Monday Morning Minute: May 18, 2020

Union Work

Your Union, Your Voice Feedback

In January, the USW launched a multi-part initiative, Your Union, Your Voice. A key part of this effort was to solicit feedback from members and retirees on the issues that are most important to you so we can focus our Legislative and Rapid Response work on them.

Through a national survey and roughly 170 town hall meetings held across the nation, you shared your priorities. Here’s what you told us are our core issues:

-Healthcare –Affordable health care and prescription drugs.

-Retirement Security –Retirement security that includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

-Workers’ Rights –Labor laws that support our ability to form unions and negotiate strong contracts.

Healthcare received the highest rating in the survey with 87 percent of respondents rating it as “very important.” Regular comments included those like: “Costs go up while benefits go down” or “we’re paying more, but getting less.” Others expressed worry for un-or under-insured family members and friends who are shouldering devastating costs incurred from illness or injury.

Eighty-six percent (86%) of respondents rated retirement security as “very important,” At town hall meetings, active and retired members discussed protecting what we’ve got, whether that’s Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, retiree health care benefits or pensions.

Labor rights, including bargaining, contract enforcement and organizing rights rated third highest with 81 percent of respondents saying it is “very important.”

Many town hall attendees noted concern for the generally weakened state of labor laws in recent decades, including the increasing number of states that have adopted right to work laws. They expressed frustration with the direction of the current, pro-business National Labor Relations Board and its rapid and systematic unraveling of the protections we’ve won.

Click to see the survey results on the USW website: 

New Fact Sheet from Two Sides on Why Paper Bags are “The Natural Choice”

Two Sides is a global initiative started by companies, including those that are USW-represented and that advocate for the sustainability of forestry, pulp, paper, envelopes and other businesses within the sector.

The organization released a new fact sheet on our collective overconsumption of plastic bags and how paper bags are the more sustainable option.

Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and very little plastic is recycled –only about 8.4 percent in the U.S. That means that debris from plastic is ending up in our oceans and parts of the food chain. According to the fact sheet, plastic grocery bags are the seventh most significant item found on U.S. beaches, followed by other types of plastic bags.

Conversely, paper-based goods produced in a sustainable manner come from a renewable natural resource –trees, the product of sunlight, soil, nutrients and water. And, paper is the most recycled material in North America with a recovery rate of 68 percent in the U.S.

Nearly 2,000 USW paperworkers represented by 18 different locals across the country make paper grocery and multi-wall bags, or produce the pulp that goes into those products.

Click here for more information from the fact sheet.

Safety

COVID-19 Controls Document

The USW paper sector leadership team, along with the Health, Safety and Environment Department, held conference calls with local mill and converter leaders and staff to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal of these conference calls was to learn about the effects of the coronavirus directly from the field and to gain insight into what is and is not working in our workplaces.

After holding conference calls with our mill local leadership, we previously reported on controls being used at those sites, like using headsets to communicate without workers being in close contact with each other, and the use of stylus pens instead of fingers to eliminate touching screens in common areas.

We have since held conference calls with local leadership and staff of converters and discovered new controls specific to those sites. Attached please find the updated list of “controls” that are helping to make our workplaces safer.

If there is any information that you’d like to share about things your facility is doing well, please send Eric Licht an email toelicht@usw.org.

We will continue to update and share this document periodically. It is important that we continue to learn from each other during these unprecedented times.

OSHA Launches Inspection at Pixelle paper mill in Jay, ME, after Digester Explosion

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened an inspection at the Pixelle Specialty Solutions mill located in Jay, Maine, two days after one of its two pulp digesters exploded.

The mill employs approximately 500 workers, 200 of whom were on site at the time of the incident and, miraculously, no one was injured; however, it did cause wood fiber mixed with pulping liquor to rain down on the mill and surrounding area. The mill suffered severe damage but not to the paper machines and was able to restart on April 23.

While the Androscoggin mill is currently non-union, it had been represented by the United Paperworkers International Union (now USW) until the late 1980s when it was owned by International Paper. The mill’s ownership has changed several times since then and most recently was purchased by Pixelle Specialty Solutions earlier this year.

This digester incident is not the first of its kind. In January 2017, the USW-represented International Paper mill in Pensacola, Fla., experienced a similar incident when a continuous digester connected to its fluff pulp line exploded.

The investigation by OSHA can take up to six months to complete, and we will share the results of those findings when they are made available.

Industry Update

USW Local 445 –Flambeau River Papers –Park Falls, WI –Flambeau River Papers to Resume Operations

The City of Park Falls, Wis., where the Flambeau River Papers mill is located, is loaning $1 million to resume operations at the site. The fate of the mill has been a rollercoaster of a journey after going into Chapter 128 receivership status last year.

The company experienced several rounds of painful layoffs, and a few promising deals to keep the mill open fell through. The USW paper sector leadership was heavily involved during the process. The mill has been idle since November 2019 when Niagara Worldwide purchased the property and assets. At the time, it was unclear what the plans for the mill were.

The bridge loan between the city and Park Falls Development –the company now listed as owning the mill –is meant to provide short-term financing until the company can secure long-term financing. If and when workers are brought back, the USW will maintain representation.

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