Monday Morning Minute: Jan. 13, 2020

Union Work

USW Your Union Your Voice

The most important work we do as a union involves bargaining and enforcing good contracts to secure fair wages, dependable benefits and safe working conditions. However, whether we like it or not, workplace health and safety, wage and overtime regulations, retirement security, especially  our rights to organize and bargain collectively, are all tied to local, state and federal laws and the people making them. 

That’s why it’s so important that our union participates in this process. The USW kicked off a series of town hall events last week in District 2, and more are scheduled throughout the union over the next several months. These town halls will give you the opportunity to tell us, in person, what issues matter most to you. Copy and paste the following link into your browser to view a map that will show you where a town hall event is scheduled nearby: https://actionnetwork.org/event_campaigns/usw-voices-townhalls. The town hall events are added as they are scheduled, so check the link often. The following link contains an online survey that you can fill out to let us know what is important to you: https://www.uswvoices.org/; you can also view the political questionnaire that we are sending to candidates across the political spectrum – Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Please see a video from International President Tom Conway on this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovufcnEf5tY&feature=youtu.be

USW Veterans of Steel Council

Several dozen USW members and staff who served in the armed forces in the United States and Canada met for the first time in October at the inaugural Veterans of Steel Council meeting. The council, which included representatives from the union's districts and staff, gathered under the leadership of International President Tom Conway, who served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force before he began his union career. They spent the day brainstorming and setting goals for moving forward work to improve the lives of their fellow veterans.

The council leadership is comprised of one staff and one USW member per district. Two paper sector members serve as council leaders: Rich Fritschka, Local 2-20, Ahlstrom-Munksjo in Kaukauna, Wis., for District 2; Chris Smith, Local 1444, International Paper in Selma, Ala., for District 9, and John Dugger, Local 608, Clearwater Paper in Lewiston, Idaho, for District 12. Several staff representatives who service paper sector locals are also coordinators for their districts. A photo of the council can be seen below.

Veterans who are interested in participating in the program can sign up to receive more information by accessing the following link: https://www.usw.org/members/veterans-of-steel to get more information and receive a free Veterans of Steel sticker. Members can also text VET to 47486.

USW Local 2-21 – Escanaba, Mich.

The employees of the Bishop Noa Nursing Home voted to join a union two years ago, and they are still waiting to obtain a first contract. The home is an amalgamated unit of USW Local 2-21, which represents Verso Corporation in Escanaba, Mich. The nursing home membership and local leadership, plus district staff and leadership, have shown their solidarity by participating in informational pickets, posting signs in their yards, etc.

Regarding the campaign, Local Union President Gerald Kell said: “Calling the organizing campaign by the Bishop Noa Home workers 'inspiring' might be an understatement. Very few, besides our brothers & sisters from Bishop Noa, can truly appreciate the resolve they've displayed throughout this multi-year battle. The other 700+ of us in Local 21 have admired it. Witnessing their tenacity and solidarity, you'd think they were seasoned veterans of the labor movement rather than a new group looking for their first contract. The Escanaba local may be rooted in our century-old paper mill but branching off to include some of the hardest working healthcare workers you'll meet, reminds us why the Steelworkers union includes members from many walks of life. We couldn't be prouder to have the Bishop Noa brothers and sisters joining Local 21; they've certainly earned it."

The below photo was taken outside of former USW  Paper Sector Vice President Richard “Dick” LaCosse’s house, who happens to live across the street from the Bishop Noa Nursing Home. LaCosse posted the photo on social media and said, “Hopefully the administration sees this sign across the street from their building. Come on Bishop Noa. Get a contract. These employees take care of our elderly. Now take care of the employees.”

Did You Know?

Paper is still the preferred mode of organizational planning by older adults, Generation Xers and Millennials. According to research, paper offers fewer distractions and leads to greater productivity than using an equivalent digital application. Also, writing information by hand promotes greater information recall. Many USW-represented members produce the uncoated paper that is used in many planners that these generations continue to use.

Safety

Chemical Safety Board Resources on Inadvertent Mixing of Chemicals

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a case study and video examining an incident that occurred after incompatible materials at a processing plant in Kansas were mixed. The mixture resulted in a chemical release containing chlorine and other compounds that traveled into the community. While the information does not specifically focus on a paper facility, our industry uses many, dangerous chemicals in the pulping and bleaching processes, and we have heard of similar incidents occurring in the sector.

The CSB’s final report includes 11 key lessons, and outlines clear safety improvements that can be implemented at similar facilities across the country. Among these are: Facilities should evaluate chemical unloading equipment and processes and implement safeguards to reduce the likelihood of an incident, while taking into account human factors issues that could impact how facility operators and drivers interact with equipment. Facility management should evaluate chemical transfer equipment and processes and, where feasible, install alarms and interlocks in the process control system that can shut down the transfer of chemicals in an emergency.

Click here to view the final report: https://www.csb.gov/csb-releases-final-report-into-chemical-release-at-mgpi-industries-report-emphasizes-key-safety-lessons-to-prevent-future-inadvertent-mixing-incidents/ and click here to view the video: https://www.csb.gov/mgpi-processing-inc-toxic-chemical-release-/.

Industry Update

Industrial Opportunity Partners Acquires Midwest Paper

USW Local 2-144 – Midwest Paper Group – Combined Locks, Wis. – On January 8, Industrial Opportunity Partners announced that it acquired Midwest Paper for an undisclosed amount. Industrial Opportunity Partners is a private equity firm based in Evanston, Ill., that focuses on middle-market manufacturing and distribution businesses. The firm has $1.6 billion in revenue across its portfolio companies, and spends between $10 and $75 million per investment.

After Appleton Coated went into receivership (a quasi-bankruptcy provision in the state of Wisconsin) in September 2017, the company re-named itself Midwest Paper instead of completely shutting down the mill. It also invested in the mill by converting two of its three machines to produce brown paper and coated containerboard, and kept its third machine producing legacy white paper. The USW paper sector and District 2 leadership were greatly involved in the ownership and transition period, which has proven to be successful.

Pixelle Specialty Solutions Names Timothy R. Hess Chief Executive Officer

According to a press release, Pixelle Specialty Solutions promoted Timothy R. Hess to the CEO position. Hess served as president of Pixelle since 2018, when the company was created through private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg’s acquisition of Glatfelter’s Specialty Papers Business Unit. Pixelle owns two mills that the USW represents in Spring Grove, Pa., (Locals 1303 and 731) and Chillicothe, Ohio, (Local 988). The company has also expressed interest in acquiring Verso’s Stevens Point, Wis., mill, which the USW also represents, and the Jay, Maine, mill, which was part of the International Paper--United Paperworkers battle in the 1980s and where the USW maintains a local to this day.

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 Jim McKay

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