President's Perspective Archive

We’re Here. And We’re Strong.

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

We’re Here. And We’re Strong.

Donneta Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025 and a longtime optical fiber maker at the Corning plant in Wilmington, N.C., knows how important it is for workers intent on forming a union to speak directly with peers who walk in the same shoes.

So Williams agreed to send three of her colleagues to Corning’s Tarboro facility, about 145 miles away, when workers at that site approached the union with questions about organizing.

Local 1025 members shared firsthand accounts of how the union boosted their wages, gave them a voice and kept them safe on the job. And about two weeks ago, the workers at Tarboro filed for an election to join the USW.

They’re among a growing number of workers across the South eager to leverage the power of solidarity and build brighter futures, even as CEOs and Republicans in this part of the country still conspire to hold them down.

“It’s all about making life better,” said Williams, who also serves as a vice president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, noting that workers are organizing across numerous industries in a string of Southern states with traditionally low numbers of union members.

“The narrative on unions in the South needs to change,” she added, pointing out that growing numbers of workers are grasping the benefits of collective action and demanding their fair share in the booming post-pandemic economy.

“We’re here,” she said. “We’re strong. We’re standing up, and we’re fighting with all that we have.”

About 1,400 workers at the Blue Bird electric bus factory in Fort Valley, Ga., last year voted overwhelmingly to organize through the USW.

The vote was a breakthrough for workers on the front lines of a vital, growing industry. It also sent a pointed, defiant message to a Republican governor who lies about unions and tries to prevent Georgians from joining them.

On the heels of that monumental victory, autoworkers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., overcame Republican opposition and voted by a huge majority last month to unionize.

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Solidarity Sends the Bullies Packing

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Sends the Bullies Packing

Management at Amfuel tried to bully Jo Tucker and her 200 co-workers—most of them Black women, a number of them single moms—into accepting dozens of unnecessary concessions in a new contract.

For four years, however, the manufacturing workers in Magnolia, Ark., remained strong and resolute as the company tried to break the union and wear them down.

And then, just as the workers prepared to launch an unfair labor practice strike a couple of weeks ago, Amfuel surrendered. Because of their unflinching solidarity, the workers beat back the concessions and won a contract with life-changing raises, additional holidays and other benefit enhancements.

“We didn’t lose anything,” noted Tucker, a negotiating committee member and the financial secretary for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 607L. “That was good.”

Employers frequently try to kill morale, punish workers, or force them into concessionary contracts by dragging their feet at the bargaining table. But as union members at Amfuel and other companies prove time and again, a united front sends the bullies packing.

“We all hung in there together,” Tucker said of the workers, who make fuel cells for military helicopters and fighter jets. “It wasn’t easy. But we prevailed, and I thank God that we did.”

“It was teamwork,” she added. “Everybody was working together.”

As the workers geared up for bargaining in 2020, Amfuel received an infusion of money from new investors and additional support from the Defense Department and local community leaders. The company embarked on a growth plan, intending to rely ever more heavily on the skilled work force. It even bragged publicly about giving workers a bigger voice on the job.

Yet Amfuel stunned workers with a contract proposal demanding nearly 70 concessions.

Among other untenable proposals, Amfuel wanted to abolish seniority, reduce vacation pay and eliminate the grievance process, which would have made it easier for management to try to eliminate workers for any reason or none at all.

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Building Resilience, Saving Lives

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building Resilience, Saving Lives

Scott Cox sprinted across the field, slogging through ankle-deep water, to where his parents’ house stood moments before.

He found a mountain of debris from the EF5 tornado, a milk truck that the unusually powerful twister had flung into the yard, and his parents’ horse, bleeding, covered with welts, standing dazed near the remnants of the back deck.

And then Cox, a longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW), heard his mother’s cries. He dug her out of the rubble by hand, saving her, only to lose his father, who was too injured even for CPR and perished along with 15 others in Smithville, Miss., that day.

The people of Smithville opened a domed tornado shelter following the April 2011 disaster, but that merely underscored America’s need for a comprehensive, forward-looking approach that empowers communities to fortify defenses, construct new bulwarks and avert climate-related destruction in the first place.

Now, thanks to President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the nation is building that kind of lifesaving resilience.

The USW-backed IIJA delivers billions for projects to end droughts, protect the coasts against hurricanes, harden infrastructure, build stronger buildings, and provide grants for storm-resistant safe rooms.

Mississippi alone received hundreds of millions so far, including $4.8 million announced just this month to upgrade two hurricane evacuation routes.

“The ultimate responsibility of the government is to keep people safe,” observed Cox, president of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 9-8. “That’s the No. 1 priority—and not only safe from enemies foreign and domestic but also from natural disasters.

“Having these resources, I think, is very, very important, especially in rural areas,” continued Cox, describing the Smithville disaster as a “traumatic experience that won’t end.”

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A New Manufacturing Frontier

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A New Manufacturing Frontier

Tom Bixler and several hundred of his co-workers produced top-quality glassware at the Libbey Glass plant in Toledo, Ohio, over the years while keeping the aging equipment there operating through sheer grit.

They even set efficiency standards despite the steep odds and carried the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, all to ensure the sprawling manufacturing complex remained viable and a centerpiece of the local economy.

But while they’re rightly proud of all they’ve done to sustain the facility, Bixler and fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) know they need to continue innovating to build a more secure, sustainable future. They’re now embarking on a critical transformation of their plant that will not only safeguard Northwest Ohio’s glassmaking jobs for decades to come but help forge a new frontier in American manufacturing.

Bixler, president of USW Local 65T, joined U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur last week as they highlighted a federal grant award of up to $45.1 million that will enable the plant to install a pair of larger hybrid electric furnaces intended to boost efficiency, reduce pollution and expand employment.

The cutting-edge furnace technology—combining the advantages of oxygen fuel and electric melting to process the raw materials for glassmaking, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60 percent—has the potential to set a new standard for the industry and revolutionize glass production nationwide.

And this commitment to the glass industry represents just one part of President Joe Biden’s initiative to grow the manufacturing economy with clean energy and union jobs. In all, his administration this month announced $6 billion for 33 decarbonization and modernization projects, deploying a range of new technology, in iron, steel, chemicals, refining, cement, pulp and paper, and other industries.

Historic union-backed legislation—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act—will fund the grants.

“This is something that’s going to blaze a whole new trail,” said Bixler, a mold maker at Libbey for 41 years, who considers the federal grant, to be matched by the company, as Biden’s investment in workers who have worked so hard to preserve the plant and keep the community strong.

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A New Shipbuilding Era

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A New Shipbuilding Era

James Crawford served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps maintaining the radar systems on super-sophisticated warplanes built to fend off enemy attacks from air, sea and land.

But not once during his time in numerous ports as far away as Asia did he see a U.S. commercial vessel plying the seas, a sign, he now realizes, of another kind of threat to the homeland.

America’s security begins with skilled union workers manufacturing the goods, equipment and other essentials, including cargo freighters and tankers, needed to keep the nation independent and free.

And so Crawford joined fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) recently in taking action to resuscitate the country’s decimated commercial shipbuilding industry and end a growing, perilous dependence on Chinese shipping.

The USW and other unions filed a petition with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai seeking an investigation into China’s illegal predatory trade practices, unfair state support for its own commercial shipbuilding industry, and plot to dominate global logistics networks.

China’s network of policies—including massive subsidies for the industry, such as cash payments, tax incentives and other handouts—continues to kill competition in America and other countries. As a result, China not only controls an enormous percentage of the world’s commercial shipbuilding output but wields the power to cut off access to ships it builds and operates at any time, for any reason.

“You can’t go somewhere to fight if you’re weak at home,” observed Crawford, unit president for USW Local 3372-07 who works at Hunt Valve in Salem, Ohio, noting that the U.S. not only needs commercial ships to carry manufactured goods to the far corners of the world but to provide sealift capacity to the military in times of crisis.

The United States once had about 30 major shipyards with 180,000 workers and contracts for more than 70 commercial vessels a year. But tens of thousands of those shipyard jobs disappeared since the 1980s as China hijacked the industry.

Some shipyards, like the USW-represented complex in Newport News, Va., began focusing entirely on military contracts. Others, like the Sun Shipping and Dry Dock complex in Chester, Pa., once the world’s largest shipyard and a center of shipbuilding innovation, simply closed. A casino now occupies the property.

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Building America, Fighting Greed

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building America, Fighting Greed

The widowed single mom attacked grocery shopping with the doggedness of a Marine on a mission.

To provide for her family in the face of corporate price-gouging, she bought off-brand items and selected eggs for protein instead of higher-costing meat. She even worked multiple jobs to keep the family solvent.

And despite the challenges she faced, she never complained, recalled Denny Mitchell, a longtime United Steelworkers (USW) activist who’s filled with admiration for the way the woman raised her family.

Ordinary working people like Mitchell’s friend continue to build America with humble heroism, even as the greedy rich try to cheat them not only at the checkout line but everywhere from the workplace to the halls of power.

“It’s a fight. It’s always a fight,” observed Mitchell, noting that Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick underscored the arrogance of the 1 percent when he flippantly suggested a few weeks ago that struggling families eat cereal for dinner.

Pilnick, who pockets millions in salary and incentive compensation, runs a corporation largely responsible for the rampant price-gouging in the nation’s grocery stores.

Kellogg’s jacked up prices by more than 14 percent over the past couple of years while announcing plans to shower shareholders with stock buybacks and dividends.

Other food-makers joined in the exploitation, raising prices, reducing the amount of product in their packaging or switching to cheaper, lower-quality ingredients that enable them to pad their bottom lines on unwitting consumers’ backs.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania released a report in December assailing numerous companies for “shrinking products to super-size profits.” Among many other examples, Casey revealed that General Mills quietly shaved 1.2 ounces from boxes of Cocoa Puffs in 2021 while Conagra started skimping on ingredients in its Smart Balance spread in 2022, “resulting in a watery product that sparked consumer backlash.”

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Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys

Tanya Gaines and her co-workers launched a union drive 10 years ago because it was the only way to win livable wages, fair treatment and safe working conditions at the Golden Dragon copper tube manufacturing plant in Pine Hill, Ala., one of the state’s poorest areas.

Workers anticipated management’s opposition, but they felt blindsided when Alabama’s Republican governor at the time, Robert Bentley, also came out against the organizing drive and wrote a letter demanding they vote against the union.

Gaines and her colleagues stood up to Bentley’s bullying, joined the United Steelworkers (USW) and began building better lives.

More and more workers across the South seek the same path forward that union membership provides. But they’re still forced to defy Republican officials who’d rather toady to wealthy corporations than support workers’ fight for a fair economy.

Autoworkers in Alabama, for example, vowed to stay the course last month after the state’s current governor, Republican Kay Ivey, publicly rebuked their efforts to unionize a Mercedes-Benz plant.

Equally furious USW members and other workers in South Carolina demanded that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster correct course after he bragged during his state of the state address last month that he’d oppose unions “to the gates of hell.”

Unionizing is entirely the workers’ choice, a right guaranteed under federal law. And yet Ivey and McMaster stuck their noses where they didn’t belong, just like Bentley did with the workers at Golden Dragon in 2014.

“It was like a slap in the face,” Gaines, who grew up in a union family and learned the power of solidarity at a young age, said of Bentley’s interference.

“We’re here on site, doing the job. He had no idea of the problem it was to work here,” she added, recalling the exploitation that workers faced. “We need a voice. This is our voice.”

Gaines said she and her co-workers continue battling Golden Dragon over safety and other issues—a fight she can’t imagine waging without the protections and resources the USW provides.

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Solidarity Saved Him

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Saved Him

Christopher Betterley arrived at the Altamont Veterans Facility in Buffalo, N.Y., a few years ago needing a home, a haircut and a fresh start after treatment for alcohol use.

He saw a sign tacked to the shelter’s dining room wall advertising jobs at the nearby Sumitomo tire plant, so he cleaned himself up, went for an interview and quickly impressed both management and leaders of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 135L.

But while the new job opened doors for Betterley, it was really union solidarity that saved him. He learned the trade from longtime union tire builders, leaned on the USW family that rallied around him, and pieced his life back together.

As Betterley discovered, unions lift up all workers. They fight for fair treatment and look out for the most vulnerable. They provide a path forward.

“When they took a chance on me, it really was them giving me a second shot,” explained Betterley, who deployed to Afghanistan during his six-year year stint in the New York Army National Guard.

“I’m not shy about any of this. It’s what happened,” continued Betterley, who’s proud of his military service but acknowledged that the experience contributed to the tough times he encountered later on.

“Things weren’t very great in my life prior to me starting to work with the Steelworkers,” he said. “I was hungry to get back on my feet and turn things around for myself. Working with the Steelworkers union gave me an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Betterley, a New York native, never worked in a manufacturing environment or belonged to a union before. But Local 135L members showed him the ropes.

They explained the power of collective action and outlined the union contract, which makes the workers at Sumitomo some of the best compensated tire makers in the world.

Union colleagues also ensured that Betterley received steel-toed boots and other personal protective equipment to keep him safe on the job. They helped him secure overtime hours and access the additional skills that paved the way to even higher wages.

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Fighting for Time to Heal

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Fighting for Time to Heal

Mike Morales’s doctor advised him to take four weeks off for an important procedure, and the longtime crane operator readily agreed, secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t lose a dime in pay or face other repercussions at work.

Morales’ union contract enabled him to step away from his job at the Chevron Phillips plastics complex in Pasadena, Texas, to attend to his health.

He received regular pay during his absence and returned to work when he was able to do so. Morales, a unit recording secretary with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-227, recalled having just one concern during his convalescence—getting well.

Workers across the country need the same peace of mind while recovering from surgery or sickness. They need time to care for ill loved ones, bond with infants or welcome other new family members without risking their jobs or forfeiting the income needed to keep their households afloat.

And they need to be empowered to escape domestic violence, ensure family stability during a service member’s deployment or confront other emergencies without throwing themselves on the mercy of employers.

A bipartisan House committee recently released a “draft framework” of a leave plan, which would give states and employers new incentives to provide more workers with paid time off for emergencies. But that’s a far cry from the mandatory, universal and uniform leave available to workers in many countries.

Unfortunately, Americans’ access to paid leave right now depends largely on where they work and whether they’re fortunate enough to belong to a union. And many still have no paid sick leave at all, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a great benefit to us,” observed Morales, who’s stayed at the Chevron Phillips site for 43 years partly because of the USW-negotiated leave allotment, which renews periodically and even enables him to take days off to help family members.

He empathizes with contract workers at the site, saying they face the same life crises as union counterparts but lack the weeks or days off needed to effectively deal with them.

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Fighting Killer Dust

Fighting Killer Dust

Silica dust at the Genesis Alkali mine in Green River, Wyo., is so thick some days that Marshal Cummings can barely see a foot in front of him.

It blankets his clothes, clogs his respirator, coats his hair, blackens his mucus and lodges deep inside him like a ticking bomb.

Exposure to silica can lead to silicosis, a scarring and stiffening of the lungs that leaves miners gasping for air, and it’s also a cause of lung cancer, kidney disease and other major ailments.

Silica robs thousands of their health every year. But now, after years of fighting, Cummings and tens of thousands of surface and underground miners across the country are on the brink of achieving true protections and holding all mining employers accountable for the first time.

President Joe Biden’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) recently proposed a rule that would force employers to significantly reduce miners’ exposure to silica dust. It would also mandate air monitoring to ensure compliance with the new standard and require corrective actions when silica levels exceed the rule.

Cummings and his co-workers encounter silica dust while mining trona—a mineral used to make soap, glass and other essential products—and it’s also in the coal they use to power the mine complex.

“Even if you wear a mask, you are coughing up black stuff, and every time you blow your nose, it’s pitch black,” said Cummings, chief steward and safety committee member for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13214, who credits both his union and MSHA for moving the protections forward.

Silica dust, found in numerous types of rock, threatens all miners. So MSHA’s rule would cover not only Cummings, his colleagues and others in the trona industry, but workers at rock quarries and miners who produce coal, iron ore, copper, nickel, zinc and other critical materials.

MSHA wants employers to combat silica dust through a comprehensive hierarchy of controls. That includes engineering controls like ventilation and collection systems as well as administrative protections like ensuring miners have time to remove dust from their clothes, and providing workers with personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Empowering the Caregivers

Empowering the Caregivers

The World War II veteran had no family by his side as he lay dying a few months ago, so Ella Wilverding and her union co-workers stepped into the role.

They took turns sitting vigil with the man, talking to him, holding his hand, and making him as comfortable as possible during his final days.

“We have a policy,” explained Wilverding, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at the Oregon Veterans’ Home in Lebanon, Ore., and the president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9559. “No one dies alone.”

This is the kind of compassionate, top-quality care that ensues when responsible staffing levels empower nurses, CNAs and other nursing home workers to provide the time and attention that residents need.

Right now, states set their own staffing requirements, and some have none at all. Fortunately, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently took the first step in fixing this broken system of care by proposing minimum mandatory staffing requirements for nursing homes across the country.

CMS will take public comments for about two months before issuing a final rule—a window that enables advocates like Wilverding to shine a light on the incredible difference that robust staffing makes and to fight for standards strong enough to revolutionize an essential part of the health care system.

“I wish every facility could be like this,” Wilverding said of the Lebanon location, where she works with seven veterans on an average day shift.

Under Oregon law, each resident there receives at least 2.16 hours of CNA care every day, plus assistance and services from other staff members. Oregon’s staffing standards now rank among the strongest in the nation, but Wilverding champions further improvements, knowing that they would enable workers to provide ever-better care.

The Lebanon site consists of a dozen houses, with as many as 14 residents in each, spread among four neighborhoods on a manicured campus.

CNAs like Wilverding prepare meals, wash the dishes and handle laundry in addition to helping veterans with bathing, dressing and other tasks. If residents’ needs increase—such as when the staff mobilizes to provide around-the-clock end-of-life care, for example—the facility schedules additional workers for support.

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Fighting for a Life Outside the Mill

Fighting for a Life Outside the Mill

She only wanted a few hours at her dying mother’s bedside.

But the woman’s bosses at Twin Rivers Paper in Madawaska, Maine, lacked all decency and forced her to the mill on overtime even though it was her day off.

About an hour and a half into the mandatory shift, the woman’s mother died. She left the mill heartbroken, exploited by an industry that continues to spurn workers’ basic need for work-life balance.

Now, workers are battling harder than ever to end this appalling mistreatment. They’re fighting back—at the bargaining table and at the state capitol—against inhumane mandatory overtime requirements that strain families to the breaking point and put lives at risk.

“It’s definitely caused a lot of heartache at the mill,” said David Hebert, financial officer and former president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 291, one of three USW locals collectively representing about 360 workers at Twin Rivers.

USW members long warned paper companies about the need to increase hiring and training to keep facilities operating safely and efficiently. Yet some employers preferred to keep working people to the bone.

Workers at Twin Rivers, for example, work a base shift of 12 hours. On top of that, to fill in the schedule, each can be drafted for an additional 12-hour shift every month regardless of whether they want the extra hours.

But it gets much worse.

Hebert and his co-workers also face the possibility of having a 12-hour shift extended with six hours of mandatory overtime, without warning or advance notice, virtually any day bosses choose.

And they’re often forced to pull multiple 18-hour days in a week, especially when winter cold and flu season exacerbates the company’s intentional understaffing. Many of these union members commute 45 minutes or more each way, meaning they get only a few hours of sleep at a time.

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The Power of a First Contract

The Power of a First Contract

James Golden knew the crowbar wasn’t the right tool for the job, but it’s what the bosses provided when he needed to perform work on a piece of equipment at the Kumho tire plant in Macon, Ga.

The crowbar slipped from Golden’s hand and smacked him in the head. Bleeding, yet unable to find adequate help on the sparsely staffed night shift, Golden drove himself to the hospital while a supervisor agonized over whether to fill out paperwork about the injury or try to get the machine operating once more.

While the memory of that night still infuriates him, Golden takes comfort knowing that he and his 325 co-workers now have the power to protect themselves, look out for one another and hold management accountable.

Along with wage increases, better work-life balance and other wins, the workers gained a real voice on the job two weeks ago when they ratified their first contract with Kumho as members of the United Steelworkers (USW).

The contract establishes a labor-management workplace improvement committee, affording Golden and others on the front lines the means to address issues like turnover, efficiency and quality.

The agreement also mandates a joint health and safety committee, giving workers not only a say in how to properly operate and maintain equipment but a role in developing emergency plans and input into other aspects of plant safety.

“It’s a new day,” Golden said, referring to the power of a first contract to level the playing field and afford workers a seat at the table. “This is the law of the land.”

Workers who want to band together for better futures often face prolonged and brutal anti-union campaigns from employers hellbent on holding them down.

Kumho, for example, committed such egregious violations of workers’ rights that an administrative law judge at one point ordered company representatives to call a plant-wide meeting and read a statement acknowledging their illegal conduct.

“Solidarity means everything,” said Golden, recalling how workers met at bars and cookouts to build the union drive and support one another during management’s attacks.

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Essential Safeguards for Oil Workers

Essential Safeguards for Oil Workers

The grief hits Scott Campbell like a ton of bricks every time he walks into the union hall and sees the memorial to the fallen workers.

Seven members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union reported for their shifts at the former Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash., on April 2, 2010, and never drove back out. They perished when a decades-old, structurally deficient piece of equipment called a heat exchanger exploded and caught fire in one of the worst industrial incidents in state history.

Campbell and other members of USW Local 12-591 pay tribute to the seven with a laser focus on safety at the refinery, currently owned by Marathon.

But now they’re seizing the chance to go even further and spare workers at other refineries the kind of loss that weighs so heavily on them. Campbell, president of Local 12-591, is helping to lead the union’s push for stronger rules aimed at revolutionizing the safety culture at all five refineries in the state.

The proposed improvements, modeled on the industry-leading advances that the USW pushed California to enact in 2017, represent the first comprehensive, statewide enhancements to “process safety management” (PSM) at Washington’s refineries in nearly 30 years. PSM refers to how workers and management use planning, training and equipment to reduce risk and respond to incidents.

“Improving process safety is something that we always want to keep working on,” explained Campbell, who will testify during upcoming public hearings on the proposed rules overhaul. “It’s not something we ever think is finished. We’re always learning, and technology is always changing.”

“We don’t want to go backward. We don’t want to get complacent,” emphasized Campbell, noting that oil companies increasingly attempt to “exploit the loopholes” in the current, outdated rules despite the deadly warnings provided by the Tesoro incident and other tragedies.

For example, Campbell said, refineries sometimes have one management representative resolve a safety concern when the safer, prudent course would be to assemble a team of experts from engineering, production and other disciplines to work through the issue.

The new PSM rules—also championed by community residents and other advocates fighting alongside the USW—would force employers to toe the line and hold management accountable. Among many other provisions, they’d require refineries to ensure the structural and mechanical integrity of equipment, make prompt repairs and give workers the authority to suspend operations when they identify hazards.

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Fighting for All Who Served

Fighting for All Who Served

Sgt. Jackie E. Garland, twice wounded during combat in Vietnam, returned home only to face even more battles that battered his spirit as well as his body.

The ex-Marine and his wife, Helen, struggled for decades to support their six children while fighting for service disability benefits that always remained a few steps out of reach.

Garland—wracked by pain from the shrapnel he took in his back and the hepatitis he contracted during surgery to repair the damage to his spine—died feeling abandoned by his country.

Spurred by that tragedy, George Walsh, Garland’s son-in-law, now finds himself on the front lines of efforts to improve support for veterans and arrest the epidemics of suicide, homelessness and alienation afflicting those who served.

Walsh, a trustee of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 10-00086, is helping to lead the union’s push for the federal Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach (CVSO) Act. The bill would expand the ranks of county veteran service officers across the nation and provide other resources needed to connect veterans with care.

“This is a no-brainer. We send people to war. We ask them to fight for their country. We need to start taking care of them,” explained Walsh, himself a veteran of the Navy submarine service who later served in the Reserve as a Seabee. “We need to start putting our money where our mouths are and helping these veterans and their families.”

“This is really a good piece of legislation. We should have had this years ago,” added Walsh, a USW safety representative at the Merck plant in Lansdale, Pa., noting many veterans feel adrift and lose hope. “My father-in-law was that way.”

County veteran service officers are trained advocates, accredited by the federal government, who help former service members, their loved ones and caregivers “navigate the complex intergovernmental chain of veterans services and resources.”

They make veterans aware of the medical benefits as well as the education, job search, housing assistance and other services available to them. They also assist veterans in applying for these opportunities and go to bat for them if government agencies balk at approving claims or applications.

These grassroots officials leverage billions in support every year. But there’s a dire shortage of them across the country.

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Leaping onto the Infrastructure Bandwagon

Leaping onto the Infrastructure Bandwagon

John Campbell and other union activists led the fight two years ago for historic infrastructure legislation needed to modernize the nation, support millions of good-paying jobs and supercharge the economy.

They wrote tens of thousands of postcards, made countless phone calls and pounded the halls of the U.S. Capitol, ultimately securing enough votes to overcome Republican opposition and push the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) through the Democratic-led Congress. Democratic President Joe Biden swiftly signed the legislation into law.

Now, as that union victory unleashes $1.2 trillion for new roads and other hugely popular projects from coast to coast, Republicans who tried to kill the legislation want to jump on the bandwagon and take credit for the same investments they once opposed.

“Republicans are so short-sighted that they can’t see past their donors,” fumed Campbell, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), pointing out how ridiculous opponents of the infrastructure package look as money floods into their districts for high-speed broadband, lead-free drinking water and other life-changing initiatives.

“They have no shame,” Campbell said of the Republicans trying to evade responsibility for how they voted. “They have no integrity. They have no principles.”

For example, Rep. Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama last month issued a press release in which he praised a $1.6 million grant for a railroad bridge in his district and proclaimed himself “always happy to support this type of funding in Congress.”

Yet he voted against the IIJA, which expanded the very program providing the grant for the railroad bridge.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, who represents part of Campbell’s home state of Iowa, was another of the 200 House Republicans who ignored workers’ demands and voted against the IIJA.

But nothing as inconvenient as the truth was going to stop Hinson from trying to grab the limelight and take credit in a tweet when the Army Corps of Engineers announced $829 million in IIJA funding for a major project benefiting her constituents.

The corps will use the funds to construct a new 1,200-foot lock and repair other parts of an Upper Mississippi River transportation system critical not only for Midwestern farmers, miners and factory workers but for the entire nation’s economy.

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Surviving Record Heat

Surviving Record Heat

The heat index recently soared to 111 degrees in Houston, Texas, but the real-feel temperature climbed even higher than that inside the heavy personal protective equipment (PPE) that John Hayes and his colleagues at Ecoservices wear on the job.

Sweat poured from the workers—clad in full-body hazardous materials suits, heavy gloves, splash hoods and steel-toed boots—as they sampled and processed chemicals from huge metal containers under a searing sun.

Fortunately, as members of the United Steelworkers (USW), these workers negotiated a policy requiring the chemical treatment company to provide shade, cool-down periods and other measures to protect them during sweltering days.

But unless all Americans have common-sense safeguards like these, workers across the country will continue to get sick and die during ever-worsening heat waves.

The USW, other unions and advocacy groups are calling on the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to speedily enact a national standard specifying the minimum steps all employers need to take to safeguard workers from unprecedented and deadly bouts of heat.

Because of union advocacy, OSHA already has national standards that protect workers from falls, trench collapses, asbestos exposure, infectious diseases, injuries from equipment and many other workplace hazards. It’s way past time to also protect workers from the heat waves that are growing more severe, lasting longer and claiming more lives each year.

“Heat affects everybody. It doesn’t care about age,” observed Hayes, president of USW Local 227’s Ecoservices unit, who helped to negotiate the heat-related protections for about 70 workers in treatment services, maintenance, logistics and other departments.

“There’s so many things they can come up with,” he said of OSHA officials.

The policy the union negotiated with Ecoservices requires low-cost, sensible measures like water, electrolytes, modified work schedules, tents and fans, and the authority to stop work when conditions become unhealthy and unsafe.

“If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, take your timeout,” Hayes reminds co-workers. “Don’t worry about it.”

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American Workers Demand Julie Su’s Confirmation

American Workers Demand Julie Su’s Confirmation

It wasn’t enough for owners of lucrative Southern California car washes to cheat their workers out of wages and overtime.

They made workers pay for the towels they used to clean cars, denied them rest breaks, forced them to toil in filthy water that bred foot fungus, and even required the so-called “carwasheros” to hand-wash vehicles with skin-burning solvents.

Outraged members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 launched an effort to help these workers about a dozen years ago, just as the state’s new labor commissioner, Julie Su, kicked off her own battle against the state’s shadow economy.

In a one-two punch that still reverberates through the industry, the USW empowered carwasheros at the negotiating table while Su ramped up enforcement of labor laws, pursued millions in back wages and filed criminal charges against unscrupulous bosses.

Given this and other fights Su waged on behalf of ordinary people, it’s no surprise that workers across the country are demanding her confirmation as the next U.S. secretary of labor. President Joe Biden nominated Su for the Cabinet post on Feb. 28, but the Senate has yet to vote.

The labor secretary enforces workers’ rights along with federal wage, overtime and child-labor laws. The nation’s top labor cop also fights discrimination, oversees workplace safety agencies, administers pension security programs, and polices employer compliance with shutdown and layoff rules, among many other responsibilities.

To truly make a difference, however, the secretary needs the ardor for working people and impatience for change that define Su’s career.

“It’s one thing to be a policy person. It’s another to connect with people on an emotional level,” said David Campbell, secretary-treasurer of Local 675, recalling not only the skill but the passion and tenacity that Su brought to the fight for car wash workers.

The multi-million industry preyed on recent immigrants, the homeless and other vulnerable people, said Campbell, noting one “was paid with the privilege of sleeping in the car wash bathroom at night.”

“The car washes knew there was a special enforcement program going on with the labor commissioner. So that made them—at least some of them—more amenable to collective bargaining agreements,” which increased wages, improved working conditions and gave workers a voice, explained Campbell, whose local worked with several community partners on the initiative.

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A Workers’ Moment

A Workers’ Moment

Dave Smith launched a union drive many years ago that generated enthusiastic support among his co-workers, but the effort died after management hired union-busting consultants and went on the attack.

Bosses at the Minnesota electric cooperative forced his colleagues into “captive audience” meetings, where they lied about unions, threatened the workers and sowed so much fear that the group ultimately voted down a chance at a better life.

Now, thanks to legislation that Smith supported, Minnesota employers won’t be able to subject workers to that kind of bullying any longer.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz just signed a bill that not only bans the mandatory anti-union meetings employers regularly hold to try to suppress organizing drives but enables workers to sue bosses who try to get away with holding the meetings anyway.

Even better, that measure is one of a growing number of pro-worker laws enacted around the country in recent months as workers, fed up with corporate greed and exploitative bosses, fight back against a system rigged against them.

Minnesota lawmakers also passed legislation last month that establishes paid family and medical leave for workers, expands workers’ compensation coverage and requires employers in numerous industries, including warehouses and health care facilities, to ramp up safety.

In addition, legislators pushed through a bill, which Walz promptly signed, creating a “Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board,” aimed at giving front-line caregivers a meaningful voice in resolving staffing shortages and other challenges facing long-term care facilities.

“It’s been such a long fight to get some of this,” noted Smith, now a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2660 at U.S. Steel’s Keetac Mine who helped push for the legislation. “It’s great that we were able to stick it out and get it passed. Hopefully, we can accomplish even more next year.”

In the wake of the new forward-thinking laws, Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Nicole Blissenbach called Minnesota “the best state for workers and their families.”

This kind of progress doesn’t happen by chance.  

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Biden Protected Working People

Biden Protected Working People

Joel Buchanan owns his home, travels, donates to charitable causes and still has more than enough money to pay his bills on time—thanks in large part to Social Security.

Along with his union pension, it means the difference between enjoying his golden years or just scraping by.

Even so, the Pueblo, Colo., resident refused to panic in recent weeks as right-wing Republicans in the House of Representatives attempted to extort massive spending cuts in exchange for the votes needed to raise America’s debt ceiling and avert global financial calamity.

The Republicans’ recklessness threatened tens of millions of working people. But Buchanan, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), trusted President Joe Biden to counter extremism with reason and save the day with steady-handed statesmanship.

That’s exactly what happened.

Biden, a Democrat, reached across the aisle and struck a deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that protects Social Security and other lifelines while raising the debt ceiling for two years and safeguarding the world economy.

McCarthy himself credited Biden with saving Social Security and Medicare, saying he “walled off” any discussion about slashing them.

Yet Biden wasn’t finished. He worked the phones and helped to line up the bipartisan votes needed to pass the deal through both chambers, even as some members of McCarthy’s own party made clear that they’d prefer to let the nation default on its debts than give up demands to slash essential programs.

The House passed the deal last Wednesday, and the Senate followed suit Thursday. Biden noted that the legislation “protects key priorities and accomplishments.”

“He was the adult in the room. He’s done his job,” Buchanan said of Biden, who previously served as a U.S. senator for Delaware. “He’s spent much of his life in Congress. He knows how to get things done on Capitol Hill.”

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Workers Rising in the South

Workers Rising in the South

Workers at Blue Bird Corp. in Fort Valley, Ga., launched a union drive to secure better wages, work-life balance and a voice on the job.

The company resisted them. History defied them. Geography worked against them.

But they stood together, believed in themselves and achieved an historic victory that’s reverberating throughout the South.

About 1,400 workers at the electric bus manufacturer voted overwhelmingly this month to join the United Steelworkers (USW), reflecting the rise of collective power in a part of the country where bosses and right-wing politicians long contrived to foil it.

“It’s just time for a change,” explained Rinardo Cooper, a member of USW Local 572 and a paper machine operator at Graphic Packaging in Macon, Ga.

Cooper, who assisted the workers at Blue Bird with their union drive, expects more Southerners to follow suit even if they face their own uphill battles.

Given the South’s pro-corporate environment, it’s no surprise that Georgia has one of the nation’s lowest union membership rates, 4.4 percent. North Carolina’s rate is even lower, 2.8 percent. And South Carolina’s is 1.7 percent.

Many corporations actually choose to locate in the South because the low union density enables them to pay poor wages, skimp on safety and perpetuate the system of oppression.

In a 2019 study, “The Double Standard at Work,” the AFL-CIO found that even European-based companies with good records in their home countries take advantage of workers they employ in America’s South.

They’ve “interfered with freedom of association, launched aggressive campaigns against employees’ organizing attempts and failed to bargain in good faith when workers choose union representation,” noted the report, citing, among other abuses, Volkswagen’s union-busting efforts at a Tennessee plant.

“They keep stuffing their pockets and paying pennies on the dollar,” Cooper said of companies cashing in at workers’ expense.

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A Personal Attack on Working People

A Personal Attack on Working People

Chad Newcome confided little to his wife over the years about the failing pension fund that threatened their dreams, wanting to spare her the anxiety that haunted him day and night.

But two years ago, after congressional Democrats passed legislation saving dozens of multiemployer pension plans at risk of collapse, Newcome opened up about their brush with financial calamity and how he finally felt free to breathe.

Sadly, Republicans are imperiling the couple’s future all over again with their cruel gambit to cut spending on the backs of working people.

GOP House members last week rammed through a bill that would raise the nation’s borrowing limit and prevent America from defaulting on its debts—but only in exchange for draconian cuts that would cost 200,000 vulnerable children access to Head Start programs, end Meals on Wheels for a million struggling seniors and inexplicably ax housing support in the face of growing homelessness.

The bill would slash billions from schools serving low-income students. And it would claw back money from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, including funds allocated to save 130 or so multiemployer pension plans hurtling toward collapse because of Wall Street recklessness, corporate bankruptcies and industry consolidation, among other factors.

Multiemployer funds, including the one covering Newcome, combine contributions from two or more employers in manufacturing, trucking and other industries. Workers like Newcome, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 14614-1 and an electrician at Tri-County Electric in Morgantown, W.Va., paid into the funds for decades and planned their golden years around them.

These union workers played no role in the plans’ financial troubles. Yet they were the ones who stood to suffer if the funds went under, and it was their advocacy—through rallies, marches, phone calls, emails and post cards—that moved congressional Democrats to save the funds without the support of a single Republican in either the House or Senate.

“This is what we’ve been fighting for. We got the votes we needed,” a joyful Newcome told family members at the time, recalling he felt “like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.”

But harming working people is sport to pro-corporate Republicans, whose debt ceiling bill puts Newcome’s pension—and those of hundreds of thousands of other Americans—back on the chopping block.

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Building Safer Workplaces

Building Safer Workplaces

He was known to be aggressive and argumentative, the kind of patron who made others at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch uneasy.

But one day last year, the man walked into the building in a much darker mood, harassed a librarian and threatened to kill her.

Fortunately, library workers had joined the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2019 and built safeguards into their first contract to address dangers exactly like this.

The librarian received a temporary transfer to another building. And the library system banned the patron, ensuring he wouldn’t turn up again either to look for the person he threatened or target somebody else.

April 28 is Workers Memorial Day in America and the Day of Mourning in Canada, a time to remember those killed, injured or sickened at work. It’s also a day when union workers rededicate themselves to the fight for safer working conditions and renew their pledge to look out for one another, along with others in the workplace, leveraging all of the power that collective action provides.

“We are open to the public, which means everybody is welcome to come in, and we do our best to serve everybody,” explained David King, a steward for USW Local 9562 and a librarian in the music, film and audio department at the system’s main location in Oakland.

“We’re proud of that. We’re sincerely proud that we’re one of the few truly public spaces still left. But that does come with some of these dangers,” he added, noting that library workers face patrons who create disruptions, brawl, carry in weapons, damage property, overdose in restrooms and even stalk them.

Because library management failed to adequately address these risks, union members stood in solidarity together and negotiated a contract that not only provides temporary transfers for endangered workers but includes notification procedures to alert workers at various branches when a patron is banned.

“That is a huge change from before we negotiated the contract,” King pointed out, noting that workers previously “had no recourse” if they were harassed. “They just had to put up with it. They just had to stay in the same location."

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Workers Breaking Barriers

Workers Breaking Barriers

Dominick Sapien’s patient threw up during cardiac arrest several months ago, and he instinctively grabbed a suction tool to clear the man’s airway.

The device failed to turn on, so Sapien picked up another. When it also failed, he reached for a third. When that one broke apart, a quick-thinking Sapien flipped the patient on his side and, with a fellow paramedic performing CPR, manually scooped the vomit out of the man’s mouth to keep him from choking.

The need for functioning equipment and safer working conditions prompted Sapien and his colleagues at Frontier Ambulance to join the United Steelworkers (USW) in February, making them the first workers in decades to form a union in Wyoming.

They aren’t the only ones breaking barriers. Determined to secure good wages and a seat at the table, a growing number of workers are banding together and fighting back in industries and states that long attempted to silence them.

About 1,000 firefighters, paramedics, fire marshals, emergency dispatchers and mechanics in Fairfax County, Virginia, overwhelmingly voted to unionize last fall, advancing working people’s fight in a state that’s tried to divide workers and deter union membership for decades. Now, the county must bargain with public workers for the first time in about 40 years.

Workers at TCGplayer, an online trading card marketplace, last month formed the first union at an eBay-owned company in the United States, helping to pave the way for others in the notoriously anti-labor tech industry.

And undergraduate student workers at the University of Oregon just filed for a union election to combat low pay and other exploitation. They’re part of a wave of unionizing campaigns involving faculty and staff as well as undergraduate and graduate student workers at universities across the country.

“It’s a chance to change things for the better, and I think everybody really believed in that dream,” Sapien said of his own successful union drive in Wyoming, a so-called right-to-work state with relatively few union members right now.

States with right-to-work laws permit workers to receive all of the benefits of union representation without paying even a small fee for services. These laws, pushed by corporations and right-wing politicians, undermine worker solidarity and starve unions of the resources they need to bargain good contracts, pursue grievances and otherwise fight for members.

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Helping Veterans Navigate the Homefront

Helping Veterans Navigate the Homefront

Gregory Washington joined the Marines at 18 and fought in the Gulf War, only to return—traumatized, unemployed, adrift—to an America that seemed as unfamiliar and daunting to him as the places he encountered overseas.

It took Washington years to find a family-sustaining job, secure his disability benefits and reacclimate to civilian life.

Now, he’s a leader in his local union and determined to help forge a smoother path for others who served. He and fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) are advocating for state laws requiring employers to post official notices of the health, social and other services available to support veterans as they build new lives on the homefront.

New York enacted its version of the workplace poster law, written with USW members’ input, Jan. 1. Union members continue working to advance similar legislation in Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states.

“At the end of the day, we want to readjust. We want to work. We want to take care of our families,” observed Washington, vice president of USW Local 13-1, which represents hundreds of workers at the Pemex oil refinery and other workplaces in southeastern Texas.

“Sometimes, nobody even talks to veterans. They get out, and that’s it,” said Washington, recalling the difficulty he had battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while finding a way forward on his own.

Washington, who took part in the February 1991 battle that dislodged Iraqi forces from Kuwait International Airport, discovered that the hyper-vigilance, lightning-quick responsiveness and other traits that kept him alive in the Marines sometimes disconcerted people at home. He struggled to sustain friendships with non-veterans, who appreciated his service but couldn’t relate to his experiences.

And as he wrestled with how to translate his military skills into civilian employment, Washington fell into low-paying security jobs that barely enabled him to support his growing family.

Many veterans experience similar hardships. As many as 46 percent of recent veterans with combat experience struggle to readjust after discharge, and those like Washington with PTSD “are among the most likely to say their transition to civilian life was difficult,” according to Pew Research Center.

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Strained to the Breaking Point

Strained to the Breaking Point

Among the handful of neurologically impaired patients in Judy Danella’s care one day last week were three so ill that they struggled just to swallow.

She fed each of them in turn, delivering spoonful after spoonful of pureed food, patiently nourishing them toward better health even as she herself was stretched thinner by the minute in a facility that’s chronically shorthanded.

Danella and her union co-workers at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., wrestle every day with the understaffing crisis straining America’s health care system to the breaking point.

Health care employers across the country long refused to hire adequate numbers of nurses, certified nursing assistants, dietary workers and other essential staff, preferring to push skeleton crews to the bone and put profits over patients.

But now, the same health care workers who battled COVID-19 are fighting for the safe staffing levels needed to protect their communities on a daily basis and prevent the already-fragile care system from collapsing in the next pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois just introduced legislation in Congress to establish mandatory minimum staffing levels for nurses at hospitals nationwide. But in the meantime, citing the ever-greater urgency, union workers continue advocating for similar measures on a state-by-state basis.

Danella and fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW), for example, will rally with workers from other unions at the New Jersey statehouse May 11 to demand passage of bills establishing minimum staffing levels for registered nurses in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers and state psychiatric facilities.

“You want to give the patient the best care you can,” explained Danella, a registered nurse and president of USW Local 4-200, which represents about 1,650 registered nurses at the Robert Wood Johnson facility, a Level 1 trauma center.

The legislation, already introduced in the state Senate and General Assembly, would require one registered nurse for every four patients in an emergency department, one for every two patients in intensive care, and one for every five patients in a medical/surgical unit, among other provisions.

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Building Worker Power

Building Worker Power

The United Steelworkers (USW) mounted tireless battles for fair trade and other lifelines that helped to keep McLouth Steel open during the 1980s, enabling Jay McMurran and thousands of other Michigan workers to raise families and build pensions amid one of the nation’s worst economic crises.

Recognizing that other workers need the same kind of strength behind them, McMurran resolved to fight back when Republicans rammed union-gutting “right to work” (RTW) legislation through the state legislature in 2012.

He and other union supporters and their allies worked relentlessly for years to oust the corporate toadies and elect pro-worker lawmakers instead. Their long struggle culminated in victory Tuesday when new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate voted to repeal the deceptively named RTW laws, restoring workers’ full power to bargain fair contracts and safe working conditions.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vowed to sign the legislation, which represents the latest in a string of victories for workers mobilizing to build strength across the country.

No one in America is ever forced to join a union, and no union wants workers to join against their will. Yet a union has a legal obligation to serve all workers in its bargaining unit.

Many states allow unions to charge non-members a small fee to help cover the costs of representation. But in some states, RTW laws pushed by corporations and anti-worker groups enable non-members to receive union services for free.

These laws intentionally divide workers, erode the solidarity that’s the foundation of union strength and starve unions of the resources needed for effective bargaining, training and other essential purposes—all to the boss’s benefit.

“‘Right to work’ is simply a union-busting scam that the Republicans dress up as ‘choice,’” observed McMurran, a longtime USW member who worked at McLouth Steel for 27 years.

“It weakens the local union,” he said. “It weakens every worker’s position when you get into collective bargaining, when you get into grievance hearings, when you get into arbitrations. The boss knows your weaknesses, and he exploits them.”

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Keep the DOL Fighting for Workers

Keep the DOL Fighting for Workers

Hundreds of Boston school bus drivers stood to lose their jobs when COVID-19 closed the city’s schools in 2020.

But instead of giving up on drivers, André François and other leaders of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8751 collaborated with with Marty Walsh, then the mayor of Boston, to not only avoid layoffs but also empower the workers to serve on the front lines of the health crisis.

Union members loaded their buses with the food usually served in school cafeterias and delivered meals to students and the elderly, helping some of the city’s most vulnerable residents through the darkest days of the pandemic.

That creative and powerful advocacy for ordinary people also defined Walsh’s tenure as U.S. secretary of labor and fueled his fight to build an economy that works for all, observed François, the Local 8751 president.

“He was fair to labor,” François said of Walsh, who just resigned his position in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to head the National Hockey League Players’ Association. “He was understanding. You could call and talk to him about your issues. He listened.”

Walsh, who credits a union laborer’s job with lifting his immigrant father into the middle class, dedicated his life to extending similar opportunities to others.

As the first labor secretary in decades to carry a union card, he adopted the hands-on approach that François witnessed in Boston and returned the department to the worker-centered mission it lost during the previous administration.

In the process, he also helped Biden turn a pandemic-battered economy into a new era of shared prosperity.

Just a few months after joining the Biden administration, for example, Walsh helped push Congress into passing a historic infrastructure package that’s supporting millions of good union jobs. He even joined USW members at a rally in Burns Harbor, Ind., to promote the legislation.

“We have an opportunity right now to buy American and build America like never before,” Walsh, the former leader of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council, told the gathering.

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Working Kids to Death

Working Kids to Death

Brad Greve said he and other expedition leaders repeatedly told the group of Boy Scouts to watch out for a section of stream where the water picked up speed and swept over rapids into the lake below.

But two of the boys forgot the warnings and let their canoe drift perilously close to the drop-off anyway. Realizing their mistake in the nick of time, they paddled furiously against the stiffening current and made it to the streambank rattled but safe.

That near-accident a few years ago, Greve said, underscores the vulnerability of young teens. And it fuels Greve’s anger at Republicans who want to gut child-labor laws and fill dangerous jobs with still-maturing high-schoolers, even at the risk of working them to death.

Greve vehemently opposes a proposal moving through Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature that would allow 14-year-olds to work in industrial freezers, meatpacking plants and industrial laundry operations. The legislation also would put 15-year-olds to work on certain kinds of assembly lines and allow them to hoist up to 50 pounds.

In some cases, it even would permit young teens to work mining and construction jobs and let them use power-driven meat slicers and food choppers.

Just three years ago, a 16-year-old in Tennessee fell 11 stories to his death while working construction on a hotel roof. Another 16-year-old lost an arm that same year while cleaning a meat grinder at a Tennessee supermarket,

But these preventable tragedies mean nothing to Iowa legislators bent on helping greedy employers pad their bottom lines at kids’ expense.

“They make impulsive decisions and do things without thinking, just because they’re young. They don’t know what they don’t know,” said Greve, a Davenport, Iowa, resident and member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), explaining how the legislation puts youths in harm’s way.

The legislation also would allow employers to force kids into significantly longer work days—until 9 p.m. during the school year and 11 p.m. during the summer.

These additional hours at work would rob kids of time needed for studying and for the extracurricular activities that help mold them into productive, responsible adults.

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Safeguarding Sweat Equity

Safeguarding Sweat Equity

Mark Glyptis and dozens of other union leaders went into contract negotiations with Cleveland-Cliffs last year determined not only to win wage and benefit enhancements for their co-workers but to protect thousands of family-sustaining steel mill jobs for years to come.

The United Steelworkers (USW) negotiating team ultimately delivered a historic contract requiring the company to invest $4 billion in 13 union-represented facilities, including about $100 million at the Weirton, W.Va., mill where Glyptis and his colleagues rely on ever-more-sophisticated equipment to make precision tin plate.

Unions fight for financial commitments like these to safeguard workers’ sweat equity—the time and labor they invest in their workplaces for decades at a stretch. Capital upgrades keep employers accountable and plants viable, preserving family-sustaining jobs while also laying the groundwork for future growth.

“Steel mills are being built across the world, and we’re definitely competing on a worldwide basis,” observed Glyptis, president of USW Local 2911, noting the overseas facilities feature the “most modern technology.”

“We’re the best steelworkers in the world. We can compete. But we have to keep up with capital investments,” continued Glyptis, who helped to represent about 12,000 USW members from six states in the talks with Cleveland-Cliffs last year.

Glyptis and other Local 2911 members fought for new equipment that they need to produce “perfectly flat and flawless” tin plate for food containers.

Based on members’ input, other local unions—supplying the military, highway contractors, aerospace and numerous other industries—went into negotiations with their own requirements for upgrades.

Members overwhelmingly ratified a new, four-year contract last fall. The vote reflected their satisfaction with the $4 billion in investments—to be allocated among the 13 worksites—as much as it did the 20 percent raises and benefit enhancements the agreement provides.

“You can have the best health care in the country or in the world, but if you can’t compete because of technological deficiencies, you’re going to be an also-ran,” Glyptis pointed out. “Maintaining a competitive facility is just as important.”

“It all goes into a decision about whether this is a fair contract. It would be difficult to have a contract passed if it didn’t have a commitment to capital investments attached,” he said, adding that the company continues hiring many younger workers who see the upgrades as crucial to raising families and putting down roots.

Unions also negotiate capital investments to protect workers from companies that might otherwise abandon plants on a whim or run them to failure while wringing out every last penny in profit.

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