Monday Morning Minute: July 1, 2019

Union Work

WestRock IMTA (Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship) Program from St. Paul Mill

Congratulations to 12 employees at the St. Paul mill who achieved a major milestone in June: They wrapped up a rigorous 18-month journey after completing their Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship (IMTA) program. This is a first-of-its-kind pilot program for the St. Paul mill and has been received with much excitement.

In February 2017, the USW approached the WestRock mill located in St. Paul, Minn., with a unique opportunity to participate in a new apprenticeship program designed specifically to enhance the skills of our front-line production workers. The local program is a product of a joint effort between the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership and the Minnesota state colleges and universities system, with sponsorship through the USW, and support of local companies such as WestRock. This 18-month program operates on a hybrid approach, including 2,736 hours of on-the-job training at the plant complemented by 264 hours of college classroom instruction.

Participants for the program were chosen through a voluntary selection process, and ranged from relatively new employees through veteran operators. They all worked in one of the plant’s various production areas. The skills acquired through this program afford benefits to the plant by enhancing the ability of operators to technically understand principles of operation. This allows them to effectively operate, optimize, and troubleshoot equipment for efficient operations. On-the-job training competencies include safety of self and others, operation of production equipment, interpretation of technical information, quality systems, measurement and inspection of work, knowledge of routine equipment maintenance, inventory and material processes, basic elements of the business, continuous improvement, and set-up of production equipment. College classroom instruction includes safety awareness, maintenance principles, manufacturing processes, quality practices, career success skills, introduction to computers, blueprint reading and technical math. 

Funding for the initial pilot program for the plant came through a national program the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored. This initial funding has since expired, so the plant has partnered with Pine Technical College and submitted a grant for funding through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. We were excited to learn that this grant was approved in June!

Recruiting efforts for the next cohort of 16 employees will begin in July, with a planned October program start date!

Pictured L to R back row: Jerry Musielewicz - Pine Technical College, Dennis Ryan, Choua Lee, Matt Johnson, Dan Dunn, Joe Costanzo, Robbie Bathke, David Vang, Brian Short, Travis Schultz. Front row: Heidi Braun - Pine Technical College, Leslie Philmon - MN Dept of Labor and Industry, Mike Gunderson - Mill Manager, Todd Dahlstrom - MN AFLCIO, Jerome Balsimo - WRTP, John O’Neil - USW local 624 President. Not pictured: Ian Larson, Mark Brown, Joe Coursolle. 

USW Local 285 – Paperworks – Wabash, IN

On June 19th, USW local 285 District 7 Wabash, IN ratified their contract with Paperworks industries. A PPO and HSA option were secured through the USW Health and Welfare Fund. Additionally, substantial pay increases were obtained, as well as 401k increases, paid birthday off, attendance bonuses, and a substantial increase in sick pay. The bargaining committee negotiated the addition of more jobs to the unit and cleaned up language over Leadmen without reducing the Union ranks. The contract was ratified overwhelmingly. Congratulations to the local and everyone involved in bargaining a new, strong contract! 

Reminder – Packaging Corporation of America Council Meeting

PCA Locals, remember to make your hotel reservations for the council meeting being held in Pittsburgh on August 14th and 15th. The mills and box shops will have the opportunity to meet as separate groups in addition to strategizing all together as a whole council. 

Click here to make your room reservation. The deadline for reservations is August 5th. 


International Paper Mill Locals Convene with Management for 10th Annual Safety Conference

The Conference in Houston began with the local leaders and full-time safety representatives from the 17 mills meeting with USW Paper Sector and the USW Safety Department to prepare for the Conference and review safety issues and initiatives. The next day and a half was spent with management counterparts with a presentation by Todd Conklin on the New View of Safety and a discussion of learning events conducted by the Valliant, OK and Orange, TX mills using Conklin’s theories. 

Mills reviewed their progress with the USW Effective Safety Committee Workshop and how they could conduct learning events in their facilities. Pre-conference survey data was presented on production pressures as a cause of knowingly performing an unsafe job or task and each mill discussed their own results and how they could improve the underlying factors surrounding production pressures. In a big step forward, the USW and IP rolled out a jointly agreed upon Right-to-Act Policy with a structure that includes components to be incorporated at each mill so that workers can raise issues with a job and ensure controls are in place to fail safely. 

USW Health, Safety and Environment Conference Hotel Update

The Omni William Penn overflow Hotel is now full, as is the Westin Convention Center Hotel, which we previously announced. Click here for more information on making a room reservation at the remaining overflow hotels. 

Also, as a reminder, we will hold a Paper Sector Meeting on Monday, September 9th at 5:30 pm, so please plan your arrival accordingly. 

Industry Update 

Maine to Enact Styrofoam Ban in 2021

USW Local 449 – Huhtamaki – Waterville, ME – The state of Maine is enacting a ban on disposable food containers made out of polystyrene, aka Styrofoam, in convenience stores, grocery stores, food trucks, farm stands, and coffee shops. The ban will begin on January 1, 2021 and some Maine businesses have already started to convert to more sustainable takeout container options like those produced at the Huhtamaki Mill located in Waterville, ME. 

The Huhtamaki Waterville Mill produces molded fiber for applications like protective packaging for lightbulbs and eggs, and food service paper plates. One of its biggest selling items, which have increased in production due to the nation-wide movement away from Styrofoam lunch trays, is compostable school lunch trays. The Mill employs approximately 450 USW members. 

The following article the ban and includes information on the science of alternative products and an interview with USW District 4 Staff Representative of the Huhtamaki Waterville Mill, Michael Higgins. 

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 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