaining and has worked to develop a safety strategy within the sector.

Foster has worked as the lead bargainer with many companies within the paper sector, as well as leading the union’s Women of Steel program. She also serves as co-chair of the IndustriALL Global Union working group for the pulp and paper sector.

Foster is also expanding her leadership role outside of the union by running for Commissioner for Ward 3 in Mt. Lebanon, Pa.  She hopes to use the platform to help create a safe, welcoming, and inclusive community, work towards environmental sustainability, and address the Pittsburgh area’s aging infrastructure.

Representing the union’s political and legislative interests in D.C., and filling Carol Landry’s mighty shoes, is new USW Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown, who previously served as USW Legislative Director. She will continue to oversee legislative, public policy and political matters while remaining based in the capital. And she will be doing this as the union’s first black woman to serve on the executive board.

In her first official appearance as Vice President at Large, Brown took to the podium at the USW Civil and Human Rights Conference this past July in Minneapolis and spoke on what her momentous appointment signifies.

“It’s not about me,” Brown said to the packed ballroom of USW activists. “It’s an opportunity for all of us to lead this union. It’s about what I represent for the present and future of this union. It’s about what you represent.”

Gerard, before stepping down, noted the importance of this expansion for women and people of color in leadership, and applauded the union’s commitment to diversity.

“We represent more different kinds of workers in more and more sectors, and our board is changing to reflect that growth,” said Gerard. “The USW is committed to bringing forward the next generation of labor leaders and to provide the tools, training, and opportunity they will need to succeed.”

Roxanne Brown and Cathy Drummond march with a group of Steelworkers in Minneapolis for workers' and immigrants' rights during the USW Civil and Human Rights Conference.

Brown has a broad base of experience working for legislation that supports USW members and all working people. She also works with the various companies and associations that are impacted by regulations and laws under consideration in the nation’s agencies and Congress. She began working for the USW legislative department in 1999.

With Brown stationed in Washington, D.C., to head the union’s policy initiatives, Kim Miller, previously the director of the USW Rapid Response program, will take on the position of Assistant to the President to help advise the officers in Pittsburgh on these vital legislative and political issues. Before joining the Steelworkers, Kim worked as a Special Projects Director and Legislative Assistant for U.S. Representative David Bonior of Michigan. In this role, she helped fight against anti-worker trade agreements during key fights and saw the power of union members who engaged in the legislative process. She has also done PAC fundraising for Congressional candidates and served in Americorps, a national service program.

For more than two decades, Miller has fought to advance workers’ rights, first as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill and later for the USW.

Following in the fierce activist’s footsteps, Amber Miller (no relation) is the new USW Rapid Response Director. Miller began her career at Chase Brass and Copper Co. in Montpelier, Ohio, where she served in a variety of leadership roles, including local union president. When she came to Pittsburgh in 2012, Miller joined the Rapid Response staff. As director, she will help USW members use their collective voice to engage with legislative issues that impact their workplaces and labor contracts.

Kim Miller, Assistant to the President, (left) with Amber Miller, Director of Rapid Response (right).

Anna Fendley, most recently an associate legislative director in the D.C. office, is also assuming the newly created position of director of regulatory and state policy. In her new role, she will further the union’s goal to proactively influence state-level policies to keep USW members working and to create high-quality jobs in their communities. She will also continue her work on federal policy impacting safety and health, as well as building and maintaining coalitions with other policy-oriented organizations such as the BlueGreen Alliance.

“The laws and policies enacted at both the national and state level have a huge impact on nearly all of the diverse sectors where our members work,” said Brown. “Our union is lucky to have this new team leading these fights.”

Women are growing into leadership positions across all planes of the union, including in the districts. At the end of July, newly installed District 1 Director Donnie Blatt named Teresa Hartley as Assistant to the Director.

In 2000, Hartley began working at the Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, where she became a member of USW Local 207L. She quickly became active in the local, serving as chair of the local union’s Women of Steel (WOS) Committee. Hartley attended five years of WOS leadership courses, learning about all aspects of the union and how to advocate on behalf of workers.

For Hartley, the experience serving as the district’s civil rights coordinator and Women of Steel coordinator was beyond invaluable.

“This union gave me a voice,” Hartley said. “I have been afforded the opportunity to work closely with the sisters, brothers and siblings in our district, and to provide the same opportunities and education to them that I have had for myself.”

And the woman power doesn’t stop, or begin, here.

Earlier this year, Cathy Drummond was named Assistant to the Director for District 11. Drummond began her career of activism at Duluth Clinic—Hibbing when the workers organized a unionization drive in 1998.  Her activism was crucial in those negotiating efforts, which resulted in over 2,000 new members and the charter of Local Union 9460.

Drummond was elected Unit President and Vice President in 2000, and began working with the USW as a staff representative in 2004. She also has served as the District 11 Women of Steel Coordinator since the summer of 2011.

At the last WOS conference held in Toronto in October 2018, USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann told the crowd, “There is nothing stronger than a Woman of Steel.” According to these recent movements of women leaders within the union, it’s easy to see he is not wrong.

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