Monday Morning Minute: April 13, 2020

COVID-19 Update

Our union continues to do all it can to help our members who are laid off due to lack of work or who are on the front lines, such as our health care workers, police and other service workers. Plus, our members, like the paper sector, are doing work that is critical to the supply chain.

Our union worked hard to gather information on the various stimulus and paid leave bills and how they impact you. We also presented health and safety information during this time. And our Legislative Department continues to push for worker issues to be addressed in subsequent stimulus bills. See here: https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2020/measures-must-be-put-in-place-to-protect-workers-of-large-employers-with-paid-leave

Check out www.usw.org/covid19 for more on what the entire union is doing to come together during this time.

The USW paper sector continues to work with the smaller employers on pay during COVID-related events.  We have had some success with an employer that agreed to it at one location, and then we were able to leverage the company into covering all of its other USW sites. 

Our staff has also been pushing employers to follow the CARES Act provisions— even if the employer has more than 500 employees—and we are having success there.  All of us -- the districts, staff and paper sector -- are working together to address these issues.

We’ve also been working to make sure the print sector stays open as an essential  service provider to the public health care system (prescriptions pads, instructions for use manual, communicating essential information, regs, election, signage and alerts, etc.). In fact, after an initial Pennsylvania mandate, printing was listed as “non-essential,” but after a careful review of print’s vital role in the COVID-19 emergency, the ruling was overturned.  Many of our coated free sheet mills depend on the printing sector for customers.

Last week, we also focused on safety, and held four conference calls with councils on COVID-19 related safety issues.  Our goal is to get a best practices document of what is working in mills, box plants and other paper facilities, and what challenges were overcome so we can share this information across the sector.  As everyone knows, the situation is evolving and recommendations are, too, so we will work hard to make sure our information is as timely as possible. 

We also know we have important bargaining work to do and major negotiations to prepare for: Our first priority has been and will always be our members’ safety.  The feedback we received from our local leaders is that no one wants to make another member work to enable them to take time away from the facility to get on a virtual meeting.  We respect and understand that, and are focused on providing innovative ways to communicate information to you.

We also respect everything you all are doing to keep our country going right now – make sure to keep an eye out for each other at work and have each other’s backs.  As always, we are in this together and we will come through it with each other. 

Union Work

Twin Rivers Paper Hoping to Work with Companies to Manufacture Paper Products for Medical Use

USW Locals 1247, 365, 4-291, 1438 & 1300 – Twin Rivers Paper – Madawaska, Maine, & Little Falls, N.Y. Twin Rivers Paper in Madawaska, Maine, typically makes paper products used in technical applications in the packaging, label and converting markets, but is looking to team up with manufacturers to also start producing the paper used in medical-grade protective masks and disinfectant wipes. A global shortage of the synthetic cloth used to make those products and the need to keep our members working provide the company with a unique opportunity to help with the global crisis.

The Madawaska mill, represented by USW Locals 1247, 365 and 4-291, already produces FDA-compliant papers used in food packaging, so it does not face the hurdles of becoming certified first. Plus, the filter-type paper that is used to make masks and cleaning wipes is already produced at the Twin Rivers Little Falls, N.Y., mill, represented by USW Locals 1438 and 1300.

The Coronavirus has put Unions in the Front of the House – Why Workers need Unions More than Ever

British newspaper, The Times, recently featured a story on USW-affiliate, Unite, and its General Secretary Len McCluskey. McCluskey helped secure the most comprehensive support package for workers in British history, as well as deals to preserve millions of jobs. The article not only highlights the immediate, tough work that unions are doing to obtain the best deal possible for workers during a time of extraordinary uncertainty, but also the unique opportunity we have to reinforce ourselves as advocates for workers whose fragile working conditions and benefits are exposed at this time.

The article states: “’Ever since the days of Margaret Thatcher, trade unions have been seen as the enemy within,’ said McCluskey…The roles of front-line workers such as NHS [National Health Service] staff has surged in importance. ‘Suddenly, CEOs are less important than the people who ensure we all eat.’” These issues are not exclusive to the United Kingdom; in the United States, we are seeing an outpouring of support for those workers who have been deemed essential and cannot work from home.

The full article from the Times can be found here: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/they-used-to-be-on-the-naughty-step-now-the-coronavirus-has-put-unions-front-of-house-wqvxhqjxj?fbclid=IwAR1k9cifQeJtHBrYam7NOE12rR1cyAne0ZCUvEBZBYCRyzHGW1oKIc4c3a4

USW Education Department and Department of Labor updated webpage of resources

The Department of Labor has an up-to-date website offering the latest news and resources from the agency on the coronavirus. Guidelines on unemployment insurance, effects on wages and hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act, protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act and support for dislocated workers, etc. can be found at the following link: https://www.dol.gov/coronavirusSee also this important webinar on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2020/webinar-on

Safety

If your facility is doing something that works around COVID-19, we want to hear about it.

We have heard one mill that is using headsets so folks do not have to be in close proximity to communicate with each other. Another mill had its time clocks changed and is using styluses so employees do not have to touch anything to clock in. Let us know if you have done anything creative or adapted any procedures at your location to help keep your members safer while working on the front lines during this crisis. Contact Laura Donovan with details: ldonovan@usw.org.

Industry Update

Domtar – Kingsport, Tenn., & Ashdown, Ark. – Domtar Idling Kingsport Mill and PM at Ashdown

USW Locals 12943, 13-1327 & 1329 – Domtar announced that it will idle its entire uncoated freesheet paper mill in Kingsport, Tenn., and the one uncoated paper machine (PM #62) at its mill in Ashdown, Ark., for three months. The PM #62 had already been down for an outage and will remain down until early July. Collectively, these mills comprise approximately 8.2 percent of U.S. uncoated freesheet paper capacity. The Ashdown mill will continue to produce pulp on its remaining machine. At Kingsport, 240 USW members will be affected, and at Ashdown, 111 will be affected.

The shutdowns are due to demand, or lack thereof, for uncoated printing and copy paper from offices and schools that closed due to the coronavirus. This market was already in a long-term decline due to electronics initiatives, and is now being especially hit hard by the global pandemic.

Tell Us Your Stories!

Has your local done something amazing? Have you had a great solidarity action? Done something huge to help your community? Made significant connections with other labor groups? Is your Women of Steel or Next Gen committee making waves? Have you had success in bargaining, major accomplishments? We all stay so busy working to improve our workplaces and communities that we often do not take 5 minutes to reflect, share and celebrate our accomplishments.

Tell us your story so we can all be part of it! Contact Laura Donovan at ldonovan@usw.org, or at 412-562-2504.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222