USW Solvay Council plans for the future, locally and globally, at April conference

The USW Solvay Council met in person for the first time since 2019 at USW Headquarters on April 4-5 to plan for the future as the company plans to split into two independent businesses at the end of the year.

USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn began the meeting with an overview of the council and industry, including the need to boost recruitment and retainment, a challenge across the manufacturing sector. 

“It’s hard to get people to work in industrial jobs, especially the younger generation,” said Shinn. “We have to find a way to be creative with the companies to recruit and train. It creates a lot of problems with our existing membership because of overtime and fatigue.”

Global solidarity

Tom Grinter, Director of Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Pulp, Paper, and Rubber Industries at IndustriALL, traveled from the United Kingdom to speak with the council about the labor organization’s work, particularly their partnership with Solvay.

IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors and fights for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world.

The global union works with Solvay in many areas, including making global framework agreements that serve as a benchmark for the company. The latest agreement, established in 2017, focused on issues such as telework rights, women’s rights, conflict resolution, health and safety, battery supply chain, and more.

“Globally, Solvay has worked really well with us,” Grinter said. “They have facilities all throughout the world, from Italy to the Netherlands to India, coming together under the IndustriALL banner.”

Communication is key

Local 14200 President Greg May also spoke to the group about his experience serving on the Solvay Global Forum, formed in 2015 to foster internal social dialogue between the eight representatives of Solvay’s 30,000 employees and Solvay’s top management.

One of the current goals of the forum is for every Solvay site to appoint a contact person and begin quarterly calls. May said this type of consistent communication is key to the union’s work.

“This forum is a good tool to use when our normal means of communication get clogged,” said May. “The forum can leap-frog through all the red tape if necessary.”

Laura Tompkins from the USW Strategic Campaigns Department continued this theme of connection during the conference’s second day by facilitating a discussion on how to utilize communications, leverage, and solidarity to create member-facing campaigns during contract negotiations.

“Getting information out and getting the local on the same page is critical when you’re in hard bargaining,” said Roy Martin, who services Local 499 in West Virginia.

The group also talked about their biggest priorities moving into their upcoming negotiations, including an improved 401(k) plan, stronger union leave and health and safety language, retiree health care, and apprenticeship and training programs to attract and maintain workers.

John Saunders, who services Local 14200 in Marietta, said the upcoming split of Solvay into two individual companies showcases the importance of the council remaining connected and using leverage to improve their conditions.

“This is a time when we need to stick together,” said Saunders. “We need to make sure our members and our retirees are taken care of. We need to get our feet in the door and establish a pattern we can build on.”

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