Monday Morning Minute: March 1, 2021

Union Work

PIUMPF and Other Bargained Pension Plans are One Step Closer to Receiving Aid from Inclusion of “Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021” in COVID Relief Package

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the new reconciliation COVID-19 relief package. In addition to providing direct payments to Americans who need it, granting money for worker protections via dedicated funding to OSHA, and helping schools, the bill also includes the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021. The bill is now heading to the Senate for a vote and we need your help asking your Senators to quickly pass it as-is.

“Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021” 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.

Passing the relief package is expected be a bigger challenge in the Senate, and because of that, Congress is using a process called reconciliation to get it through as it only requires a simple majority to overcome and is not subject to a filibuster requiring a supermajority, or 60 votes. Reconciliation has historically been used on both sides of the political aisle in situations where there are budget implications. USW Rapid Response Director Amber Miller, and USW Legislative Director Roy Houseman, released an informative video detailing the reconciliation process that you can view at the following link: https://m.facebook.com/steelworkers/videos/467859364388614/?refsrc=https%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com%2Fwatch%2F&_rdr.

We need the Senate to quickly pass the COVID relief bill as it stands in order to combat the pandemic and provide aid to struggling multiemployer pension plans like PIUMPF. 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. Or, use the following link to send an email to your Senators asking them to pass the COVID Relief Package without amendments: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-the-senate-to-pass-the-covid-relief-package.

Courts Grant Preliminary Approval to Class Action Settlement in Retiree Life Insurance Case at Verso’s Closed Wickliffe Mill

Last week, the USW received notice that a judge in the 6th Circuit of United States Court of Appeals granted preliminary approval to a class action settlement for retirees who worked at Verso’s closed Wickliffe, Ky. mill. The settlement awards a $2,750 life insurance benefit for Wickliffe retirees who enroll by June 1 and a $3,000 payment to survivors of Wickliffe retirees who died since the benefit was terminated.

Verso closed the Wickliffe mill in June 2016. Following the closure, the company sent employees notice that their life insurance coverage under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) would terminate effective December 31, 2016. The USW filed a petition stating that employees who retired under the terms of the agreement should be entitled to receive benefits for their lifetime, rather than only for the duration of the CBA. In December 2018, the court decided in favor of the petition and the USW and Verso reached a settlement agreement, which included the motion to certify it as a class involving a group of impacted retirees. After a period of deliberation over the exact list of impacted retirees, the two parties jointly filed the motion for resolution.

While the process took several years to navigate, the settlement is a win considering the state of the 6th Circuit law. As a result, 150 retirees of the Wickliffe mill will receive the life insurance benefit and a handful of survivors of deceased retirees will receive payment. The USW continues to fight for the earned benefits of our current and former members that are rightfully-owed; in situations like this one, we are the only line of defense that folks have after their place of employment shuts down. Sometimes these wins take years to come to fruition, but the work of the union continues for the lifetime of the membership.

Safety

USW Health Care Workers Council Town Hall on Vaccines

The COVID-19 vaccines are in the news and some of our workplaces. As the various vaccines become more available, questions about their safety, efficacy and impact on workers’ rights will arise. To help navigate these questions in health care, the United Steelworkers Health Care Workers Council and the Tony Mazzocchi Center are hosting a town hall with subject matter experts from the USW’s Legal and Health, Safety and Environment Departments. The event will also be joined by one of the USW’s long-time consulting occupational physicians, Dr. Steven Markowitz.

The town hall will take place on Tuesday, March 9 at 1:00 p.m. eastern. While this is an event geared toward health care workers in the union, all are welcome to join. You may hear something that could be applicable to your own worksite or personal daily life. Register for the event at the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_eoG7njl1TJuSNG8bdQUWcw.

Industry Update

Major Modernization Project Planned at White Mountain Paper

USW Local 4-75 – White Mountain Paper Company – Gorham, N.H. – Last month, the new owner of White Mountain Paper (formerly Gorham Paper and Tissue) announced that there will be a major investment made at the site in Gorham, N.H. The project will focus on modernizing existing tissue operations at the 130-year-old mill. A significant portion of the current footprint will be torn down and then later expanded. Old boilers will be replaced with fuel-efficient ones that will also be more environmentally-friendly. The company will continue to operate throughout the modernization process, though will be exiting the away-from-home tissue market to focus on consumer bath, towel and other tissue paper.

The USW worked to get the contract recognized when the company had filed for bankruptcy prior to its acquisition by new owners.

USW-Represented Mills Impacted by Winter Storms

Winter storms in mid-February impacted several USW-represented mills across Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Graphic Packaging in Texarkana, Texas (USW Locals 1148 & 1149) and West Monroe, La. (USW Locals 364 & 654) experienced unplanned downtime and power disruptions. The Texarkana mill produces solid bleached sulfate paperboard and West Monroe produces solid unbleached sulfate.

Clearwater Paper’s pulp and paperboard mill in Cypress Bend, Ark. (USW Locals 13-1533 & 1532) suspended operations when natural gas deliveries were curtailed as providers prioritized residential needs. Shipments out of the mill have since resumed. Domtar, last week, issued a “force majeure” at its Ashdown, Ark., pulp mill (USW Locals 13-1327 & 1329), which is a contractual clause that exempts either party from liability or obligations when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond control occurs. Unanticipated damage to the mill and natural gas supply issues in Arkansas were factors in the idling of the mill.

This is not an exhaustive list of all outages that occurred due to the winter storms, but the major companies that had earnings calls and made public announcements.

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