United Steelworkers Press Releases Feed http://www.usw.org/news/media-center/releases/rss United Steelworkers Press Releases Feed 2021-03-03 12:02:37 -0600 AMPS en hourly 1 President Biden in new, powerful video: unions give workers power https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/president-biden-in-new-powerful-video-unions-give-workers-power Tue, 02 Mar 2021 17:09:37 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/president-biden-in-new-powerful-video-unions-give-workers-power President Biden is voicing strong support for organizing Amazon workers and for all unions, saying in a new video statement, "Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and Brown workers.” Watch his entire video message below. And read more about the RWDSU-UFCW effort to organizing Amazon fullfilment center workers in Alabama here.
Oregon Steelworker members vital in new COVID rule proposal https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/oregon-steelworker-members-vital-in-new-covid-rule-proposal Mon, 01 Mar 2021 13:04:57 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/oregon-steelworker-members-vital-in-new-covid-rule-proposal The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its permanent Covid-19 proposed rule earlier this month for a 90-day public comment period. The rule would maintain current temporary protections for workers against the coronavirus and include mandates that address vaccinations in the workplace.

USW members were vital in this rulemaking process, including Aaron Watts of Local 6163. Watts serves as his local grievance chair while working at ATI Specialty Alloy and Components, and also dedicates his time to legislative activism because he knows the power of workers having a seat at the table.

“We are fortunate to have fantastic resources with our USW Health, Safety and Environment Department, as well as amazing leaders who represent all sectors of our membership within the AFL-CIO,” said Watts. “Being able to have that voice throughout this process was a benefit to all workers.”

One challenge Watts and his fellow activists faced during this process has been the overlap with different agencies who also have rules implemented, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Oregon Health Authority,” Watts said. “Working to get clarification to these rules was more difficult than expected.  OR-OSHA used the guidelines as their template, and it was challenging to get much clarification outside those other guidelines.”

The new rule would, among other things, require employers to provide written notification to employees of their rights to return to work when employees must quarantine, and require employers to cooperate with public health authorities that ask to arrange for vaccinations in the workplace.

Watts is hopeful that the permanent rule will lead to better safety protections for all workers.

“Focusing on establishing a permanent rule will allow a better opportunity to prevent or minimize similar outbreaks in the future,” he said. “Being able to address adequate ventilation, appropriate respiratory protection and personal protective equipment, reducing and eliminating potential exposures and crowded living quarters in some cases, and certainly improved hygiene will all go a long way to help all of us maintain healthier workplaces moving forward.”

Click here to read a comparison between the temporary rule and the proposed permanent rule.

Tell the Senate to Pass the COVID Relief Package https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/tell-the-senate-to-pass-the-covid-relief-package Mon, 01 Mar 2021 11:24:48 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/tell-the-senate-to-pass-the-covid-relief-package Contact your Senators TODAY!

Last week we sent out an InfoAlert and released a video on reconciliation, a unique legislative vehicle Congress is using to pass a new COVID-19 relief package.

Early Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the bill,219 to 212. It is now headed to the Senate for a vote.

We continue to do our part to end this pandemic; Senators must do theirs and pass this bill.

The COVID Relief Package will:

  • Provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to Americans who need it the most.
  • Extend COBRA coverage for uninsured workers with an 85 percent subsidy, many of which are our Steelworker siblings.
  • Extend Unemployment Insurance benefits for up to 48 weeks and increase the minimum weekly benefit to $400.
  • Grant $150 million for COVID-19 worker protections, with $75 million dedicated to OSHA enforcement in high-risk sectors. This has been a USW priority since the pandemic began.
  • Directly benefit the 10,000 members at USW Local 8888, who build ships for our military, and others who qualify for the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act by giving presumption that COVID-19 is work-related. This presumption will authorize eligibility for medical benefits, lost wages, and survivor benefits.
  • Provides for $130 billion to help schools. This funding will allow recommended steps by the CDC to go forward that will ensure students, educators, and employees can return to the classroom safely.
  • Provide $200 million for infection control support for the skilled nursing facilities where many USW members work..

Also included in the package is the “Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021.” It will protect the pensions of 120,000 active USW members and retirees by ensuring they are fully funded for at least 30 years. It would also allow healthy plans to better account for the pandemic and help to ensure their solvency for the future. Protecting our pensions has been a Steelworker priority for years, and Butch Lewis is necessary to help the thousands of workers (including many paperworkers) in these plans.

Here is how you can help:

Click HERE to send an email to your Senators asking them to pass the COVID Relief Package, as is, without amendments.

Call your Senators at 877-607-0785, tell them who you are, where you are from, and that you are counting on them to Pass the COVID Relief Package.

USW Mourns Loss of John DeFazio https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-mourns-loss-of-john-defazio Fri, 26 Feb 2021 15:58:49 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-mourns-loss-of-john-defazio The United Steelworkers (USW) mourns the loss today of longtime Western Pennsylvania labor and political leader John DeFazio, who served as director of the USW’s District 10 for 12 years.

DeFazio followed in his father’s footsteps to become a steelworker, starting his career as a member of USW Local 1843 at the former J&L Steel and winning election as president of the 5,000-member local union in 1970, when he was just 29 years old.

At the time, DeFazio was the youngest local union president in the steel industry.

“The spirit and solidarity of labor was in John DeFazio’s blood, and he never forgot where he came from,” said International President Tom Conway. “The members of this union – and all working people in Pennsylvania and around the country – owe John a debt of gratitude for his years of dedication and leadership.”

DeFazio joined the staff of the USW in 1977, eventually serving as the District 10 Civil Rights Coordinator and Sub-District Director.

As a staff representative, he skillfully helped workers navigate through what was a difficult time for the U.S. steel industry. During his tenure, DeFazio worked with union leaders in the steel, aluminum, glass, health care, public sector and service industries.

DeFazio became USW District 10 Director in 2001, representing about 50,000 Steelworkers across the state of Pennsylvania.

“When he was speaking up on behalf of working people, John was a force to be reckoned with,” Conway said. “But that fierce dedication to justice in some ways disguised the fact that he was also a gentle and generous soul. He will be missed.”

In addition to his work with the union, DeFazio served for 20 years as a member and as president of the Allegheny County Council and as vice president of the Allegheny County Labor Council.

In the 1960s and 1970s, DeFazio also made a name for himself as a professional wrestling champion, known by the moniker “Jumpin’ Johnny,” a nickname that continued to follow him long after his wrestling days were over.

Tom Conway Discusses Infrastructure on The Leslie Marshall Show https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/tom-conway-discusses-infrastructure-on-the-leslie-marshall-show Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:35:19 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/tom-conway-discusses-infrastructure-on-the-leslie-marshall-show United Steelworkers International President Tom Conway appeared on The Leslie Marshall Show this week to discuss the USW’s new We Supply America campaign calling for infrastructure investments that would improve safety and support quality jobs. 

Conway and Marshall discussed the opportunity for bipartisan action as many infrastructure elements in the United States – from roads and bridges, to schools and electrical grids – require sustained investments to build or repair. 

“I think this is really an important turning point for us as a nation, as a people, to make an investment in ourselves, to build what we need going forward, to give ourselves the tools that we need to return to a thriving economy, and one that provides opportunity for people across all regions,” said Conway.

Conway also spoke about the growth of good, family-sustaining jobs that would accompany an infrastructure project that focuses on fostering domestic manufacturing and rebuilding long-neglected supply chains.

“We’ve got to build it here, make it clean,” said Conway. “I think Americans should expect nothing less.”

“That investment comes back to us in the form of paychecks, work, good jobs and strength in our communities,” Conway said.

To listen to the full interview about investing in American infrastructure, click below.

New Global Union Report: Pandemic places long-term care work among world’s most dangerous jobs https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/new-global-union-report-pandemic-places-long-term-care-work-among-worlds-most-dangerous-jobs Thu, 25 Feb 2021 10:15:55 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/new-global-union-report-pandemic-places-long-term-care-work-among-worlds-most-dangerous-jobs UNI Global Union, which represents 2 million care workers worldwide, today said the COVID-19 pandemic has made nursing homes some of the most hazardous—and even deadly—worksites in the world.

In a new report released today—The Most Dangerous Job: The Impact of COVID-19 on Long-Term Care Workers in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia—UNI reveals how similar issues across the long-term care sector in five countries contributed to COVID-19 contagion and deaths not just for residents but also the vulnerable workers in the industry. In some countries, the job can be as dangerous as mining, timber, and police work.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first of the global lockdowns, the situation in nursing homes globally remains critical, and while much of the world’s attention has fallen on residents, the report shows the high costs workers have paid. In the United States alone, nearly 500,000 long-term care workers have been infected. From mid-December 2020 to mid-January 2021, nearly four of these U.S. care workers died a day.

The report makes clear that the business model for nursing homes in all the countries examined is responsible for much of the suffering and death: workers in the long-term care sector have historically faced difficult and unsafe conditions, earning low wages with few benefits, and often without the protections of a union.

In 2020, essential long-term care workers found themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for the elderly and aiding the most vulnerable, and becoming vulnerable themselves. Hundreds of thousands of workers contracted COVID-19 in the countries studied and so far, at least 1,385 died in the US, 469 in the UK and 25 in Canada.

The physical and emotional toll on workers, who have seen their residents and coworkers get sick and know they could be next, is immense.

“We are already facing tragedy of an unspeakable scale, but I fear that much more loss is in store,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union. “We do not know the impact that COVID will have on workers over time, and unless the working conditions that helped virus spread like wildfire through care homes—the lack of PPE, low wages, no paid sick days, no union representation—are fixed, serious problems will persist after vaccinations and after this pandemic.” 

UNI is calling for the following urgent changes to save lives in the industry:

  • COVID-19 should be recognized as an occupational disease for all long-term care workers.
  • All nations should focus on urgently improving the working conditions and pay of long-term care workers. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, countries should minimize facilities’ reliance on temporary workers and workers that move among multiple care facilities by giving people full-time jobs with decent pay.
  • Higher staff-to-resident ratios to safeguard the health of both workers and residents.
  • Increased investment in the long-term care sector that is tied to both worker and resident outcomes, providing incentives for investors, employers, and governments to follow the strictest safety protocols and best practices.
  • Robust tracking systems should be developed and implemented to track coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths among workers on a national level. Ideally, the data should be broadly comparable internationally.
  • Infectious disease training should be provided to all long-term care workers on an annual basis.
  • Health and safety structures, including worker or joint committees, should be used to address COVID-19 risks and to impose stronger measures that include infectious disease protocols, access to PPE and vaccines, among others. If they do not currently exist at a worksite, they should be created.
  • Most importantly, workers must have a voice in decision-making in the workplace through unions and collective bargaining. As part of the move toward empowering workers, each nursing home needs a worker health and safety committee and democratically elected worker safety representatives.

The ongoing global public health crisis has exacerbated the injustices care workers have endured for decades, and now it is costing them their health and their lives. UNI supports its member unions who are pushing for changes that will protect long term care workers and make fundamental changes in the sector.

“COVID-19 has brought to the fore many of the core issues that workers in the long-term care industry have been fighting to improve for years,” said Adrian Durtschi, Head of UNI’s Care sector. “When workers have a voice on the job through their union and collective bargaining, they can raise the standard of care and help keep everyone in their facility healthier and safer. These changes will save lives during the pandemic and in the years to come.”

UNI Global Union, based in Nyon, Switzerland, represents more than 20 million workers from over 150 different countries in the fastest growing sectors in the world – skills and services.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Works to Improve Underground Air Flow https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/waste-isolation-pilot-plant-works-to-improve-underground-air-flow Wed, 24 Feb 2021 17:14:10 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/waste-isolation-pilot-plant-works-to-improve-underground-air-flow Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the prime contractor, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), last month conducted a safety test of one of its large exhaust fans that has been out of commission since a 2014 radiation leak.

Despite the break in its use, the 700-C, which draws a high volume of unfiltered air from the underground salt mine, is needed to improve airflow, said USW Local 12-9477 President Rick Fuentes. 

“The additional airflow will improve air quality for employees working in the underground, which will allow us to better support Ground Control, Waste Emplacement and Mining activities,” said Fuentes.

Workers at WIPP emplace transuranic waste in containers placed in panels that are mined out of an underground salt formation.

USW members use diesel-powered equipment underground, which makes it especially critical to ensure a safe breathing environment.

The 700-C fan, if it returns to operation after the testing is completed, would increase airflow in support of non-waste handling underground operations such as mining, installation of rock bolts and maintenance cycles in an unfiltered mode.

NWP and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, an independent organization, monitored the air for radionuclides during the 700-C restart test. According to preliminary data, the test went according to plan.

Fuentes said the 700-C fan significantly increased air flow underground during its initial four-hour test, and NWP calculated that the radiation exposure a person would receive would be less than DOE regulatory limits.

Photo courtesy Dept. of Energy

Once the test data is analyzed, DOE will post the full results on the WIPP website, and it will schedule a town hall meeting to discuss the findings.

The USW will continue to work closely with the Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office and NWP management to resolve any remaining issues before the 700-C fan is restarted.

As the tests of the 700-C fan continue, the WIPP site is also involved in its annual maintenance outage that began Feb.15 and is expected to end April 14.

In addition to other maintenance work, one priority will be work on the other fans that provide air to the underground portion of the site.

Maintenance work on the fans will help ensure proper ventilation for workers as WIPP increases its number of waste shipments.

The DOE wants WIPP to receive up to 325 waste shipments in 2021, and there have been 70 shipments so far this year until the start of the maintenance work.

DOE Cites Portsmouth Contractor for Radiation Monitoring Failures https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/doe-cites-portsmouth-contractor-for-radiation-monitoring-failures Wed, 24 Feb 2021 17:09:46 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/doe-cites-portsmouth-contractor-for-radiation-monitoring-failures The Department of Energy last month issued a preliminary notice of violation to Fluor-BWXT Portsmouth LLC (FBP) for failing to adequately adhere to nuclear safety requirements in its radiation protection program.

The notice, issued Jan. 13, flagged two radiation monitoring failures at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant site in Piketon, Ohio that occurred from 2011 through 2019.

After conducting its investigation, DOE reduced FBP’s contract fee by $2.6 million, though it proposed no civil penalties.

FBP began addressing the failures as soon as it learned of them, well before the DOE issued its notice.

Bioassay samples not requested

USW Local 1-689 members decontaminate and decommission the buildings at the former uranium enrichment site, while members of the building trades tear down the facilities after this work is done.

The nature of a person’s work determines how frequently they must provide bioassay samples to measure radiation exposure. The more contaminated an area, the more frequently the worker is tested, said Local 1-689 President John Knauff.

Knauff said a number of workers noticed they had not been asked to provide a bioassay sample at their expected frequency, and in November 2018, an FBP employee approached FBP dosimetry personnel about it. Dosimetry personnel measure, calculate and assess the absorbed doses of radiation for individuals.

FBP determined the problem was in the software used to tell people when to submit their samples, a glitch that should have been flagged by the original programmers.

In March 2019, FBP determined that 193 workers had not received their required bioassays. Knauff said the contractor then had them all provide samples.

DOE said in the cover letter for the preliminary notice that the failure did not result in expected worker exposures to radiation, but Knauff was less certain.

“That is, that the agency knew of,” Knauff said. He said radiation exposure—unless it is a large amount—will not show up in a bioassay sample taken long after the exposure.

Second monitoring failure

FBP identified a second monitoring failure in May 2019. This time it was a calculation error in a spreadsheet that showed the contractor underreported both onsite and offsite environmental radiological monitoring information in its past eight annual site environmental reports.

Another software program that had not met DOE’s quality control standards caused the problem to go undetected.

The DOE told FBP’s program manager that the contractor’s failure to implement its software testing program in this case, too, resulted in no public or environmental impacts above regulatory limits.

The notice said FBP’s regulatory violations concerned work processes, personnel training and qualification, quality improvement, and documents and records involved in the implementation of its software quality assessment.

To address these issues, the contractor overhauled its software quality assurance program, which included creating a new organization to oversee it, new procedures, new training modules for all site personnel and additional training for software owners.

FBP also implemented organizational changes and culture-change strategies, and started a contractor assurance improvement initiative.

Risk mitigation key

These are not the first monitoring failures at the Portsmouth facility. The DOE cited FBP in 2015 for nuclear safety and radiation protection violations, and proposed a $243,750 civil penalty. The violations concerned improper alteration of radiation protection documents and other radiation protection violations in April 2013.

Knauff said all radiological exposure carries some risk, and the key is to mitigate it. Not monitoring worker radiation exposure in a timely manner and not having accurate environmental monitoring potentially leads to a negative impact on workers and the public, said the DOE.

Letter to the House of Representatives: United Steelworkers supports passage of H.R. 5, the Equality Act https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/letter-to-the-house-of-representatives-united-steelworkers-supports-passage-of-h-r-5-the-equality-act Wed, 24 Feb 2021 14:44:01 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/letter-to-the-house-of-representatives-united-steelworkers-supports-passage-of-h-r-5-the-equality-act The union today sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to pas H.R. 5, the Equality Act.

USW International President Tom Conway wrote, "In many states across the country, workers are fired from their jobs or people are evicted from their homes simply based on their sexual orientation or identity, without any recourse. In fact, more than half of all U.S. states lack protections against LGBTQ+ discrimination. Some or our own members detail stories of this discrimination throughout their working lives."

Here is the full text of the letter, which can be downloaded for printing here:

Via Email 
February 24, 2021
U.S. House of Representatives 
Washington, D.C. 20515 

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the United Steelworkers, I am proud to support H.R. 5, the Equality Act. This critical legislation would combat the ongoing discrimination faced daily, in both private lives and in the workplace, by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+) Americans. Over 70 countries have adopted anti-discrimination protections– like the Equality Act– and we urge Congress to do the same. 

In many states across the country, workers are fired from their jobs or people are evicted from their homes simply based on their sexual orientation or identity, without any recourse. In fact, more than half of all U.S. states lack protections against LGBTQ+ discrimination. Some or our own members detail stories of this discrimination throughout their working lives. 

Only 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. H.R. 5 would provide the much-needed protection for the LGBTQ+ community throughout the country. 

The Equality Act would strengthen civil rights protections in the following ways: 

  • Modify existing civil rights laws– including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Jury Selection and Services Act, and several laws regarding employment with the federal government– to extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ Americans in access to employment, education, credit, jury service, federal funding, housing, and public accommodations. 
  • It would make it explicit that federal discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on gender stereotypes, pregnancy, gender identity, and characteristics. 
  • It would expand existing civil rights protections from discrimination in public places to include entertainment venues, places that sell goods and services, and transportation services. 

An overwhelming majority of Americans support passing the kinds of protections found in the Equality Act and we stand with them. This is an idea with broad support and the time is past due to make it law. On behalf of the USW, and working people everywhere, I strongly urge you to pass H.R. 5, the Equality Act. 


Thomas Conway 
International President 

International Women's Day 2021: Choose to Challenge https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/international-womens-day-2021-choose-to-challenge Wed, 24 Feb 2021 08:00:00 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/international-womens-day-2021-choose-to-challenge International Women's Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements or rally for women's equality.

Marked annually on March 8th, International Women's Day is one of the most important days of the year to:

  • celebrate women's achievements
  • raise awareness about women's equality
  • lobby for accelerated gender parity
  • fundraise for female-focused charities

2021 THEME

The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2021 is 'Choose To Challenge'. 

A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so let's all #ChooseToChallenge.

Hand up high to show you're in

Raise your hand high to show you're in and that you commit to choose to challenge and call out inequality.

Strike the 'Choose To Challenge' pose and share your selfie on social media using #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 to encourage further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world.

You can also add our #ChooseToChallenge frame to your profile picture in honor of International Women's Day by clicking here.

Submit your photo to the IWD #ChoosetoChallenge Gallery

Individuals and organizations are invited to submit their #ChooseToChallenge images on the IWD website so they can be shared in the lead up to International Women's Day 2021.

Click here to create your account and submit your image.

USW joins labor coalition urging CDC to acknowledge COVID aerosol transmission https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-joins-labor-coalition-urging-cdc-to-acknowledge-covid-aerosol-transmission Tue, 23 Feb 2021 11:42:40 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-joins-labor-coalition-urging-cdc-to-acknowledge-covid-aerosol-transmission The United Steelworkers (USW) joined a coalition of 45 allied unions and labor organizations in calling upon the Centers for Disease and Infection Control (CDC) to update its Covid-19 guidance to fully reflect the latest scientific evidence regarding SARS-CoV-2 transmission through aerosols.

The coalition delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures to the CDC today, Tuesday, Feb. 23.

“We have hundreds of thousands of members considered essential workers and risking their lives every day to support us all,” wrote USW President Thomas M. Conway. “They and their employers depend on accurate science from CDC. And the science clearly shows the danger of aerosol transmission.”

Recognizing aerosol transmission would require the CDC to update its definition of “exposure,” which would improve the efficacy of contact tracing and case isolation. Acknowledging the scientific evidence and making these improvements, the coalition said, are essential and necessary steps to bringing the pandemic under control.

USW Demands Justice for Victims of Grupo Mexico https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-demands-justice-for-victims-of-grupo-mexico Thu, 18 Feb 2021 08:38:24 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-demands-justice-for-victims-of-grupo-mexico CONTACT: Ben Davis, 412-562-2501, bdavis@usw.org 

The United Steelworkers (USW) union issued the following statement as workers prepare to mark the anniversary of the Pasta de Conchos mine disaster that took place Feb. 19, 2006: 

Fifteen years after an explosion killed 65 workers at the Pasta de Conchos mine in Sabinas, Mexico, justice has still not been served.

One of the worst mining disasters in the country’s history, the incident became still more horrifying when the mine’s owner, Grupo Mexico, called off the search for survivors after only five days and sealed all but two of the victims’ bodies inside the mine.

Not only did this disaster demonstrate the deep need for labor reform, it also laid bare the stark inequalities in Mexico. 

Yet there has still been no investigation or prosecution of government or company officials, despite evidence that inspections at Pasta de Conchos prior to the explosion revealed major safety hazards. 

Grupo Mexico is controlled by Germán Larrea, one of Mexico’s richest men, with current family assets of $24.6 billion according to Forbes. Through his company he controls a global empire including mines, railroads, wind farms, toll roads and construction projects. 

Larrea, who owes his fortune to the privatization of the mining industry under the neoliberal government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, at the time of the disaster was engaged in a bitter struggle against the national mineworkers’ union led by Napoleón Gómez Urrutia. Shortly after the disaster, Gómez was forced to leave the country when the government brought criminal charges against him after he accused it and the company of “industrial homicide.”

The governments of the PAN and PRI parties continued this anti-union campaign, while blocking any serious investigation of the disaster and denying fair compensation to the families of the workers.

Today, under a progressive government led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, there have been important changes. The government compensated the families of the Pasta de Conchos victims and has taken steps to meet their other key demand – the recovery of the workers’ bodies, which remain entombed in the mine.  

Napoleón Gómez was cleared of all charges and in 2018 returned to Mexico as a Senator in López Obrador’s MORENA party, where he has led the fight for labor reforms including ratification of ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines.

The government is implementing labor law reforms required by the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA). But it has done little to help workers at three other Grupo Mexico mines who have been on strike since 2007. In fact, the Mexican Supreme Court may rule shortly on the company’s attempt to have one of the strikes declared illegal, which could be a major setback for workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, a Grupo Mexico-led consortium just won a major concession to build part of the government’s signature Mayan Train tourism project. 

Grupo Mexico’s impunity hasn’t hurt only Mexican workers. In the United States, the National Labor Relations Board last month issued a consolidated complaint against Grupo Mexico’s ASARCO subsidiary for multiple unfair labor practices at its operations in Arizona and Texas, which include bad faith bargaining, unilaterally changing working conditions and failing to reinstate workers returning from an unfair labor practice strike. 

As we remember the victims of Pasta de Conchos, workers in Mexico and the United States demand that Germán Larrea and Grupo Mexico be held accountable by both of our governments.

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, mining, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, the service, public and health care sectors and higher education.

New contract, wage increases for Michigan health care workers https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/new-contract-wage-increases-for-michigan-health-care-workers Tue, 16 Feb 2021 14:59:32 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/new-contract-wage-increases-for-michigan-health-care-workers After months of delays, illnesses, and pandemic-related issues, nursing home workers at Maryhill Manor at Local 2138-4 secured a new contract last week that included much-needed wage increases amidst the toll of the coronavirus.

“We tried to get what the workers deserved,” said Local 2138 President Jennifer Goudreau. “Eventually we were able to come to an agreement and everyone was happy this time around.”

Those working as cooks, activity aides, and LPNs, as well as those in dietary, housekeeping, and laundry, will receive wage increases of 7 percent while CNAs and RNs will receive a 10 percent increase.

These increases will include retroactivity back to Jan. 1, 2021, and will replace the current “hero pay” workers have been receiving since the pandemic began.

Reconciliation: The Path to the Covid Relief Package https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/reconciliation-the-path-to-the-covid-relief-package Tue, 16 Feb 2021 10:46:39 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/reconciliation-the-path-to-the-covid-relief-package Click here for a printable version to distribute in your workplace.

Congress is using a relatively unique tool to pass the next COVID-19 Relief legislation called reconciliation.

Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of particular tax, spending, and debt-limit legislation.

In the Senate, reconciliation bills aren’t subject to a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome, and the scope of amendments is limited. The reconciliation process only requires a simple majority or 51 votes.

When has it been used in the past?

Reconciliation has been used 21 times since 1980.

President Reagan used this process to enact significant spending cuts. Clinton used the process to enact welfare reform, and both Presidents Bush and Trump used it to pass tax bills.

How does it work?

  1. Under the Congressional Budget Act, the House and Senate are supposed to adopt a budget resolution to set guidelines for action on spending and revenue each year. The House approved the Senate's 2021 budget resolution (S.Con.Res.5) on Feb. 5, 2021, laying the groundwork for the budget reconciliation process.
  2. Next, House committees take action. The various aspects of Covid relief are dealt with in the committees that have jurisdiction over those issues. These committees will send their recommendations along to the House Budget Committee when they finish.
  3. The Budget Committee then takes those recommendations and bundles them together for a floor vote in the House. If it passes, the bill goes to the Senate.
  4. Suppose the Senate adopts a different bill than the House. In that case, they will work out the differences between the two by using a “conference committee” made up of members from both the Senate and House.
  5. Both chambers will then take an up-or-down vote on the final, compromise version.
  6. If they approve it, the bill goes to the President for signature, and it will become law.

What’s next?

The House is expected to vote on their bill soon. Please keep your eyes out in the coming days for more information on what is in that bill and why it matters to our members and our communities.

To learn more about the reconciliation process, check out this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Register now for our mass incarceration workshops https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/mass-incarceration-workshops Tue, 16 Feb 2021 10:43:33 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/mass-incarceration-workshops Join us for online workshops by our Education and Membership Development Department examining the history of incarceration in the U.S. and its impact on communities of color and low income. Members will learn how the current system hurts the economy and why its emphasis on punishment instead of rehabilitation compromises real justice. Facilitated by Douglas Ward

Register for the following workshop times:

  1. Thursday, February 18, 2021 at 7:30 PM https://bit.ly/2NjlvOO
  2. Friday, February 19, 2021 at 10:00 AM https://bit.ly/3pfvHVC
USW Launches Infrastructure Campaign: We Supply America https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-launches-infrastructure-campaign-we-supply-america Wed, 10 Feb 2021 15:10:24 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-launches-infrastructure-campaign-we-supply-america One of our most significant projects of the year is a new, union-wide campaign aimed at rebuilding our rapidly crumbling infrastructure.

This effort is important both because infrastructure upgrades will make our communities safer and because significant investment will create good, union jobs now and into the future.

We’re taking a broad, ambitious view that includes rebuilding not only our physical infrastructure – like roads, bridges, ports and waterways – but also the social infrastructure of our schools, communications networks and public health services.

In short, this initiative will touch every corner of our union.

Second survey

There are a number of facets to this campaign to keep on your radars.

We’re now in the process of reaching out to each of the USW locals so that they can start identifying how their workplaces intersect with infrastructure.

Building on the success of the Your Union, Your Voice survey we circulated last year, we’re also launching a second union-wide survey so that we can get direct member feedback on all of these issues.

You can learn more and access the survey at www.uswvoices.org. 

It’s important that we have as many specific examples and as many member voices as possible as we work to ensure our nations’ resources are deployed strategically, so please amplify this effort in any way you can. 

Good policies key

We’ll also need to educate lawmakers and the general public so that these investments come soon and are made in a way that best supports our jobs and communities.  

This will mean pushing for good policies that ensure our tax dollars both support immediate construction projects and create long-term economic resiliency, using North American-made materials and building up our long-neglected domestic supply chains.

Done properly, robust infrastructure investments will create demand for domestically made materials like steel, glass, cement, rubber, packaging and more. Highly-skilled USW members who keep our schools, hospitals, utilities, telecommunication networks and other essential services running will also benefit as we create opportunities for stable, quality, service-oriented jobs.

Midland Chemical Units Agree to Contract Extensions https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/midland-chemical-units-agree-to-contract-extensions Wed, 10 Feb 2021 09:52:52 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/midland-chemical-units-agree-to-contract-extensions Local 12075-18 at Trinseo in Midland, Mich., agreed Feb. 5 to extend its contract one year to retain existing benefits.

Four other chemical bargaining units of Local 12075 at Midland extended their contracts as well. All of these agreements expire Feb. 10, 2022.

These units were once part of Dow Chemical before it merged with DuPont and spun off several businesses. Trinseo purchased Dow Chemical’s plastics and latex business.

A number of factors impacted the decision to extend the contracts one year, including the lingering economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the potential hazards of bargaining in-person.

The 55 workers in the Trinseo unit received a 2.5 percent wage increase and retained their ability to carryover vacation time for another two years. The company removed this benefit from salaried employees last year.

“In the last 20 years of collective bargaining history with Dow, we have never had to negotiate a contract during an economic downturn. Those previous contracts carried us through economic recessions,” said Kent Holsing, president of the Local 12075-00 unit. Holsing was president of Local 12075 when all six bargaining units were part of Dow Chemical Co.

“While the chemical industry is looking at an upswing in 2021, it will likely be later in the year and be more of a ‘U’ shape recovery versus a ‘V’ shape recovery,” he said.

In January, the 12075-00 unit committee agreed to a one-year contract extension for Dow’s west side operations in Midland that cover chemical processing, logistics and environmental operations (incinerator and wastewater treatment plant). The 65 members in the unit will receive a 2.7 percent wage increase, effective Feb. 8. 

Holsing cited the inability to meet in-person because of the pandemic and the constraints of bargaining virtually as reasons for the unit committee’s decision to extend the contract. He said Dow had similar concerns.

Other extensions

In early September 2020, the SK Saran unit 12075-23, which has about 30 members, agreed to a one-year contract extension with a 2.5 percent wage increase for 2021. This unit makes the saran resin that goes into the manufacture of plastic wrap and Ziploc bags. Both sides extended the contract because of business reasons, Holsing said.

In late August of 2020, DuPont unit 12075-24, with 300 members, agreed to a one-year extension with a 2.1 percent wage increase for 2021. With the sale of the company’s Nutrition and Biosciences business on the horizon, both parties extended the contract.

On Feb. 1, DuPont finalized the sale of its Nutrition and Biosciences business to International Flavor and Fragrances (IFF). The current contract, including wages and benefits, transferred with about 100 members to IFF. That agreement expires Feb. 10, 2022, like the rest of the extended contracts.

The IFF members will have their own unit.

BASF Council Addresses Social Media, Covid-19 Policies https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/basf-council-addresses-social-media-covid-19-policies Wed, 10 Feb 2021 09:49:30 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/basf-council-addresses-social-media-covid-19-policies Members of the USW’s BASF Council this month discussed company policies with council head and District 9 Director Daniel Flippo and Bob Tokar, senior director of labor relations for BASF.

Meeting virtually on Feb. 4, the group largely focused on the social media use policy BASF revised Dec. 1, 2020.  

“Our concern is two-fold,” Flippo said. “We’re working together to increase respect for one another, and at the end of the day, discipline under these policies will fall under just cause.”

At Flippo’s request, Tokar explained the thought process and intention behind the policy. He said BASF is known as the employer of choice in diversity and inclusion, and does not want to see the social unrest and political divisiveness that characterized 2020 reflected in the workplace and on employees’ social media accounts.

“Our concern is the roll out of the policy,” Flippo said. “If we know the boundaries, we can stay out of the ditch.”

Tokar said that management received training on implementing the social media use policy.

But, local leaders on the call said their site managers did not conduct discussions of the policy. Some were unaware of the policy revisions, while others said that management only emailed it.

Flippo called on management to institute training so members and management at each location understand the social media policy.

In turn, Tokar affirmed the need for better communication.

Covid-19 protocol

There was also discussion on the call about BASF’s Covid-19 protocol policy, which was revised last June. The revised policy says that if an employee used the 14-day leave and pay benefit provisions under the original memorandum of agreement, those benefits will not be reinstated under the revised MOA. However, if the company requires someone to self-quarantine, the employee will have their 14-day leave and pay benefit restored, because the company would not allow the member to work.

A worker at the McIntosh, Ala., plant used the 14-day leave last April. Last month, the worker’s immediate family member tested positive for Covid-19. Management told the employee to go home and quarantine for 20 days without pay.

Local leaders said that employees will not report exposure to Covid-19 if they have to go on unpaid leave.

Tokar said he would look into the situation.

Good experience

The BASF Council has been an excellent way to resolve concerns over these sorts of policies, Flippo said.

The council started when BASF began purchasing other companies and since then, it has been a vehicle for improved communication between locals, a force for solidarity and an opportunity for direct communication with management.

Flippo said he would like to have quarterly virtual meetings and have semi-annual, in-person labor-management meetings when the pandemic ends so that Tokar and the regional labor relations managers can address site issues.

Texas Regulators Consider Tougher Rules for Above-Ground Chemical Storage Tanks https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/texas-regulators-consider-tougher-rules-for-above-ground-chemical-storage-tanks Tue, 09 Feb 2021 12:09:29 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/texas-regulators-consider-tougher-rules-for-above-ground-chemical-storage-tanks Texas lawmakers introduced legislation late last year to place tougher rules on above-ground chemical and petroleum storage tanks to prevent explosions and spills that occurred the past several years.

The state experienced some horrific incidents in recent years, including a massive fire at Arkema’s chemical storage facility during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, a 2019 petrochemical fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company’s tank farm in Pasadena and a December 2020 oil storage tank fire that led to an explosion at a Corpus Christi refinery.

These incidents coupled with the realization that increasingly powerful storms because of climate change are battering the Texas Gulf Coast, where many of the tanks are located, prompted two state legislators to introduce legislation.

Democratic state Sen. Nathan Johnson sponsored a bill in the state Senate last November and Democratic state Rep. Mary Ann Perez introduced a companion bill in the House.

The bills direct the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to work with stakeholders to create tougher rules on the structural integrity of above-ground tanks at chemical plants and other facilities located in areas prone to flooding, storm surges and hurricanes. In addition, the TCEQ is to focus on accident, fire and explosion safety for storage tanks.

Texas currently has few rules for above-ground tanks, and none of the regulations require construction standards that ensure the tanks can withstand powerful hurricanes or major flooding.

Similar bills did not gain traction in the last state legislative session, but the bills’ sponsors are hopeful that the groundwork laid in the legislature and the oil and gas industry will allow the legislation to prevail.

More information about the TCEQ’s response to these increasing weather-related incidents and industry-suggested guidelines for above-ground tanks can be read HERE.

USW Supports Michael Regan for the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-supports-michael-regan-for-the-environmental-protection-agency-administrator Thu, 04 Feb 2021 12:00:00 -0500 https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/usw-supports-michael-regan-for-the-environmental-protection-agency-administrator

The union today supported Michael Regan for the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator.

USW International President Tom Conway wrote to the U.S. Senate, "the USW looks forward to the EPA restoring worker protections and a stronger voice for workers on the job as the effects of climate change, disaster prevention, and workplace chemical exposures are addressed through policy making. EPA needs a leader who will bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the table on these issues, and we are confident that Regan can be that leader."

Here is the full text of the letter, which can be downloaded for printing here:

Via Email

February 4, 2021

U.S. Senate Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the members of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW), I write to you in support of the nomination of Michael Regan as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. 

Prior to his nomination, Regan had served as the environmental chief for the state of North Carolina where Governor Roy Cooper stated Regan was “a consensus builder and a fierce protector of the environment”. 

The USW is North America’s largest industrial union, and the primary labor union in the steel, aluminum, rubber, glass, chemical, oil refining, paper, and other manufacturing sectors. Our union has a vital stake in the policies and processes of the EPA that affect the facilities where our members work across our nation. The USW believes Regan will carry out the mission of the EPA– to protect human health and the environment– and install the types of policies that put the protection of workers and communities first. 

The USW looks forward to the EPA restoring worker protections and a stronger voice for workers on the job as the effects of climate change, disaster prevention, and workplace chemical exposures are addressed through policy making. EPA needs a leader who will bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the table on these issues, and we are confident that Regan can be that leader. 

USW members’ health and lives are at greater risk each day they clock in at facilities that aren’t held to account to protect their workforce and the surrounding communities. We believe in a better tomorrow where workers have a stronger voice on the job, and we urge you to vote yes in confirming Michael Regan as the next EPA Administrator.


Thomas Conway International President