Monday Morning Minute: Nov. 24, 2020

Union Work

Drug Testing Arbitration Award Win and Subsequent Reversal of Judge’s Decision to Vacate Award

USW Local 9-952 – Georgia-Pacific – Naheola, Ala. – USW Local 9-952 representing the Georgia-Pacific mill in Naheola, Ala., won an arbitration award dealing with the termination of a member after a positive drug test. The local also won an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals 11th Circuit after the arbitration award was overturned, or vacated, in the District Court.  The member accidentally took his wife’s cough syrup with codeine rather than his own over-the-counter cough syrup without codeine. The codeine showed up in a random drug test and the member was terminated.

An arbitrator found that the company lacked just cause to prove that the member’s ingestion of the codeine was purposeful, and was instead, accidental. He ordered Georgia-Pacific to reinstate the member with backpay except for a 90-day suspension. However, the company turned to the district court for assistance and the arbitrator’s decision was vacated on the premise that he had exceeded his authority under the contract between the union and Georgia-Pacific. The district court reasoned, once the arbitrator determined that the member had failed a drug test, he had no authority to determine that no just cause for termination existed. The court concluded that the just cause standard was satisfied when the member failed the drug test because the contract’s language allowed Georgia-Pacific to fire any employee who failed one.

The USW appealed to the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals the district court’s decision to vacate the arbitration award. As courts may only vacate an arbitrator’s decision in very unusual circumstances, the circuit upheld that the arbitrator arguably interpreted the contract and, accordingly, that his decision should not have been vacated. It was determined that, though the arbitrator understood the portion of the contract concerning discharge for positive drug test results differently than the district court did, the arbitrator didn’t ignore or modify that language; accordingly, the arbitrator’s original decision was upheld and the member was reinstated. 

The outcome of this case is a win for labor as circuit decisions can often have broad-reaching implications on the legal system, including overturning NLRB decisions, and the member had made an innocent mistake.  It is also important to note the importance of worker-friendly judges on our courts.


U.S. Department of Labor Updates Frequently Asked Questions to Address Cloth Face Coverings as Personal Protective Equipment

Via a November 18 press release, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration published an update to its Frequently Asked Questions to address whether OSHA considers cloth face coverings to be personal protective equipment. The agency is addressing the topic after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently determined that some cloth face coverings may serve as source control while also providing the wearer with some personal protection.

The FAQ states that OSHA does not believe enough information is currently available to determine if a particular cloth face covering provides sufficient protection from the coronavirus hazard to be personal protective equipment under OSHA's standard. OSHA's determination is consistent with statements made by the CDC, which has stated it needs more research on cloth facemasks' protective effects, particularly on the combination of materials that maximize blocking and filtering effectiveness.

OSHA continues to encourage workers strongly to wear face coverings when in close contact with others to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus, if it is appropriate for the work environment. To view the updated OSHA COVID-19 FAQ list, cick here:

Visit OSHA's COVID-19 webpage for further information and resources about the coronavirus:

OSHA Winter Weather Guide

As we approach the winter season, it is important to keep in mind the accompanying hazards. In addition to cold stress, there are other winter weather-related hazards that workers may be exposed to when performing tasks such as driving in the snow, removing snow from rooftops, and working near downed or damaged power lines. Many of these winter weather-related hazards exist in the paper sector.

Drivers may skid, or lose control of their vehicles, more easily when driving on snow and/or ice-covered roads. To promote work zone safety, it is, therefore, important to properly set up work zones with the traffic controls identified by signs, cones, barrels and barriers to protect workers. Workers exposed to vehicular traffic should wear the appropriate high visibility vest at all times, so that they can be visible to motorists. To prevent slips, trips and falls on snow and ice, employers should clear walking surfaces of snow and ice, and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm. In addition, the following precautions will help reduce the likelihood of injuries:

To read more on winter-weather hazards like clearing snow from roofs and working at heights, and accompanying OSHA recommendations, click here:

Industry Update

Schweitzer-Mauduit to Close Specialty Paper Mill in Spotswood, N.J.

USW Local 1482 – Schweitzer-Mauduit – Spotswood, N.J. – Schweitzer-Mauduit announced it would close its specialty, cigarette paper mill located in Spotswood, N.J., by the end of this year. The facility has produced lower ignition propensity paper with fire safe bands as a safety-design feature, which self-extinguishes a cigarette if it’s not being smoked. The company’s primary customer is switching to a different type of banded paper that is not supported at the Spotswood facility. The USW represents approximately 75 members at the facility, and district staff have been involved in effects bargaining.

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