Members of Dow DuPont Council unite in Niagara Falls to discuss global challenges, organizing, and health and safety

Union members who serve on the Dow DuPont North American Labor Council gathered in Niagara Falls, N.Y., on Oct. 9-12 for their annual meeting to discuss challenges in the sector as well as opportunities to improve health and safety.

The event was hosted by Local 6992, which represents 325 members at the DuPont Yerkes plant in Buffalo, N.Y., along with USW District 4.

USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn kicked off the week by emphasizing the need for employers to seize the moment brought about by the Biden administration’s recent investments.

“We have a unique opportunity in the United States with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act, especially in our sector,” said Shinn. “For the first time in my life, we actually have an industrial policy in this country, and we have to take advantage of it.”

Global connections

The group was also joined by international allies from the United Kingdom, Argentina, and Turkey. 

“This council has done a great job forming a global communications network so we can stay updated on what’s going on with the company at the international level,” said Kent Holsing, who serves as president of Local 12075 and chairs the Dow DuPont Council. “IndustriALL, in particular, has been a great asset over the years and we have members who serve on their board.”

IndustriALL Director of Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, Pulp and Paper, Rubber Industries Tom Grinter spoke to the members via video. He shared information from IndustriALL’s global meeting in September, which was held in Istanbul for the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors and brought together 180 participants from 46 unions across 36 countries.

“We try to invest in strategic priorities so we can build a powerful relationship with management,” said Grinter. “Our goal is to have at every company what you all have with Dow Dupont.”

Mauricio Brizuela, who serves as general secretary of SOEPU (Union of United Petrochemical Workers and Employees), also traveled to Niagara Falls from Argentina. His union represents members at Dow and Corteva chemical plants, including the San Lorenzo Industrial Complex, which specializes in crop production. He spoke about the products they make and recent salary cuts as a result of historically high inflation.

“Our current negotiations are really focused around how to combat this inflation,” said Brizuela. “It’s really important for us to see what the salaries are like here in the United States since ours are so low.”

Brizuela also touched on the upcoming presidential election in Argentina, which is likely to be won by an anti-union candidate. This would have a devastating effect on labor.

“The company would love this particular candidate to get into office and close this union plant,” said Holsing after Brizuela’s presentation. “This is why politics is so embedded in what we do.” 

Alaadin Sari, president of the Lastik-Is union in Turkey, added that the importance of different labor groups coming together from across the globe cannot be understated. 

“With globalization, the world has turned into a small village,” Sari said. “We all face the same problems. “We have a motto in our union: the world shakes when workers are united.”

The state of local unions

After a sector and company overview from Nick Schafer, who works in the USW Corporate Research department, the conference closed out with members providing local union reports. These focused on the state of economics and relations with management at their facilities, as well as health and safety.

Tom Duffy from the USW Health, Safety and Environment department spoke to the council about the chemical sector safety initiative he’s been working on with Shinn over the past year. He revealed a new contract proposal the USW is encouraging every local to put on the table during their next negotiations.

This proposed language includes the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to attend the USW Health, Safety and Environment Conference, the right to personal protective equipment, and more.

He said that one of the challenges facing the sector is how many units exist across the country that have to bargain contracts individually instead of collectively. 

“We really don’t have the leverage that we should have when we negotiate,” Duffy said. “Together we need to send a unified message to the employers, putting them on notice, that we expect them to work with the union to provide a safe workplace.” 

Most council members said that their workplaces don’t have joint union-management safety committees, which is something they hope to remedy moving forward.

Ron Licht, who serves as recording secretary and safety lead for Local 6992, said this is one of the many reasons why this council is so invaluable.

“I attended my first council meeting last year in Michigan, and I was amazed by it,” said Licht. “It’s a great idea for us to get together and see what folks are doing at their facilities and how they’re dealing with Dow DuPont.”

The members plan to meet again next fall to continue strategizing and organizing for the future.

The USW represents 350 local unions within the chemical sector. The Dow DuPont North American Labor Council was formed for the mutual defense and advancement of labor and represents workers in more than 20 local unions at 16 manufacturing facilities.

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