2021 USW Cares SOAR Jefferson Award Winner, Joel Buchanan

Joel Buchannan has been a dues-paying member of the United Steelworkers for 51 years.

His long career of political, community, and labor activism started in 1970, when he worked as a Mechanical Maintenance Technician in a Pueblo Colorado steel mill. Pueblo is known as the Pittsburgh of the West, being a steel town with union roots and a deep history in steelmaking. “Everybody is connected to the steel mill somehow, either their father or grandfather worked in the mill. Steelworkers, and SOAR especially, are known in this community.”

Buchanan was a member of Local Union 2102, a local known for a 7-year-long labor dispute that started as a strike over massive overtime beginning in 1997 and ended as an unfair labor practices lockout. The local won the labor dispute in 2005 and 1,100 members were awarded the largest backpay settlement ever awarded by the NLRB. During the strike-turned-lockout, Buchanan was selected by District 12 to be a “road warrior” and was sent by the Steelworkers on a boycott campaign, finding out which local unions in the area were banking with Wells Fargo (the bank financing the company) and convincing them to withdrawal their funds. The campaign was extremely successful. “That period of time was the best time of life. It ended up being the highlight of my life,” says Buchanan.

Buchanan retired in 2013, after 43 years at the mill and in the union, and was immediately appointed to the International SOAR Executive Board where he still serves today. He is also Vice-President of SOAR Chapter 38-3, serves on the Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Board, and was appointed by the Governor to the Colorado Workforce Development Council and the Skilled Worker Outreach and Key Training Grant Review Committee.

For the last three years he’s organized the annual SOAR Christmas Sock Drive. Last year, because of the pandemic, Buchanan made it a “donation drive-through” and collected 250 pairs of socks, gloves, hats, and 60 stockings for Cooperative Care Center, an aid organization that helps the homeless.

When the pandemic first started, fellow SOAR member Betty Spinuzzi sewed 140 masks that she and Buchanan personally (but safely) delivered to SOAR members.

Buchanan is active in local and state politics; he lobbies for labor-related causes, like rewriting tax incentives for companies to benefit workers, and has volunteered with the USW and AFL- CIO political programs for many years.

He lobbied support for the construction of a New Rail mill at the steel mill in Pueblo. The

project was approved and is moving forward, ensuring jobs for years to come. Without this project thousands of jobs in the community would have been lost.

Buchanan even nominated the current Colorado State Representative of his district, Daneya Esgar, for her position. It just-so-happens that he worked with Esgar’s grandfather in the steel mill.

Buchanan is always aware of current labor disputes and helps every time: he traveled to Carson, California, during the oil refinery strike and spent several weeks walking the picket lines, helping organize community support and involvement; in 2018 he helped the striking Silver Miners in Mullen, Idaho, speaking at several rallies in Idaho and then organizing events in Denver to collect hundreds of dollars from Colorado supporters; again in 2018, he helped with a teachers strike in Pueblo, Colorado, and in the cold winter of 2019 he walked the picket line with Denver teachers during their strike.

When the Steelworkers were helping the Los Mineros campaign, Buchanan was called upon by the late District 12 Director, Robert Laventure, to go to Mexico and guide Los Mineros in building a retiree program emulated by the SOAR program.

Buchanan also volunteers at Central High School and Pueblo Classical Academy with their STEM programs concerning manufacturing in the community; he teaches the history and workings of a steel mill and how railroad rail is made.

Now he’s working with the City Museum, El Pueblo Museum, on their next exhibit about the famous strike he had such a huge part of.

Joel Buchanan lives the definition of solidarity. For being a lifelong and constant leader in labor, supporting workers in more than just his own community, and holding strong to the union’s values, he is the 2021 SOAR USW Cares Jefferson Award winner.

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