Monday Morning Minute: March 8, 2021

Union Work

Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act Has Passed the Senate

On Saturday, the COVID Relief package passed in the Senate chamber, inclusive of the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act provision. The bill will move back over to the House due to certain amendments that were made, but is expected to pass easily, and then it will go on to President Biden’s desk to be signed.

Passage of the COVID relief bill means that not only will millions of Americans who have struggled financially throughout the pandemic receive much-needed aid, but millions more who have pension benefits owed to them through a multi-employer plan will also have security in their retirement. Now, the pensions at over 200 sites in the USW paper sector will be protected, and over 120,000 current and retired members across the union will maintain the retirement benefits that they can count on. The long-sought pension protection measures through the Butch Lewis provisions will provide plans in critical status with enough financial assistance to stay solvent and funded for 30 years—with no cuts to the earned benefits of participants and beneficiaries.

Since the economic crash of 2008 when Wall Street was bailed out but main street was not, the USW has dedicated years of work to find solutions for troubled plans in critical status, like PIUMPF, so that our members have long-term security in their bargained retirement benefits. Over the years, we worked directly with government agencies like the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, other unions, legislators and our own membership to educate and mobilize coordinated actions. This is a huge victory for the union and USW paperworkers that will result in stability for our current and retired members so that we can focus on the next fight.

Thank you to everyone who made calls and kept the pressure on our Senators last week!!

USW Win over Union Recognition at Ox Industries White Pigeon Mill

USW Local 1034 – Ox Industries – White Pigeon, Mich. – Last year, Ox Industries acquired the White Pigeon Paper Mill located in White Pigeon, Mich., after its previous owner, Graphic Packaging, closed the site. In late September, Ox announced that it had successfully restarted the mill, but also detailed that it would not recognize the existing bargaining unit. The contract did not have a successorship provision requiring Ox to recognize the contract and continue employment of the workers.

District 2, the USW paper sector and our legal department took action. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently issued an injunction over charges that Ox filed over its duty to bargain. The NLRB subsequently determined that the company has a bargaining obligation with the union because it hired a majority of the workforce during its purchase of the location. The settlement directs Ox to rescind any changes made to employees’ wages and other benefits since last October, which was when the USW filed a complaint with the Board.

Despite limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the other two USW-represented sites of Ox Industries – located in Pekin, Ill., and Carthage, N.Y. – stood in solidarity with the membership in White Pigeon, Mich. Due to continued pressure by USW legal counsel and work at all levels of the union, the White Pigeon Mill will retain the membership’s collectively bargained benefits and union representation.

USW Women of Steel Webinar TONIGHT

On Today, International Women’s Day, We Recognize, Celebrate and Honor all the Women In our Union --USW Women of Steel is hosting a webinar tonight at 7:30 p.m. eastern/6:30 p.m. central titled "The Origin Stories of Women of Steel".

Celebrate International Women’s Day by learning the history of Women of Steel. The webinar will be facilitated by Women of Steel Director Ann Flener, and features a panel discussion with International Vice President Leeann Foster, former USW International Vice President at Large Carol Landry, International Vice President Leeann Foster, Roberta Wood, Wanda Howard and many others.

The webinar begins at 7:30 p.m. eastern and will run until 9:00 p.m. If you are interested, please register for the webinar at the following link: http://usw.to/3p8

Safety

Safety Violation Arbitration Award Win

USW Local 1398 – International Paper – Orange, Texas – International Paper discharged a grievant with 17 years of service for two lockout/tag-out safety violations. In the first incident, he unlocked the Junk Tower without ensuring the Manway was closed. In the second incident, he started up the OCC plant without verifying that the motors had been megged by Electrical & Instrumentation (E&I) workers. (Megging is the process of testing the electrical current through a wire for a certain period of time.)

In this case, when the grievant started the OCC plant, the E&I person was in the ER room completing the meg sheets when the equipment started. It was the operator’s responsibility to verify the motors had been megged before starting up the equipment, but there is no written policy, with violation terms, on megging motors for production employees. The local president also testified that no one has ever been disciplined for starting up a motor without it bring megged.

The Manway was specifically mentioned by supervision prior to the shutdown. The Manway door open could have allowed scalding water to splash on coworkers. The arbitrator applied the seven criteria tests in arbitration: 1) Was the employee forewarned? 2) Is the employer’s position with respect to employee’s conduct reasonable? 3) Did the employer conduct an investigation before discharge? 4) Was the investigation fair? 5) Did substantial evidence support the charge against the employee? 6) Did the discharge involve discrimination? 7) Was the degree of discipline reasonably related to the nature of the offense and the employee’s past record?

The arbitrator found that the penalty was too harsh and that failure to write down the requirement for the motor mitigated the offense. The arbitrator ruled that the grievance is sustained and that the company reinstate the grievant to his former position and be made whole on all lost wages and benefits including seniority.

Industry Update

WestRock Chattanooga Mill Experiences Two-Alarm Fire

USW Local 362 – WestRock – Chattanooga, Tenn. – The USW-represented WestRock Chattanooga Mill experienced a two-alarm fire on February 28 in the exhaust fan system. Fire crews were called to execute an exterior attack on the vent and an interior attack in the ductwork where it could have easily spread to the rest of the mill. Fortunately, while there were workers inside at the time of the fire, everyone was evacuated safely and there were no injuries.

Graphic Packaging Launches New Plastic-Free, Recyclable Paperboard Packaging Product

Due to its inherent, sustainable nature, paper makes a great substitute in products that would typically be reserved for plastic construction.

Graphic Packaging recently demonstrated this quality with its latest recyclable paperboard packaging product called “Cap-It.” Cap-It is a clip with neck rings for multipack polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or recycled (rPET) bottles.

The paperboard clip, made of renewable materials, is an alternative to traditional shrink film packaging, increasing recyclability of the overall pack to 100 percent.

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