IndustriALL Holds Virtual Meeting for Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sector

Coronavirus prevented unions from around the world to attend in person IndustriALL’s annual chemical and pharmaceutical meeting, so the international labor federation conducted a virtual meeting on June 25, 2020.

The online meeting drew 175 union leaders from chemical and pharmaceutical sectors in 40 countries. The leaders’ unions are affiliated with IndustriALL.

John Shinn, head of the USW’s chemical sector, and Kent Holsing, a USW Local 12075 president and head of the DowDuPont North American Labor Council, represented the USW.

During the online meeting, the leaders assessed the impact of Covid-19 on unions in the sector, exchanged good practices in negotiating special agreements on coronavirus protocols and planned upcoming activities.

“Our position was that all of our workers in the chemical sector are deemed essential, but we had short, rolling layoffs because of supply chain issues,” Shinn said. “Unfortunately, there are still problems in the U.S. with the virus affecting most areas of the country, so there is still concern about how the virus will impact the chemical sector for the rest of this year.

“What struck me was that it looked like the rest of the world got a handle on Covid-19, while the U.S., Russia and Brazil did not,” he said.

Throughout each presentation, the leaders emphasized the importance of solidarity and workers having a strong role in managing the response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“Listening to others from around the globe regarding the struggles and challenges they are facing with the Covid-19 pandemic reinforces that we are all in this together,” Holsing said. “The chemical sector is considered an essential industry, not just in North America, but across the world.  As a result, we continue to work; therefore, we have to balance the heightened needs of our members’ safety during the pandemic along with the detrimental effect the virus is having on the economy. It reinforces the necessity for global solidarity, communication and assistance.”

Many of the unions, like the USW, successfully negotiated pandemic-specific agreements with chemical companies at the company and industry levels. They protected working conditions and ensured members had safe and healthy workplaces.

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted many worksites to shift production to personal protective equipment, such as protective masks, and to the manufacture of chemicals that go into hand sanitizers, medicines and a vaccine.

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan presented an analysis of the pandemic on the global economy, health care and manufacturing. He emphasized the impact the crisis has had on women and income inequality.

The group also analyzed implementation of the sector’s action plan adopted at last year’s conference.

“We move forward more unified and readier to progress our action plan despite the restrictions,” said IndustriALL Sector Director Tom Grinter.

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