Monday Morning Minute: March 15, 2021

Union Work

Significance of the Passage of the American Recovery Act and Butch Lewis Provisions

We previously reported the importance of passing the American Recovery Act, inclusive of Butch Lewis pension protection measures, and asked you to contact your legislators demanding that they vote in favor of the bill; as of last week, we can thankfully say that the bill passed both chambers of Congress, and President Biden signed it into law.

Included in the package is the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021, which protects the pensions of 120,000 active USW members and retirees and the 200 groups that participate, or have participated in PIUMPF. The law ensures these pensions are fully funded for at least 30 years. In addition, this law allows healthy plans to better account for the pandemic, and helps ensure their solvency for the future. Years of work went into saving these multi-employer pensions. We know these are deferred wages for folks who count on them for their retirement security; they earned them and were in danger of losing them at no fault of their own. It’s a very big deal.

The implications of passing the American Recovery Act cannot be overstated. As USW International President Tom Conway stated: “This is perhaps one of the most family-friendly and work-focused rescue plans passed and signed by a President since the New Deal.”

Biden Administration Strongly Supports H.R. 842 – Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021

On March 9, the Biden Administration released a memo stating that it strongly supports the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, and urged Congress to send the bill to his desk to sign.

The move signaled the White House’s preference for the outcome of the bill, and the following day, it passed in the U.S. House of Representatives; now, it will move over to the Senate for consideration.

The PRO Act would strengthen the Federal laws that protect workers’ right to organize a union and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

It would also allow the National Labor Relations Board to assess penalties on employers who violate workers’ right to organize, and ensures that workers who suffer retaliation for exercising these rights receive immediate relief.

The legislation would help rebuild unions, giving a stronger voice to increase wages, improve the quality of jobs, ensure job security, protect against racial and all other forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, and safeguard workers’ health, safety, and benefits in the workplace. In his memo to Congress, President Biden also declares that unions are critical to strengthening our economic competitiveness.

Paper Correspondence Is Bridging the Digital Divide in Vaccine Rollout

At this early stage of the mass vaccine rollout, the bulk of communications about eligibility, local access and scheduling is happening only online. Vaccine supplies are being dispensed as quickly as local health partners receive them, even as alarms are sounding about vulnerable populations having serious challenges accessing critical communications that allow them to secure their lifesaving medicine. Enormous populations do not have broadband availability or affordable access, do not have the devices, nor have the facility to navigate obstacle courses of websites and apps.

Examples of paper being utilized during the vaccine rollout include letters delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, which are informing those who served in our military of their eligibility, and how and where to schedule and receive their vaccines because the Veterans Administration established inclusive communications policies. Mailed invitations for vaccine appointments are being sent to patients of the Mayo Clinic as soon as they are eligible, and with regional health systems like Essentia Health, based in North Dakota, and DuPage Medical Group, serving populations surrounding Chicago, doing similar off-line outreach.

At this early stage of the mass vaccine rollout, the bulk of communications about eligibility, local access and scheduling is happening only online. For more information, click here: https://keepmepostedna.org/paper-correspondence-is-bridging-the-digital-divide-in-vaccine-rollout/ 

Safety

CDC Issues First Set of Guidelines

On March 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first set of recommendations on activities that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely resume. The new guidance—which is based on the latest science — includes recommendations for how and when a fully vaccinated individual can visit with other people who are fully vaccinated and with other people who are not vaccinated.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the last required dose of vaccine. Those who are fully vaccinated may freely:

This guidance represents a first step toward returning to everyday activities in our communities. CDC will update these recommendations as more people are vaccinated, rates of COVID-19 in the community change and additional scientific evidence becomes available.

Industry Update

PCA Jackson Mill Permanently Converting PM to Linerboard

USW Locals 361 & 1083 – Packaging Corporation of America – Jackson, Ala. – Packaging Corporation of America announced recently that the J3 paper machine at its mill in Jackson, Ala., will be permanently converted to produce virgin unbleached kraft linerboard.

Late last year, the company decided to switch the machine’s production between white uncoated free sheet (UFS) paper and brown linerboard. The Jackson mill employs approximately 350 USW members.

The conversion is expected to take 36 months and cost about $440 million. The project will almost double the machine’s current capacity from m365,000 tons/yr to 700,000 tons/yr and will run at its current containerboard production rate for the next 12-15 months until the scheduled first phase outage is taken in the second quarter of 2022.

After that point, the converted machine is expected to operate at a rate of 75 percent of capacity. The second phase outage is planned for mid-2023, with the machine reaching its run-rate capacity by the end of 2023.

As part of the conversion, the company will install an old corrugated container (OCC) plant and make a number of pulp mill and machine modifications.

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