United Steelworkers Press Releases Feed http://www.usw.org/news/media-center/releases/rss United Steelworkers Press Releases Feed 2021-09-17 11:00:00 -0500 AMPS en hourly 1 Virginia duo set standard for USW activism https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/virginia-duo-set-standard-for-usw-activism Tue, 21 Sep 2021 14:32:21 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/virginia-duo-set-standard-for-usw-activism It is difficult, maybe impossible, to find anyone who has dedicated more time to helping elect pro-worker, pro-union lawmakers than Gene Magruder of USW Local 8888 at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dale Bare of USW 1023 at Yokohama Tire.

Combined, they have more than 80 years of union seniority and more than 50 years of involvement with labor-to-labor election campaigns.

Last week, Magruder and Bare took a short break from their current campaign to share with us why they’ve committed so much of their time to our union’s efforts around elections.

In the late-1970’s, Gene Magruder and Dale Bare were strangers who entered two worksites, separated by more than 250 miles, with no knowledge of what the future would bring.

Fast forward 40 years, and they’ve become invaluable to the union’s work in Virginia.

Over the next two months, Gene and Dale are on union leave from their facilities, working full-time in an effort to educate union voters about labor’s endorsed candidates in Virginia’s upcoming elections.

This can be grueling work, especially in September when the temperature in Virginia is often in the mid- to high-nineties.

But, after more than 40 years of working at Newport News Shipbuilding – the sole designer, builder and refueler of aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy – Gene has built up a tolerance for difficult jobs. He acknowledges there are inherent risks associated with the work he does in the plant, and is adamant that lawmakers have a responsibility to pass laws to improve workplace safety.

“If we don’t have the right legislators in office, then we can basically kiss goodbye a lot of the agencies that are there to keep us safe and healthy,” Gene insists. “In my plant, we are putting hard hats and safety shoes on every morning, hoping we come out alive. We need legislators who are committed to helping us achieve that.”

Virginia is a so-called “Right to Work” state with union density less than half the national average (4.5% compared to 11%). That’s why our union and all of labor celebrated when our 2019 union voter mobilization secured a pro-worker majority in the Virginia State House and Senate for the first time in nearly three decades.

Dale Bare works at Yokohama Tire in Salem, Virginia and first started volunteering with union election campaigns in the early 2000s. Anyone who spends any amount of time with him will quickly find he’s someone who is always looking for the upside, and in talking to him, they’ll realize labor’s resurgence in Virginia isn’t a fluke.

Rather, it is the outcome of optimism, solidarity, and the relentless work ethic of activists like Dale.

Dale is proud enough to admit that carrying a union card has something to do with the fact that he hasn’t missed a paycheck or gone a day without health care in 42 years.  At the same time, he’s humble enough to understand that the majority of workers don’t have the ability to negotiate for better benefits or safer working conditions, which is why he believes labor’s efforts around elections and lawmaking are so important.

“If our neighbor doesn’t have a voice on the job, and we do, then it is our obligation to fight for the greater good. Everything is political,” Bare believes.

Local 183 members rally for a fair contract in California https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/local-183-members-rally-for-a-fair-contract-in-california Tue, 21 Sep 2021 14:02:00 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/local-183-members-rally-for-a-fair-contract-in-california

Members of Local 183, which represents 750 workers at the St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, Calif., have been bargaining for a new contract for more than a year, all while battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is why a group of members, including USW siblings from several nearby locals, picketed outside the facility on Wed., Sept. 15, to show their employer and the community they aren’t giving up.

“We’ve all had to shift and make sacrifices throughout this pandemic, and now management wants to increase our health care costs and reduce our sick days,” said Local 183 President Alma Garzon. “We deserve so much better than that.”

A less-than-fair proposal isn’t the only barrier the members are facing.

In August, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that St. Mary Medical Center management engaged in bad faith bargaining tactics during negotiations in the spring. As a result, the hospital entered into a settlement with the NLRB and agreed to end its unlawful conduct.

Local Vice President Ann Marie Ruiz reflected during the action about the chaos of 2020 and the trauma so many health care workers, including her co-workers, had to endure. To Ruiz, this makes the state of negotiations even more frustrating.

“I don’t understand why we are being neglected,” said Ruiz. “Why do we have to plead and beg for justice and fairness, after all we’ve been through?”

Doing our part to prevent suicide https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/doing-our-part-to-prevent-suicide Tue, 07 Sep 2021 16:22:07 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/doing-our-part-to-prevent-suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Month and we want to once again share all of the resources we have available for our miliarty veterans and all our members.
If you're a veteran or know a veteran, check in on them and lead them to our various resources on our USW Veterans of Steel page. Or call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or text 838255.
Any Steelworker, regardless of military status, who needs someone to talk to, especially if you're having thoughts of suicide: please visit usw.org/help, call 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 6674.
AFL-CIO sends letter to ExxonMobil Board of Directors Urging Them to End Lockout in Beaumont https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/afl-cio-sends-letter-to-exxonmobil-board-of-directors-urging-them-to-end-lockout-in-beaumont Thu, 02 Sep 2021 15:06:07 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/afl-cio-sends-letter-to-exxonmobil-board-of-directors-urging-them-to-end-lockout-in-beaumont On Mon., Aug. 30, 2021, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler sent a letter to ExxonMobil's Board of Directors urging them to review the safety risks of continuing the operations in Beaumont with temporary workers during the lockout.

In the letter Shuler says, "We believe that ExxonMobil's decision to continue to operate these facilities with temporary replacement workers creates potential safety risks. I urge you to review ExxonMobil's labor relations practices at the Beaumont complex and seek to resolve the lockout for the mutual benefit of all parties."

Click here to read the full letter or read the contents of it below.

August 30, 2021

Dr. Susan K. Avery
Chair, Public Issues and Contributions Committee
Board of Directors
Attn: Office of the Secretary
Exxon Mobil Corporation
5959 Las Colinas Boulevard
Irving, TX 75039-2298

Dear Dr. Avery:

I am writing to express concern that the Exxon Mobil Corporation ("ExxonMobil") has locked out its trained and experienced workforce at its petrochemical manufacturing complex in Beaumont, Texas. We believe that ExxonMobil's decision to continue to operate these facilities with temporary replacement workers creates potential safety risks. I urge you to review ExxonMobil's labor relations practices at the Beaumont complex and seek to resolve the lockout for the mutual benefit of all parties.

On May l, 2021, ExxonMobil locked out approximately 650 workers at the Beaumont refinery and its blending and packaging plant. These highly-skilled, trained and experienced workers are represented by the United Steelworkers Union (USW) Local 13-243. The USW has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that ExxonMobil illegally made unilateral changes to the continuing terms and conditions of employment and supported a union decertification campaign.

As has been reported, the refinery facility has been operating at about 60 percent of its capacity with management supervisors and temporary replacement workers. By definition, temporary replacement workers lack the training and experience of a permanent workforce. According to the USW, ExxonMobil has also sought to curtail the seniority rights that are important for maintaining a safe workplace. Taking seniority into account when making decisions about job transfers, promotions, and layoffs can help reduce the risk of industrial accidents.

I urge the Board of Directors to review the safety risks of continuing to operate the Beaumont complex with temporary replacement workers during the lockout. Needless to say, the safe operation of the Beaumont complex is of great importance to ExxonMobil shareholders as well as the community that it operates in. According to one academic study, each casualty resulting from a petrochemical industrial accident corresponds to a market capitalization loss of $164 million, and that each toxic release corresponds to a loss of $1 billion.

As the Chair of the Public Issues and Contributions Committee, you are responsible for advising the Board of Directors on ExxonMobil's policies and practices as they relate to safety, security, health and the environment. We believe that the risk of an industrial accident at the Beaumont complex can be best mitigated by negotiating a mutually agreeable end to the lockout. I ask that you review this matter for the Board of Directors and take action so that ExxonMobil's experienced permanent workforce may return to work at the Beaumont complex. Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to your response.


Elizabeth H. Shuler

District 13 mourns loss of former Director Mickey Breaux https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/district-13-mourns-loss-of-former-director-mickey-breaux Thu, 02 Sep 2021 14:24:01 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/district-13-mourns-loss-of-former-director-mickey-breaux Mickey Breaux graduated from Thomas Jefferson high school in 1964, attended Lamar University, served in the United States Army as a safety man, and was a representative of his local union at Fina refinery before accepting a position as a international representative for The Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, which became PACE in 1999 then merged with the USW in 2005. He was elected as Director of District 13 and retired in 2014.

We will miss his integrity, his wit, and his larger-than-life personality.

You can read tributes to him and his full obituary by clicking here.

The Union Way of Life; Ohio Pipe Mill Illustrates Need for Major Infrastructure Bill https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/the-union-way-of-life-ohio-pipe-mill-illustrates-need-for-major-infrastructure-bill Wed, 01 Sep 2021 11:40:13 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/the-union-way-of-life-ohio-pipe-mill-illustrates-need-for-major-infrastructure-bill

Tony Ashcraft has worked at McWane Ductile Pipe in Coshocton, Ohio, for more than 23 years.

It’s his third job, and the third time he’s been a union member.

“Every job I have had, there has always been some type of union,” he said. “I don’t know if I could work in a non-union facility.”

Ashcraft, president of Local 7014, learned a long time ago the difference that the union makes for the workers at his plant and at other USW-represented facilities, fighting for better wages and benefits, secure retirements, safer workplaces and other protections.

‘We Supply America’

Now, besides securing those important contractual benefits, the USW has launched a plan of action – known as “We Supply America” – to enact a massive, nationwide federal infrastructure program that will provide a foundation of tens of thousands more good union jobs for decades to come. It’s another USW member-led fight of which Ashcraft is proud to be a part.

“To me, it’s very important because it will keep us working,” Ashcraft said of the “We Supply America” effort. “It keeps American products and American companies here.”

Local 7014 members make some of those vital products at their factory in Coshocton. The McWane facility produces ductile iron pipe used in water infrastructure, as well as utility poles used to provide electrical power to communities throughout the United States.

From the beginning, when raw, mostly recycled, materials are melted down, through the casting machines and annealing oven, to the finishing area where pipes are put through tests, painted and prepared for shipping, USW members play a central role throughout the pipe-making process.

American Jobs Plan

The Biden administration’s infrastructure proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan, includes billions of dollars to rebuild highways and bridges and upgrade airports, seaports and transit systems.

The plan also would modernize the nation’s water systems, revamp electrical grids and ensure high-speed internet access for all Americans, among many other initiatives.

The water and power system upgrades are the parts of the plan that would most directly benefit Ashcraft, his USW co-workers, and their neighbors.

Financial Ripple Effect

The McWane factory employs about 500 workers, including 320 USW members, but that number doesn’t begin to illustrate its importance to the people of Coshocton, a small town in eastern Ohio about halfway between the state capital of Columbus and the Pennsylvania border.

“These are good jobs,” Ashcraft said. “And in this town, there aren’t too many factories like this left.”

Chris Balo, who at 43 years of service is one of the plant’s most senior workers, said the strong union contract at McWane delivers the kind of wages and benefits that allow members to support their families, while also creating an economic ripple effect that provides a base for other businesses in town to thrive.

“At McWane, they do their best to keep us working even through the slow times,” said Balo, the local vice president. “That helps us all out around this little town of ours.”

Aging Infrastructure

An infrastructure investment of about $1.2 trillion, like the bipartisan agreement Biden has been negotiating this summer with members of Congress, would help out even more, workers say, both to rebuild the American economy and to bring the nation’s utility systems and other essential services fully into the 21st century.

“Our water system was built at the turn of the last century,” said Tom Crawford, vice president and general manager of the Coshocton facility.

Many Americans take their water supply for granted, he said, but the age of the nation’s water system makes it less reliable than it once was and puts the United States behind other first-world countries in terms of quality.

“Everything gets older,” said Local 7014 member Stephanie Adams. “Nothing lasts forever.”

Rebuilding the nation’s water delivery and wastewater infrastructure likely would mean a significant uptick in business for McWane, which already has been running near full capacity as communities begin to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economists with Moody’s Analytics estimate that the American Jobs Plan would create at least 2.7 million more jobs over 10 years than the current economy is projected to create without such a plan.

“When the infrastructure plan does take off, we’re definitely going to need more people to keep up with the demand,” Ashcraft said.

Made in the USA

A crucial piece of any infrastructure legislation, USW members say, is to ensure that the materials used in rebuilding the country are made in the United States by union workers.

“It helps us, but it helps everybody else too,” said Jay Dawson, who has worked as a mold machinist in McWane’s maintenance department for more than 20 years.

Unfairly traded foreign-made products have been a major challenge for companies like McWane for decades. Overseas competitors have historically dumped cheap products into the U.S. pipe market in a bid to undercut domestic producers and claim a greater share of business for themselves.

The Biden infrastructure plan would make that fight easier by requiring materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in the United States and shipped on vessels staffed by American crews.

The fight to secure those kinds of protections has led Dawson and other Local 7014 members to travel to Washington, D.C., over the years to seek support for Buy American programs and fair trade remedies.

“We have competitors, obviously,” Dawson said. “But not only are we competing with them, but we’re fighting with foreign companies too, and we don’t need that.”

Workplace Safety

Besides standing up for fair trade, another subject on which USW members and management at McWane see eye to eye is in the area of workplace safety.

The company buys into the USW’s painstaking commitment to maintaining a healthy and safe work environment, said Dawson, who serves on the plant’s safety committee.

“They want to go forward, not backward,” Dawson said.

That means ensuring proper training for workers, supporting them when they raise their voices about potentially unsafe situations, and constantly being vigilant about the equipment and processes they employ to reduce the possibility of dangerous situations.

“Without the union here, that wouldn’t happen,” Ashcraft said.

Steelworkers’ Pride

That commitment to looking out for each other also extends to the products they make. That’s why the pipes that come out of the McWane facility are some of the best in the world, said Local 7014 member Scott Terrell.

“We take pride in what we make and send out the gate,” he said.

With that pride comes a commitment to top-of-the-line quality that USW members bring to the job each day.

“This is the hardest-working work force that I’ve ever worked with,” Crawford said.

Because of that hard work, McWane pipes – whether they are used to deliver water or electrical power – will stand the test of time, Balo said.

“This pipe will be in there for 100 years or better,” he said.

And, by extension, the workers at McWane hope that their facility will be there for the next 100 years continuing to serve the nation’s infrastructure needs.

To ensure that future, though, Congress must act quickly to put the American Jobs Plan in motion.

There’s been enough talk about infrastructure in recent years, members say. Now it’s time to get it done.

“If we don’t get something started now, I think it’s going to be too late,” Balo said. “I don’t think we’ll ever get caught back up with it.”

USW members must put pressure on their senators and representatives to vote for a comprehensive infrastructure plan that prioritizes good-paying, family-supporting union jobs like the ones at McWane, said District 1 Director Donnie Blatt.

“Factories like McWane are part of the backbone of this country,” Blatt said. “We need to support them and others like them so that we can build a strong, sustainable base for our economy for generations to come.”

It’s up to working people to make their voices heard on the issues of infrastructure and Buy American so that leaders inside and outside of Washington, D.C., get that message, Balo said.

“People have to wake up,” Balo said. “If they don’t, there may not be any jobs like this anymore.”

Hanford Pipeline Completed, Facility on Track to Process Radioactive Waste https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/hanford-pipeline-completed-facility-on-track-to-process-radioactive-waste Wed, 01 Sep 2021 11:06:17 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/hanford-pipeline-completed-facility-on-track-to-process-radioactive-waste Hanford workers finished a 3,500-foot-long pipeline this month that will connect one of the site’s 27 double-shell tanks in the underground tank farm to the vitrification plant that will treat low-level radioactive waste.

This represents a major achievement for the Department of Energy (DOE) to meet the federal-court ordered 2023 deadline to start treating the least radioactive of the 56 million gallons of waste in the tank farm.

DOE’s plan to handle this low-level waste is to have the Tank-Side Cesium Removal system pretreat some of the liquid portion of the tank waste and remove the radioactive material. The solid waste in the liquid will be treated and disposed of as high level radioactive waste.

Workers already installed the pretreatment system next to a double-shell tank that will act as a holding tank for pretreating the waste before it goes through the pipeline to the vitrification plant. This plant turns the waste into glass.

The underground pipe finished this month is reinforced to guard against leaks, as waste moves in batches to the vitrification plant.

Other preparations for treating this waste include finishing the testing of the plant’s equipment and heating one of two 300-ton melters by the end of this year.

Melters are huge furnaces used to heat the low-radioactive waste with glass-forming materials to more than 2,000 degrees. This produces a stable glass form. The mixture is then poured into stainless steel containers for permanent storage. The entire process is called vitrification.

The melters are undergoing start-up and operational testing to ensure they can run continuously during the startup and treatment of low-level waste.

Hanford officials expect to pretreat the lower level tank waste by early 2022 and to start turning it into glass by the end of 2023.

Pictured: Crews with EM tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions and subcontractor Apollo, Inc. fit the final sections of double-walled pipe in place, connecting the Hanford Site tank farms to the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant. Courtesy: Dept. of Energy

Ohio Congressman Presses for More Safety Checks in Decommissioning of Piketon Uranium Enrichment Plant https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/ohio-congressman-presses-for-more-safety-checks-in-decommissioning-of-piketon-uranium-enrichment-plant Tue, 31 Aug 2021 09:08:55 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/ohio-congressman-presses-for-more-safety-checks-in-decommissioning-of-piketon-uranium-enrichment-plant More safety precautions are on tap for the demolition of the X326 uranium enrichment building at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

The House of Representatives passed a seven-bill appropriations package on July 29 that included health and safety provisions for decommissioning the plant backed by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

“Representative Ryan was listening to community members’ and site workers’ concerns regarding the takedown of the X326 building and wanted money put in the appropriations bill to do it correctly,” said Local 1-689 President Herman Potter.

“The community is asking questions about the demolition. It’s an open-air excavation. Water is sprayed on the building to ensure no contaminants get dispersed into the air, but you can still see dust clouds.”

The House-passed appropriations bill includes an extra $500,000 for the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a community liaison to provide technical and regulatory assistance to Piketon and surrounding counties, to continue its air and groundwater monitoring and increase the frequency of reporting to the public, and to develop a land use plan for the long-term use of the site.

The bill also directs the DOE to consult with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) when independent monitoring is complete. This third-party testing is still pending after air monitors revealed radioactive isotopes downwind at the non-closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School. ATSDR would evaluate whether an epidemiological study or comprehensive review of cancer rates in Pike and surrounding counties is warranted.

Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth LLC, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) contractor for the decontamination and decommissioning of the site, also placed radiological monitors around the operators handling the building demolition.

Potter said that workers complained that other areas should be monitored, too, and that Fluor management is working with the local’s safety reps to place monitors in areas that would alleviate employees’ concerns.

He said the local gets access to the data from the radiological monitors. Union safety reps are also reviewing the site sampling plan to ensure the monitoring is done correctly.

“We want to be sure the site sampling plan picks up chemical exposure the workforce gets at the site and that also affects the community. Some chemical exposure is not picked up by radiological monitoring,” Potter said.  “I’m not sure if the plan is rigorous enough.”

USW radiological control technicians (RCTs) were monitoring the site when Fluor took the position it could subcontract the RCT work. The local is fighting this change, he said.

During the tear-down of building X326, if any matter that is radiological or containing hazardous chemicals is found that could not be disposed of in the onsite disposal cell, USW workers recover and ship it appropriately offsite.

The House appropriations bill is at the Senate. If the extra $500,000 for Portsmouth makes it through the appropriations process, the DOE requirements associated with it would go into play Oct. 1, 2021, at the start of the federal government’s fiscal year.

Local 7600 Kaiser retiree transforms scrubs to masks for union siblings https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/local-7600-kaiser-retiree-transforms-scrubs-to-masks-for-union-siblings Mon, 30 Aug 2021 12:09:21 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/local-7600-kaiser-retiree-transforms-scrubs-to-masks-for-union-siblings In spring 2019, members of the USW Health Care Workers Council attended the union’s Rapid Response Conference in DC to represent their sector and bring awareness to their fight for safe jobs. They lobbied members of Congress that week as well as part of the council’s Safe Jobs Now postcard campaign to address workplace violence in health care and social services.

During this legislative action, the health care workers wore specially-made Safe Jobs Now scrubs, and just last week, these same scrubs were transformed and added to the arsenal for yet another battle facing the fatigued sector.

Jennifer Klug, a Kaiser-Permanente retiree in Southern California and 13-year member of Local 7600, began sewing masks for anyone who needed them in early 2020. Then, Claudette Baker, Trustee of the local, reached out recently and asked if she could make masks out of the old campaign scrubs.  

Klug, whose daughter-in-law is also a current member of Local 7600, got to work and has so far made 150 masks from the former scrubs, which can each make roughly 15-20 individual pieces. In total, since the beginning of the pandemic, she has made more than 1,100 masks.

“We’ve all had to chip in and do what we could do,” said Klug. “Plus, Kaiser was really good to me and I felt like this was the least I could do.”

Klug also reflected on the brutal reality of the past year and a half in the process of recycling these scrubs, noting that the fight for safety on the job continues.

“When I think back, I can’t believe we did all that we did last year and that we’re going to have to be wearing masks for a long time.”


2021 USW Cares, District 4 Jefferson Award Winner, Mayra Rivera https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/2021-usw-cares-district-4-jefferson-award-winner-mayra-rivera Sat, 28 Aug 2021 09:07:41 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/2021-usw-cares-district-4-jefferson-award-winner-mayra-rivera Mayra Rivera has been the President and Women of Steel Coordinator for Local Union 8198, which represents municipal employees in Ponce, Puerto Rico, since 2014. In 2013, a working day reduction of the public sector affected more than 1,500 family-supporting employees, some USW members, with layoffs or 20-30 hour work reductions.

This was Rivera’s first fight. She organized protests, got the attention of media, and stood up for working people and their families, eventually taking legal action and seeking justice in court. In 2015, Rivera created her first food delivery campaign for hundreds of parents who in many cases did not have any salary because of the reduction in their workday.

Then, when Hurricane Maria devasted all of Puerto Rico in 2017, including Rivera’s own family farm, she started an alliance with community leaders to bring supplies, support and hazard education to Southern Puerto Rico. In 2018, Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC) coaches arrived in Puerto Rico to conduct health and safety training for USW members and the community and Rivera volunteered.

Rivera has continued the work of TMC ever since, traveling all over Southern Puerto Rico as part of a specialized Rapid Response group of TMC for hazard relief and education. When disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes strike, not only does she bring donations, PPE, food, and supplies from the USW, FEMA, the Red Cross and other charities to the community, but she speaks to crowds about how to properly deal with things like mold and its effects on people’s health.

Rivera leads at least one hazard preparation and response training a week, traveling to different communities across Southern Puerto Rico, bringing water filters, lamps, LED lights, and batteries. She has also built a strong partnership with community leader Carmen Pacheo, who helps get Rivera supplies and donations to distribute to the community.

Much of Puerto Rico’s community has not recovered from Hurricane Maria, and people are suffering through and preparing for more disaster. Rivera will continue to educate people about disaster preparation and response, helping to rebuild a still-recovering Peurto Rico.

When asked about the labor movement, Rivera simply said, “I love it. If it wasn’t for the USW, I wouldn’t know the people I know now. I wouldn’t be doing the work I do now.”

For her commitment to standing up for working people and for supporting her community through natural disaster, Mayra Rivera is District 4’s 2021 USW Cares Jefferson Award winner. 

Workers at St. Croix Chipping in Baileyville, Maine, officially become members of the USW https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/workers-at-st-croix-chipping-in-baileyville-maine-officially-become-members-of-the-usw Tue, 17 Aug 2021 12:58:24 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/workers-at-st-croix-chipping-in-baileyville-maine-officially-become-members-of-the-usw On July 21, 36 employees working at St. Croix Chipping in Baileyville, ME, ratified their first contract and officially became members of the USW.

After a mutual parent company purchased the chip mill, the local union president of an adjoining facility, Shawn Howland, and District 4 Staff Representative Mike Higgins, seized the opportunity to organize the neighboring workers.

St. Croix Chipping was formed in August 2020 when International Grand Investment Corporation (IGIC), purchased Price Fibers (formerly Fulghum Fibres). IGIC owns two other USW-represented sites that have related operations on the same piece of land along the St. Croix River – Woodland Pulp (local 27) and St. Croix Tissue (Local 9546).

IGIC’s strategic acquisition of the state-of-the-art chip mill turned the three sister operations in Baileyville into a complete, integrated mill system; Wood is harvested from the Maine forest by St. Croix Chipping, then, the chips are sent off to be pulped via a belt system directly connected to Woodland Pulp. About a third of the pulp produced is later used by St. Croix Tissue to supply 2 commercial and retail toilet paper and towel tissue machines.

Due to the rapport that the Union has with IGIC, the company immediately made a call to the USW after acquiring the chip mill and offered neutrality.

Staff Representative for Woodland Pulp and St. Croix Tissue Mike Higgins said, “When IGIC bought the chipping facility, myself and Local 27 President Shawn Howland, began talking to workers.  After a few meetings, we had over 70% of the employees signed up.”

Bargaining a first contract

While bargaining the newly organized workers’ first contract took longer than expected due to pandemic-related restrictions, outbreaks, and exposures, the outcome was worth the wait.

In addition to a healthy economic benefit package, the new members achieved 3 additional paid holidays to their regular schedule, gained vacation pay at 2% of earnings instead of 40 hours of their hourly rate, and won successorship language.

According to Shawn, it wasn’t all straightforward because of the unique challenges presented by COVID. While the company made it easy for the USW to come in, they had to cancel 3-4 meetings along the way and the longer the bargaining stretched out, the more nervous the would-be members became.

To reduce concerns, a plan was developed to detail the benefit package and compounded wage increases. Shawn said trust is especially important, “You have to be realistic in what you are offering to the membership. You can’t go in high if you can’t follow through.”

It is because of the dedication by experienced Local Leaders and Staff who cultivated a one-of-a-kind working relationship that this story ends in success.

“It’s a win because that’s the way the company I work for wanted it,” said Shawn. “In the past, we had 20-25 grievances filed at any given time, but last year, we had zero. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have problems, but we were able to work through them.”

Pictured: (top right) St. Croix River featuring all three sister operations, (bottom right) the St. Croix Chipping negotiating committee and Local 27 President Shawn Howland (from left: Bob Ferry, Travis Cilley, Shawn Howland and Craig Roderick). Not pictured is Buck Perkins who was also a vital member of the bargaining team.

Register for the 21st Biennial Convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/register-for-the-21st-biennial-convention-of-the-coalition-of-labor-union-women Fri, 13 Aug 2021 10:57:20 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/register-for-the-21st-biennial-convention-of-the-coalition-of-labor-union-women Active members of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) can now register for the AFL-CIO constituency group’s 21st Biennial Convention taking place online on October 7-9, 2021.

The theme for this year’s convention is “A Vision! A Vote! A Victory!” and embodies CLUW’s plans to break more glass ceilings by working to move more women into positions of leadership across our government, our communities and our unions.

Delegates to the convention will be considering resolutions and constitutional amendments that will set the future direction for CLUW. They will elect National Officers and National Executive Board members from their unions. Observers and Associate members are also welcome to attend.

Learn more and register here.

Be a part of our infrastructure bus tour + watch live! https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/watch-live-rebuilding-our-communities-with-uswmade-infrastructure Thu, 12 Aug 2021 15:31:13 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/watch-live-rebuilding-our-communities-with-uswmade-infrastructure

Our union is hitting the road on a bus tour through the Midwest and up the east coast.

We’ll be highlighting USW members, the facilities we work in, the products we make, and the services we provide which are essential to meeting our nation’s infrastructure needs.

You can be a part of it in many ways.

Tune In Live

Tune into any of our social networks to watch the events live: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. 

Or check out uswvoices.org/live for the latest broadcasts. We'll even send reminders directly to your inbox:

Get Engaged 

Starting Monday and all through the week, we will send daily updates of each event and hold national Rapid Response actions on Wednesday and Friday.

Keep your eye on your inbox and share with your co-workers and families!

Be sure to post how you're participating and tag @Steelworkers with the #USWMade hashtag.

Be vocal online to let us - and more importantly our elected officials - know how you help supply America and why we must invest in our work and our communities.

Stay Updated 

Updates on the tour, including the livestreams, will be available on all USW networks: on FacebookYouTubeTwitter and Instagram, as well as on uswvoices.org/live.

We also have a series of videos highlighting some of our badass members at work making and doing the things we need to rebuild our communities.

Check them out on our We Supply America YouTube playlist and share them with your friends, family and co-workers. Here's one from Burns Harbor, where the bus will be pulling in on Monday!

Solidarity Results in New Contract with Mississippi Polymers https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/solidarity-results-in-new-contract-with-mississippi-polymers Wed, 11 Aug 2021 15:26:24 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/solidarity-results-in-new-contract-with-mississippi-polymers Local 759L members at the Mississippi Polymers facility in Corinth, Miss., in July defeated their company’s proposed concessions to gain a three-year agreement that maintained their health benefits and raised wages.

“The membership stood strong and were able to keep their health insurance,” said Local 759L President Mark Casto.

Mississippi Polymers, a family-owned company, came to the bargaining table attempting to change the health care benefits and have workers pay 50 percent of their health insurance premiums.

The local continued to stand firm, however, because “health insurance was our members’ number one concern,” Casto said.

Local 759L members worked on a series of contract extensions throughout the protracted negotiations, during which they rejected the company’s offer three times.

Negotiations came to a head on June 4 when the company locked them out for a week. After District 9 Director Daniel Flippo talked with the owner, the workers returned to work June 14 and negotiations resumed.

The local resolved the health insurance issue, and the membership overwhelmingly ratified the contract on July 10.

“The members of 759L stood together throughout this process. They have built this plant and the business,” Director Flippo said, “through unity and strength; they stood for the dignity and respect they have earned and deserve.”

“The company saw that everyone was able to stick together,” Casto said.

He said everything else in the contract stayed intact and workers received 2 percent raises for each year of the agreement, which began June 4, 2021 and expires April 1, 2024.

Local 759L represents 105 production and maintenance employees who make film and vinyl sheeting for products like band-aids, awning, decals and wallboard. Casto said they also made medical gowns during the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

“We have plenty of business, and now that everything has settled down, new workers are starting to apply here. We got the deal down, and we’re going forward,” Casto said.

USW Joins Call for Changes at CSB https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-joins-call-for-changes-at-csb Wed, 11 Aug 2021 07:59:11 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-joins-call-for-changes-at-csb USW joined 21 other organizations, including labor, environmental, community and scientific groups, to send a letter to the chair of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) last month with recommendations on how the agency can better fulfill its mission.

The group, which included the AFL-CIO and the BlueGreen Alliance, outlined 21 specific ways in which the CSB, without increasing its current budget of $12 million, could better achieve its goal of preventing future workplace incidents.

The CSB suffered from major operating issues in recent years as a result of unfilled positions on the board and insufficient staff. Consequently, its backlog of investigations keeps growing and needed recommendations have been delayed.

An independent, non-regulatory agency, the CSB’s mission is to investigate the root causes of major chemical releases, issue reports and recommend actions to prevent future incidents. During its 22-year tenure, the board’s investigations and recommendations led to significant safety improvements, such as revised national codes prohibiting the use of flammable gases to clean piping.

“Today, however, CSB needs to rebuild its investigative and recommendations capacity; set clear priorities for agency action; reform its governance policies, and increase public transparency and engagement,” said the coalition letter.

The groups outlined 15 problems and 21 actions that CSB could take within its current budget, including performing an accounting of its current record-breaking backlog of cases and making public its plan for completing the investigations.

Other recommendations included a staff recruitment, training and retention plan to address CSB job vacancies and ensure timely investigations, for the board to rely less on company-supplied information in its investigations, for the board to be more transparent and open in its meetings and in the information it shares with the public, and for the board to prioritize the reform of risk management and process safety management.

 “The CSB has a long history of doing important work,” said USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Steve Sallman, “but in order to keep that work alive, there must be significant changes.”

President Biden earlier this year put forward nominees to fill three of the four vacant CSB board positions: Sylvia Johnson, Steve Owens and Jennifer Sass.

The three nominees testified July 29 before a Senate subcommittee on chemical safety, waste management, environmental justice and regulatory oversight, but the Senate has to vote to hold a confirmation vote.

USW Urges Revision of Risk Management Program https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-urges-revision-of-risk-management-program Tue, 10 Aug 2021 13:41:09 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-urges-revision-of-risk-management-program The USW urged strengthening the Risk Management Plan (RMP) rule in written comments the union submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month.

“USW chemical workers are essential to preventing and responding to chemical release incidents,” said USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn, who heads the union’s chemical sector.

“That’s why it’s important that the Risk Management Plan rule have strict regulatory protections in place to safeguard workers, the community and the planet from releases of hazardous chemicals into the air that can cause deaths, injuries, property and environmental damage, and force people to evacuate or shelter-in-place,” Shinn added.

Under the RMP rule, facilities that use or store certain dangerous chemicals in specific amounts must develop a risk management plan that identifies what can happen if there is a release of these hazardous substances, what steps the facility is taking to prevent such incidents and what emergency response procedures are in place should an incident occur.

President Biden issued an executive order in January that mandated a review of the EPA’s RMP rule. The agency conducted virtual listening sessions earlier this summer and solicited comments from the public regarding the changes made since the Trump administration gutted the 2017 Chemical Disaster Rule and implemented its final RMP reconsideration rule in 2019.

Since the 2019 final rule, a number of catastrophic incidents and near misses occurred, including two at USW-represented facilities: the June 21, 2019, explosion near storage of hydrofluoric acid at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Philadelphia, and the Nov. 27, 2019, explosion and fire at the TPC Group chemical facility in Port Neches, Texas.

“These disasters are preventable,” the USW wrote in its submitted comments. “EPA has the authority, and an obligation, to issue a strengthened Chemical Disaster Rule that truly protects workers and communities.”

The USW urged EPA to improve the current RMP rule in six areas:

  • Require facilities to involve workers and their representatives in the prevention of catastrophic releases, and share all information related to an incident and its prevention.
  • Reinstate root cause analysis for chemical releases and near misses.
  • Re-insert third-party compliance audits as part of the RMP rule, and have these audits done after any incident meeting the definition of a catastrophic release.
  • Require industries outside of the chemical, petroleum and paper manufacturing sectors to do a safer technology and alternatives analysis of the processes and chemicals they use, as well as judge the impact of a worst-case chemical release to communities surrounding RMP facilities and order those sites to review safer chemicals and processes.
  • Mandate emergency response coordination between facilities and local emergency planning committees and first responders, and require them to conduct field and tabletop exercises in preparation for an accidental chemical release.
  • Coordinate with other agencies to harmonize lists of dangerous chemicals, update EPA’s list of regulated substances, and require facilities to evaluate the risk of a reactive chemical incident and to take appropriate action even if the chemicals are not on the EPA’s list.

“Hopefully, the EPA will begin its rulemaking process soon and weave the USW’s recommendations into a more robust Risk Management Program that better protects workers, communities and the environment,” Shinn said.

New Texas Law Regulates Aboveground Chemical Storage Tanks https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/new-texas-law-regulates-aboveground-chemical-storage-tanks Tue, 10 Aug 2021 10:33:22 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/new-texas-law-regulates-aboveground-chemical-storage-tanks The Texas Legislature in June passed legislation to create new safety rules for aboveground storage tanks after a series of high-profile chemical fires in recent years. Governor Greg Abbott signed the legislation into law on June 8, 2021.

Under the law, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will create new performance standards for large aboveground storage tanks (called “vessels” in the bill) that are located at or are part of a petrochemical plant, petroleum refinery or a bulk storage terminal. The regulator must establish the new rules for aboveground tanks by September 2023.

The new standard will cover requirements for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of these tanks in order to protect groundwater and surface water in case of an incident or natural disaster.

Having  robust safety standards could have prevented the catastrophic fire that occurred at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) in March 2019, said Texas Senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who wrote the tank bill (Senate Bill 900) and negotiated with industry groups to assure the bill’s passage in the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature.

Investigation of the tank fire revealed  that the failure of equipment and a leak at ITC’s chemical tank farm caused the fire to erupt, which spread to almost 12 other tanks. Area residents sheltered in place because of the hazardous air emissions, the Houston Ship Channel shut down for three days, millions of gallons of hazardous waste spilled on the ground and leaked into the water, and smoke hung over the Houston skyline.

Texas had numerous rules for below-ground chemical storage tanks, including construction standards and plans to prevent spills, but until SB 900 became law, aboveground storage tanks were exempt.

Numerous chemical fires in Texas in 2019 and the resulting outcry from residents and regulators motivated more Republican state lawmakers to take action on regulating the aboveground tanks.

This was true for the Republican Texas House speaker, Dade Phelan, whose constituents had to evacuate the day before Thanksgiving in 2019 when several explosions blasted the TPC Group chemical facility in Port Neches, Texas. The blast damaged residents’ property, and toxic emissions spewed forth from the resulting plant fire for over a week. The TPC Group ended up essentially shuttering the facility, costing USW workers their jobs.

Alvarado said that explosion and the other incidents forced industry groups to negotiate a new law regulating the aboveground tanks.

2021 USW Cares, District 1 Jefferson Award Winner, Robert Ford https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/2021-usw-cares-district-1-jefferson-award-winner-robert-ford Thu, 05 Aug 2021 08:05:25 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/2021-usw-cares-district-1-jefferson-award-winner-robert-ford Robert Ford, of USW Local Union 2L, works for Goodyear Tire in Akron, Ohio. In 2018, Ford attended a football game at Kenmore Highschool in his daughter’s school district and noticed something about the kids he was surrounded by: a lot of them weren’t wearing socks… or jackets. It was the beginning of winter.

“I immediately thought ‘how can I help?’” said Ford. “I know they’re kids, and it’s not always cool to wear a jacket, but it was more than that. I work so much, I didn’t know there was this need in my community. I had to go out into the community to know what was going on.”

So he met with the principal and school counselors, and he stocked the school with food and clothes for the kids who needed it. After doing some research and finding out that the poverty rate in Akron, OH is 61 percent, Ford made it his mission to tend to the children in his community who were suffering.

With teachers, coaches, and counselors telling him which kids needed what, he started packing back packs with food and supplies, and then a coat and sweatshirt program followed. He began delivering meals to single parent homes and the homes of kids with an incarcerated parent, and the meal program took off; that’s how his non-profit, Forever R Children, came to be.

Forever R Children is Robert Ford and it goes where he goes. “It doesn’t have a home,” Ford says, “I go wherever the need is. Wherever the need is, I’m coming!”

Pastor Richard Frasier of Hope Ministries gave him a trailer, so every three weeks, Ford travels to a different area of Akron with his trailer stocked with meal kits, snacks, clothes, and toiletries and makes deliveries to people at their homes. When he drops off food, he covers the family for three days of healthy, fresh meals.

Ford did all this without any fundraising at first. He bought everything himself or people who knew what he was doing would donate. When things got going, he partnered with the Akron County Food Bank and started reaching out to businesses. He bought 100 hams from Costco, so Costco donated 100 hams to match it. Dollar General agreed to be a Holiday Sponsor and set-up boxes to collect donations at their registers during the Holidays. The Akron Community Foundation donated $4,000 to Robert’s efforts.

Now, the unions involved: Matt Dilauro, President of Local Union 2L, connected Ford with Jamestown Container Company, a union shop, which supplies Forever R Children with $2,000 worth of boxes (to hold donations) every month. District 1 Director Donnie Blatt donated $3,000 from District 1 once he heard about what Ford was doing for Akron. Good Year Unit President, Jeremy Estlock, and the rest of Ford’s Local Union brothers and sisters came together this year to support and raise money for Forever R Children with a Poker Run that will be held in August; Estlock recruited lots of members from other unions to attend.

The school loves Forever R Children so much that they gave Ford an office in the middle school to be a mentor and resource for the kids, and now there is an in-school food pantry run by a teacher and children with disabilities, so that they can learn real-world skills.

Forever R Children will keep expanding; Ford is now trying to help veterans and is finding ways to help even more people in his community. Robert Ford is the 2021 USW Cares District 1 Jefferson Award winner for all that he is doing to support the children in his community.

Tell us how changes in technology, automation have impacted your workplace! https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/tell-us-how-changes-in-technology-automation-have-impacted-your-workplace Mon, 02 Aug 2021 15:03:57 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/tell-us-how-changes-in-technology-automation-have-impacted-your-workplace Automation and other changes with technology have impacted workers in every sector for decades, including the health care industry. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has accelerated this phenomenon over the past year and a half, and it shows no signs of stopping.

“This has been an ongoing issue,” said USW Health Care Workers Council Coordinator Tamara Lefcowitz in an informal focus group with several members about the survey last week. “Now we’ve been just been inundated due to COVID.”

From digital key fobs or surveillance cameras that could potentially be used to track and discipline workers, to increased usage of telehealth services, these issues are wide-reaching and highly consequential.

The USW Health Care Workers Council wants to know how these and other new technologies are affecting our members. We have teamed up with the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC) to create a brief, 5-minute survey on how this has impacted you and your workplaces.

You can access the survey here.

This is just one of the many steps our union is taking to address changing technology in health care, and we appreciate your (voluntary) participation!

August Update from SOAR Director Julie Stein https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/august-update-from-soar-director-julie-stein Mon, 02 Aug 2021 13:52:00 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/august-update-from-soar-director-julie-stein A Pandemic and a Promise

One of the lesser-mentioned but not surprising outcomes of the COVID pandemic is the notable increase of early retirements.  According to a recent report in the New York Times, retirements among Americans age 65 to 74 increased by nearly two percent since the beginning of the pandemic after experiencing a steady decline throughout the last 20 years.

Further, they reported that “the retirement rate rose during the pandemic for those 65 to 74, regardless of education level. But for those 55 to 64, the rate rose only for those without a college degree. In contrast, the retirement rate fell for 55 to 64-year-olds with a college degree.”

While their survey did not explore why people retired, this finding leads me to believe that older blue-collar workers were more likely to consider retirement because they felt more exposed in their workplaces compared to white-collar workers who could work safely from home.

However, it is going to take time for us to fully understand how Steelworkers were impacted by the pandemic, and it is possible this trend will continue as workers and employers struggle to adjust to new workplace rules and a delicate economic recovery.

Regardless, the last 15 months have served to me as a reminder of the importance of our work to ensure the promise of a secure retirement for all workers.  Our work to defend Medicare and Social Security is unending, and in the early months of 2021, we celebrated a massive victory when President Biden’s American Rescue Plan included the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act.

This concluded our decade-long fight to resolve the multiemployer pension crisis, and has had an immediate impact on more than 1.5 million workers, including 120,000 USW retirees.

We should never lose sight of the fact that our ability to retire often depends upon the decisions made by our lawmakers.  So, THANK YOU for being a part of our work to ensure everyone’s right to a secure retirement.