Monday Morning Minute: Jan. 25, 2021

INCIDENT ALERT

USW Local 1069 – Sappi – Westbrook, Maine

On January 20, a USW member suffered an amputation to his finger when it became stuck between a core and a shaft while working on the winder machine at the Sappi specialty paper mill in Westbrook, Maine. The force of the injury caused the member’s finger to be severed at the tip.

The local and district are working together with the USW Health, Safety and Environment Department to determine the root cause of the incident as well as corrective actions, which may be shared as a hazard alert in the future.

Union Work

Georgia-Pacific Mills & First Grouping of Box Locals Hold Council Meetings

Over 50 Georgia-Pacific mill local leaders and staff met virtually for the first time as a council over Zoom on January 19, and the first assigned grouping of box locals met in a series of four videoconferences on January 21. The mills and box locals are beginning to develop bargaining agendas for their respective master agreements, both of which were extended last year due to logistical restrictions attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups also discussed items like health care, overtime and the formation of sub-committees to dig into issues requiring pre-discussion with corporate representatives.

USW Strategic Campaigns staffers are working with both groups to assess each local’s strength; the department is also working on signing up members to a text messaging system that will be used to provide updates leading up to, during and after bargaining. While preparing for bargaining looks different these days, we’ve been able to utilize virtual meetings and technology across our paper councils to stay engaged and prepared.

At-Home COVID-19 Tests are Close to being Paper-Based

Two research teams are continuing to develop a quick, reliable diagnostic paper test for the COVID-19 virus. At the University of Pennsylvania, an assistant professor and his team developed a paper-based biosensor that detects COVID-19 from saliva and samples from the nose and throat. The initial version of the test, called DETECT 1.0, provides results in four minutes with nearly 100 percent accuracy, and costs less than $5 to produce. Clinical trials for the test began January 5, and could take about a month to complete.

As reported by News-Medical.Net, another team at the University of Maryland is developing a paper-based electrochemical sensor that similarly uses saliva and nasal swab samples, in addition to producing results in less than five minutes. The test is being developed for commercialization, and there are initial discussions with interested parties for its technology.

The need for rapid diagnostic tests along with accessibility to diagnostic centers have been two major hurdles for containing the novel coronavirus. Paper-based tests that are affordable and taken at home, akin to an over-the-counter pregnancy test, could hold the key to identifying positive COVID-19 cases within minutes.

Safety

USW Applauds Worker-Friendly Choices for OSHA Leadership Roles

Last week, President Joe Biden announced his choices for leadership positions in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including former USW Health, Safety and Environment Assistant Department Head, James Frederick. Frederick, who will serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, comes to the job following three decades of work to improve worker health and safety, including 25 years in the USW’s health, safety and environment department. 

“There is no stronger advocate for worker safety in this country than Jim Frederick,” said USW International President Tom Conway. “He brings to OSHA not just a deep commitment to safer workplaces for all Americans, but the expertise and experience to get the job done right.”

Until 2019, Frederick served as assistant director and principal investigator for the USW’s health, safety and environment department. In that role, he provided oral and written testimony to congressional panels and federal agencies that led to progress on countless workplace safety issues, including workplace violence, beryllium, silica, hazard communication and ergonomics.

“There has been a void in our executive branch of our government that we will finally see filled,” Conway said. “Working Americans deserve leaders of intellect and empathy who not only understand what it’s like to work for a living, but who will fight for the rights, health, safety and well-being of them and their families.”

To read the full press release from the USW, click here: https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/releases/2021/usw-applauds-worker-friendly-choices-for-osha-leadership-roles.

Industry Update

Pulp Prices are Surging as Markets Tighten

Pulp prices have surged sharply in January with the market seeing the biggest month over month increase in the industry’s collective memory. Domtar made the biggest domestic price hike announcement in years, declaring a $110-$130/mt increase to take place on February 1 for northern bleached softwood kraft/southern bleached softwood kraft, as well as $65 on fluff pulp.

Strong domestic and export demand from China combined with low inventories due in part to unexpected mill downtime drove prices up. Analysts expect another price increase soon and that the spike will create short-term pressure on margins for nonintegrated paper and tissue producers that buy market pulp for their operations.

Containerboard Markets Remain Tight Amid Strong Demand and Unusually Low Operating Rates

Containerboard demand has remained strong after a surge in the second half of 2020, which led producers to increase prices for the first time in 2.5 years. Analysts are anticipating another price hike in the coming months. While conditions remain tight this year, it is unclear how new capacity via grade/machine conversions and general interest from companies to capitalize on the strong market, will impact conditions as we progress through the year and subsequent years.

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