Legislative Victories That Don’t Make The Headlines

When it comes to lawmaking, good things don’t just happen. Rather, it often takes leverage and hard work to get a victory, even when a majority of the general public is on our side.

And, when good – or bad – government decisions impact us, they don’t always make the headlines. 

Read on for recent actions that haven’t always made the headlines.

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Pensions of 120,000 active and retired members protected

The American Rescue Plan provided many needed resources to help struggling workers and communities across the nation.

One of its most significant provisions is a resolution to a decade-long battle to shore up multiemployer pensions that were in distress from unfair trade, financial crisis and other factors.

Once-in-a-generation win on infrastructure investment.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act became law on November 15, 2021, during a signing ceremony at the White House that was kicked off by a USW member.

This law is an investment in our roads, bridges, ports, water systems, broadband, and more.

It has the power to create and sustain USW jobs found throughout the infrastructure supply chain, while improving the safety and health of our communities and economic competitiveness.

New, pro-worker direction at the National Labor Relations Board

Throughout the previous administration, we saw a continual weakening of workers’ rights at the hands of the National Labor Relations Board and its general counsel, Peter Robb.

In moves large and small, they chipped away at our bargaining ability, gave more power to companies, and generally weakened unions.

As one of the current President’s first moves on Inauguration Day, he forced Robb to vacate the post.

Since then, a new general counsel and two board members are in place. All have union backgrounds. Their appointments are rebalancing the Board away from pro-corporate interests and toward workers’ rights.

American manufacturing commitment

An executive order set out standards for strengthening domestic manufacturing requirements for federally-funded projects while establishing a Made in America office to review any request to bypass the rules and maximize domestically-manufactured components for federal projects.

Subsequent legislation established the office under law so that it can’t be eliminated by a future Administration. Celeste Drake, whose expertise helped guide the labor movement on trade fights, heads the office.

Union member leads the Department of Labor

Marty Walsh joined the Laborers’ Union at the age of 21, rising to lead the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council.

He brought strong pro-labor values to his positions as a Massachusetts state representative and the mayor of Boston.

Walsh has personally joined with USW members to fight for infrastructure investment, listen to our stories about the hurdles in forming unions, and more.

Workers’ rights advancement

A new interagency task force on worker organizing and empowerment is harnessing the power of all government agencies to help workers understand their rights, defend workers when they face illegal retaliation for union activity, shine a light on employers who hire antiunion firms to break unions, lift up the economic impact of unions, and more.

The USW played a role in this work, including participation in an in-person forum where members shared their worker organizing challenges.

Steelworker in critical role at OSHA

Jim Frederick, the long-time assistant director and principal investigator for the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, is helping to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Having one of our own, who understands our industries and our challenges, in a critical position safeguarding worker health and safety is excellent news for our union and working people everywhere.

USW health and safety priorities advance

Over 5,000 workers in the U.S. are killed on the job each year, and an additional 100,000 die of occupational disease. When laws to protect workers become outdated, government agencies can – but don’t always – add new scientific, economic or industry expertise to update them through the rulemaking process, resulting in new standards (a.k.a. regulations or rules).

Our union is always fighting for improvements that will keep our members alive, safe and disease-free. A number of our priorities are currently moving forward, including rules that would:

  • control workplace exposures to Covid-19 among healthcare workers; 
  • extend the protections we won to limit silica exposure in OSHA-covered workplaces to also include workers covered by the Mine Safety and Health Administration; and 
  • achieve a new standard for exposure to workplace heat. 

The process can be long. When final, these new rules will save lives.

Trade changes

After significant USW involvement, a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement became law in early 2020. Labor reforms in Mexico were written into the revised agreement – now called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

In February 2022, thousands of workers at the country’s largest General Motors plant utilized this change in policy as they won a historic vote to elect an independent union. This marks a break from a tradition of corrupt unions tied to elites who cut deals with corporations to keep wages and benefits low. It was the first such election under the USMCA, and an example of how trade can lift up workers, rather than fuel a race to the bottom. Our union lent support to the fight.

Increased wages

A new executive order raises the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $15 an hour, helping to lift hundreds of thousands of workers from poverty.