Union Matters Archive

Weathering the Storm

Weathering the Storm

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Columbia, Mo., faces a perilous winter because COVID-19 budget losses forced layoffs of snow-fighting workers and could even prompt the city to cut back on road salt.

The pandemic drastically reduced tax revenue, leaving local and state governments across America to slash budgets for public works departments and other essential services.

Unless the Republican-controlled Senate finally passes a stimulus bill providing billions in local and state aid, many communities will be forced to fight treacherous weather with smaller workforces and fewer resources than usual, ultimately putting the public at risk.

A stimulus bill--such as the one the House already passed--would not only help Columbia and other beleaguered cities keep road crews on the job but also enable them to maintain essential cold weather infrastructure like storage facilities and drainage systems.

And leading economists agree that relief to cities and states would fuel America’s economic comeback and help ensure the nation’s future health.

As millions of Americans brace for a dark winter, federal support for local governments will be essential to helping the country weather COVID-19 and other storms.

Powering America

Powering America

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Fierce thunderstorms, heavy snows and unusually powerful hurricanes ravaged America’s fragile power grid and plunged millions into darkness this year.

And even as these natural disasters wreaked havoc across the country, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders sparked a surge in residential electrical demand, placing new stress on a failing system.

A long-overdue overhaul of the nation’s electrical infrastructure would not only ensure America continues functioning during a crisis but help to reinvigorate the pandemic-shattered economy.

Built in the 1950s and 60s, most of America’s electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure lives on borrowed time. Engineers never designed it to withstand today’s increasingly frequent and catastrophic storms fueled by climate change, let alone the threats posed by hackers and terrorists.

To ensure a reliable power supply for homes, schools and businesses, America needs to invest in a more resilient, higher capacity grid.

That means either burying electrical lines or insulating above-ground wires and replacing wooden utility poles with structures made of steel or concrete. Other strategies include creating a battery-storage system to provide backup power, building coastal barriers to protect infrastructure against storm surge and further diversifying into wind and solar production.

Also, a shift toward more localized generation and distribution networks would limit the impact of any one power outage.

Making these upgrades with U.S.-made materials and labor will both stimulate the economy and protect national security. American steelworkers, tradespeople and manufacturing workers have the expertise to build a power grid strong enough to weather whatever storms come America’s way.

Walking the Walk

Walking the Walk

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A pedestrian in the Bronx recently experienced firsthand the danger of the country’s crumbling infrastructure when a sidewalk collapsed and dropped him 15 feet into a dark, rat-infested chamber. He waited for 30 minutes while rescue crews worked to get him out.

While sidewalk failures pose an unusually high risk in New York City, which sits precariously atop underground vaults and tunnels, many communities throughout the country grapple with deteriorating infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Now, Joe Biden’s election provides a real opportunity to move forward with the modern, sustainable projects needed to strengthen the country’s transportation networks and keep the people using them safe.

Building new sidewalks, trails and bicycle lanes would not only facilitate exercise and increase communities’ livability but also help millions of Americans cross railways safely, access public transit, and get to work.

And tackling these projects with American-made materials and union labor would jump-start the nation’s economy, especially as part of a broader infrastructure campaign that also includes upgrades to roads, bridges and rails.

That’s exactly what Biden envisions in his Build Back Better economic revival plan. Now, Congress needs to work with Biden to implement the plan so Americans can rebuild the infrastructure that’s collapsing under their feet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel for Wind Power

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

Protecting the Gulf

Protecting the Gulf

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Hurricane Laura struck the Gulf Coast in August with unusually fierce 150-mph winds that caused more than two dozen deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

Three weeks later, Hurricane Sally pummeled the Gulf with more flooding and destruction.

With storms growing stronger, lasting longer and even hitting more often because of climate change, the Gulf Coast urgently needs new infrastructure to save lives and safeguard critical industrial sites.

New barriers, for example, could protect the huge oil and chemical complex in the Houston-Galveston area that provides much of America’s jet fuel, refining capacity and petrochemical production.

A Rice University study warned that a 24-foot storm surge could cause storage tanks to fail, releasing nearly 90 million gallons of oil and hazardous substances into nearby neighborhoods and then Galveston Bay, one of the most important estuaries in the U.S. 

Damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 served as a warning. Floodwaters overwhelmed the power systems at Arkema Inc.’s chemical plant, causing organic peroxides to catch fire, explode and spew toxic fumes into the air. Hundreds of residents had to evacuate.

To protect the Houston-Galveston area from storm surge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a plan to build a barrier system: floodgates, with some sets being 650 feet wide, equal to a 60-story building laid on its side; a beach and dune complex; and ecosystem restoration projects along the Texas coast. But this work could take 10 to 15 years to complete.

Rice University researchers propose a Galveston Bay Park Plan that could be built more quickly. These man-made islands would function both as storm surge barriers and recreation areas.

A combination of natural and mechanized infrastructure along the Gulf Coast would support jobs, enhance the economic viability of coastal communities and help protect prime industrial areas from increasingly ferocious storms.

Saving the Nation’s Parks

Saving the Nation’s Parks

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

The wildfires ravaging the West Coast not only pose imminent danger to iconic national parks like Crater Lake in Oregon and the Redwoods in California, but threaten the future of all of America’s beloved scenic places.

As climate change fuels the federal government’s need to spend more of National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service budgets on wildfire suppression, massive maintenance backlogs and decrepit infrastructure threaten the entire system of national parks and forests.

A long-overdue infusion of funds into the roads, bridges, tunnels, dams and marinas in these treasured spaces would generate jobs and preserve landmark sites for generations to come.

The infrastructure networks in the nation’s parks long have failed to meet modern-day demand. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave parks a D+ rating in its 2017 infrastructure report card, citing chronic underfunding and deferred maintenance.

Just this year, a large portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is owned and managed by the NPS, collapsed due to heavy rains and slope failures. Projects to prevent disasters like this one get pushed further down the road as wildfire management squeezes agency budgets more each year.

Congress recently passed the Great American Outdoors Act,  allocating billions in new funding for the NPS.

But that’s just a first step in a long yet vital process to bring parks and forests to 21st-century standards. America’s big, open spaces cannot afford to suffer additional neglect.

The Big Drip

The Big Drip

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

The Lock and Dam Choke Point

The Lock and Dam Choke Point

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

When the massive Bonneville lock cracked last fall on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, shipments of grain, logs and other freight bottlenecked as crews hustled to save the deteriorating structure from total failure. 

Farmers in the middle of the wheat harvest and others who rely on the Columbia to ship goods as far as Asia endured crippling delays until the lock reopened a month later. 

Because many other decaying locks and dams also are at risk of failure that could choke the nation’s commerce, only a major infrastructure investment can keep America’s inland waterways open.

Most U.S. locks and dams are well beyond their 50-year design life, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates necessary upgrades to inland waterways will cost $4.9 billion.

Importantly, investments in lock and dam infrastructure would increase the nation’s capacity to export goods. In 2017, nearly half of all vessels on American inland waterways experienced lock delays, with the average delay more than doubling from 64 minutes in 2000 to 143 minutes in 2015. 

In a testimony on trade earlier this year, USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown stressed that the nation’s inland waterways are essential trade routes that congressional leaders must act quickly to upgrade. 

“Our member employers have highlighted port and lock infrastructure upgrades as an item that could not only help them get goods to market, but also significantly reduce costs,” said Brown. 

An infrastructure investment with strong Buy American provisions would improve shipping efficiency and increase demand for domestically-produced steel and other manufactured goods, fueling good, family-sustaining jobs for decades to come. 

 

Keeping Motorists Alive

Keeping Motorists Alive

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Used to delineate traffic lanes and illuminate hazards, reflective signs and road markings help keep motorists safe in poor driving conditions.

But because of America’s long failure to invest in its crumbling infrastructure, these protective devices aren’t as prevalent—or saving as many lives—as they could be.

Rebuilding America’s dilapidated roads and highways with the latest in reflective technology would not only keep drivers secure but also support American workers, like the United Steelworkers (USW) members who manufacture reflective materials at the 3M operation in Guin, Ala.

“Our members take pride in their work and realize that what they do is important for safety on the roads and highways,” said Local 9-675 President Phillip Markham. “This work also keeps our small, rural community alive.”

Local 9-675 represents 210 workers who produce reflective sheeting, an adhesive-backed film with tiny, glass beads that reflect light back to the driver’s eyes. This sheeting is used around the world on traffic signs and vehicles, such as ambulances, to improve visibility.

Markham and his co-workers also manufacture a wide range of pavement marking tapes to brighten roadways and help motorists see where they are going. These features especially protect older drivers and out-of-town motorists struggling to navigate unfamiliar roads in bad conditions.

Each year, thousands of Americans die in crashes on wet roads, many of them during periods of reduced visibility.

But the kinds of safety materials produced by Local 9-675 members have been shown to reduce injury-involved crashes in rainy conditions.

Incorporating reflective technology into a major upgrade of America’s roads would enable the skilled workers at 3M to help more motorists safely find their way.

No Broadband, No Education

No Broadband, No Education

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

COVID-19 this spring forced tens of thousands of students in the Fontana, Calif., Unified School District (FUSD), like students across the nation, to learn from home. So the district—including members of USW Local 8599—leapt into action to help ensure all students could log into class.

The district established a private network to deliver high-speed wireless internet to students and teachers in their homes, while USW members in the technology and library departments distributed laptops to all 36,000 students.

The massive undertaking—condensing a project originally slated for three years into just three months—demonstrates the power of committing to widely-needed infrastructure projects that can quickly and efficiently provide students with the broadband access that is now every bit as essential as electricity. 

Yet, local solutions can only take the nation so far, as millions of other students and educators across the country still struggle to get online. Only a national effort, initiated and funded by Congress, can provide the universal broadband access required for education in 2020.

So far, congressional Republicans and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have done little to solve the broadband divide issue for students, forcing superintendents to scrape together funds and find piecemeal solutions. 

Numerous Democratic bills, including the Moving Forward Act, passed by the House in July, and the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, recently introduced in the House and Senate, include plans to fund broadband infrastructure. But the Republican Senate has dragged its feet on these and other important coronavirus relief bills. 

The 12 million American students without internet at home will continue to fall further behind as universal broadband is delayed.

The Fontana school district proved that expanding broadband infrastructure is not only possible, but is necessary for the future of education. Now, thousands of other school districts around the country need resources for similar projects. 

It is time for Congress to commit to long-range broadband investments that will help students learn and keep the nation connected.

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.

 

Freight can’t wait

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

The high cost of failing infrastructure

The high cost of failing infrastructure

From the USW 

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Residents of Midland, Mich., will spend months rebuilding their homes and their lives after the failure of two dams triggered massive flooding along the Tittabawassee River in May.

The tragedy is a grim reminder of America’s pressing need to upgrade infrastructure like the aging Edenville Dam, which broke during a heavy storm and unleashed a torrent of water that caused a second impoundment to fail as well.

The flooding damaged or destroyed more than 2,500 buildings. The cleanup will cost an estimated $200 million—money that would have better spent upgrading Michigan’s dams and averting disaster.

USW Local 12075, which represents about 850 workers at the Dow-DuPont-Corteva-Trinseo-Sk Saran complex in Midland, has numerous members affected by the flooding. While some only had to mop up water in their basements others experienced major damage or even lost their homes.

“We definitely need to put money into infrastructure because things are falling apart,” lamented Local 12075 Vice President Jim Varnum, who works at DuPont.

Varnum and his family are living in a camper while they repair their home. They already installed the floors, drywall and insulation. Now, they’re ordering doors, kitchen cabinets, beds and other furniture.

Federal regulators long complained that Boyce Hydro Power LLC, owner of both dams, refused to make critically needed improvements to the Edenville structure.

But many other dams across the country also are aging, in poor condition and at risk of collapsing.

“Without the government putting emphasis on fixing our infrastructure—roads, dams, bridges, water system, etc.—we’re going to see more disasters like what happened to Midland and the surrounding area,” Varnum said.

Massive infrastructure investment imperative for economic recovery

Massive infrastructure investment imperative for economic recovery

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Infrastructure projects across the country screeched to a halt as cities grappled with the economic fallout from Covid-19, a recent survey by the National League of Cities (NLC) revealed.

This sets cities even further back in their battles against dangerous crumbling roads, bridges, airports, water systems and other critical projects, and leaves scores of the 17 million workers in essential infrastructure jobs struggling to put food on the table.

Sixty-five percent of cities have delayed or canceled infrastructure projects due to budget cuts brought on by Covid-19, with 32 percent of cities furloughing or laying off essential employees, according to the NLC.

The USW has long called for federal, state and local governments to invest heavily in infrastructure which, when coupled with Buy American provisions, would create thousands of good, family-sustaining jobs.

Now, as the country struggles to rebound from the economic devastation left by Covid-19, the charge is clearer than ever: The United States can no longer afford to sleep on making critical structural improvements.

Despite repeated promises to prioritize infrastructure, the Trump administration continues to sit idly by as cities halt projects and lay off essential workers in droves.

Even the relief funds signed into law in March through the CARES Act left nearly 70 percent of cities, towns and villages without direct assistance, the NLC said.

As coronavirus cases increase and unemployment rates also remain high, it is clear that only a long-term infrastructure investment can put Americans back to work and protect citizens from future crises.

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

Human Service Workers at Persad Center Vote to Join the USW

From the USW

Workers at Persad Center, a human service organization that serves the LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS communities of the Pittsburgh area, voted last week to join the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The unit of 24 workers, ranging from therapists and program coordinators to case managers and administrative staff, announced their union campaign as the Persad Staff Union last month and filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We care about our work and the communities we serve,” said Johanna Smith, Persad’s Development, Communications, and Events Associate. “We strongly believe this work and our connections to our clients will only improve now that we will be represented by a union.”

The Persad workers join the growing number of white-collar professionals organizing with the USW, especially in the Pittsburgh region. Their membership is also in line with the recent work the Steelworkers have been doing to engage LGBTQ+ members and improve contract language regarding issues that affect their lives.

“Workplaces are changing and evolving, and the labor movement is changing and evolving along with that,” said USW Vice President Fred Redmond, who oversees the union’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee as well as the USW Health Care Workers Council. “This campaign gives us an opportunity to diversify our great union while uplifting and empowering a group of workers who give their all for others.”

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Members of Local 7798 achieve major goal with workplace violence policy

From the USW

Workers at Copper Country Mental Health Services in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their contract ratified earlier this year, but the benefit Local 7798 members were most proud of bargaining was language regarding workplace violence.

The contract committed the employer to appoint a committee, including two members of the local, to draft a workplace violence policy. Work quickly began on the policy, and just last week, the committee drafted and released its first clinical guideline focusing on responding to consumer aggression toward staff.

“We are so excited to have this go into effect,” said Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez of Local 7798. “This was a direct result of our last negotiating session.”

The guideline includes the definition of aggression and an outline of procedures, all of which will be reviewed yearly. And though this is just a first step in reducing the incident rates and harm of workplace violence in their workplace, it still is a big one for the local, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a collective bargaining agreement.

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Stand in Support of Musicians!

From the AFL-CIO

Members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) are fighting to secure a fair contract with major Hollywood film and TV companies. AFM members perform in every genre of music and perform live for programs like "The Tonight Show," and play the soundtracks for our most beloved TV shows and movies.

Musicians’ livelihoods are under attack by greedy corporations determined to gut their wages. Like actors, directors and writers, musicians traditionally earn most of their wages as deferred income in the form of residuals. Among the most intransigent of these employers is The Walt Disney Company—the same company that has brought so much joy to so many, is refusing to pay its workers a fair wage.

The primary issue in bargaining is that AFM is seeking a residual payment on “made for new media” content, i.e., those shows and movies that go directly to streaming services. As more content moves to streaming services, this is absolutely necessary in order to secure musicians’ ability to work in this field in the long term. Variety magazine quoted one longtime AFM member as saying, “Our ability to make a sustainable living is facing extinction.”

Independent research has shown that a musician in the United States loses about 75% of their income on work that is made for new media compared to typical theatrical and TV work. As Disney prepares to invest up to $25 billion in its Disney Plus streaming service, musicians suffer. Nearly every other unionized Hollywood workforce (writers, actors, directors, etc.) share in the profits, why can’t musicians?

A 75% pay cut is never right!

For more information, please visit: BandTogetherAFM.org.

Labor Wins

From the AFL-CIO

On Tuesday, the labor movement drove historic wins for pro-worker candidates like Governor-Elect Andy Beshear in Kentucky and new legislative majorities in Virginia. Not only did union members come out to vote in droves, 270 union member candidates were elected to public office last night and counting. This adds to the total of more than 900 union members elected up and down the ballot in last year’s midterms, a product of the Union Member Candidate Program launched by the AFL-CIO just two years ago. The share of union members who won in the 2018 midterms is two-thirds. The program will continue through 2020 and beyond, electing even more union members to public office. 

“Our efforts recruiting, training and supporting labor candidates have led to the passage of pro-worker legislation from coast to coast and everywhere in between,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

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Riley chosen to continue mission as head of Alabama AFL-CIO

From the AFL-CIO

Bren Riley (USW) has been re-elected as president of the Alabama AFL-CIO, winning his second full term in office. The state federation is made up of 37 unions and more than 50,000 members. Riley previously served as president of United Steelworkers Local 12 at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. He said he will focus on working with both political parties to help the working families of his state. “We just try to improve working peoples’ lives by creating good legislation and trying to kill bad legislation, and we support members across both sides of the aisle,” Riley said. 
 
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A CEO’s Defense: His Scientists Made Him Do It!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Late last year, Reuters reported that the global Big Pharma powerhouse Johnson & Johnson “knew for decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder” — and kept that knowledge from consumers. J&J immediately disputed those charges in a series of full-page newspaper ads. But that didn’t stop lawsuits from thousands of cancer victims. Earlier this month, J&J CEO Alex Gorsky sat for a full-day deposition in one of those suits and emphasized that his company stands by the safety of its talc powders “unequivocally.” Two weeks later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revealed that new FDA testing had discovered asbestos in a Johnson’s Baby Powder bottle. J&J the next day recalled 33,000 bottles. J&J flacks have since insisted that Gorsky deserves no blame in this entire Baby Powder situation since, as a lay person, he has to depend on scientists “to advise him.” What Gorsky does still apparently deserve: his $20.1 million 2018 compensation.

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A Top Exec Gets His Kicks Kicking Passengers

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Free-marketeers have been trying to strangle Amtrak, America’s quasi-public passenger railroad, for years now, and the Trump White House has tightened the chokehold, partly by pushing changes that make Amtrak’s food service ever less appealing. The latest victims? Passengers on long hauls who can’t afford Amtrak’s premium tickets. Among other changes, these ordinary passengers can no longer sit in the railroad’s dining cars and buy cooked-to-order meals. Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, meanwhile, is sugarcoating the railroad’s new economic segregation, describing the widely disliked squeezes as “enhanced services.” No one should be surprised. In his previous life, as the CEO at Delta, Anderson helped turn his airline into a high-profit Wall Street darling by putting the squeeze on frequent fliers. Delta’s SkyMiles program became, as one travel journalist put it, “offensively, aggressively awful,” with good seats for popular destinations more than doubling in mileage price. Anderson himself retired from Delta in 2016. On the way out the door, he collected $72 million in Delta stock awards.

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America’s Wealthy: Ever Eager to Pay Their Taxes!

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Why do many of the wealthiest people in America oppose a “wealth tax,” an annual levy on grand fortune? Could their distaste reflect a simple reluctance to pay their fair tax share? Oh no, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon recently told the Business Roundtable: “I know a lot of wealthy people who would be happy to pay more in taxes; they just think it’ll be wasted and be given to interest groups and stuff like that.” Could Dimon have in mind the interest group he knows best, Wall Street? In the 2008 financial crisis, federal bailouts kept the banking industry from imploding. JPMorgan alone, notes the ProPublica Bailout Tracker, collected $25 billion worth of federal largesse, an act of generosity that’s helped Dimon lock down a $1.5-billion personal fortune. Under the Elizabeth Warren wealth tax plan, Dimon would pay an annual 3 percent tax on that much net worth. Fortunes between $1 billion and $2.5 billion would face a 5 percent annual tax under the Bernie Sanders plan.

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A Superstar CEO Takes One Greedy Step Too Far

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Gigs! Disruption! Cubicle killers! Adam Neumann figured he could parlay trendy buzzwords into an office rental goliath that could make him rich. WeWork, the company he co-founded nine years ago, took out long-term office building leases and subleased space to start-ups and freelancers, a business model that soon flopped. In 2018, WeWork collected $1.8 billion in revenue and still ended the year $1.6 billion in the red. But Neumann himself has done quite well, in part by buying up buildings and renting the space back to WeWork. Neumann also tried trademarking — in his own name — the “We” in WeWork. Amid the resulting furor, he later returned the $5.9 million he charged WeWork for rights to the “We.” That furor only intensified this summer when Neumann sold off $700 million of his WeWork shares before a planned IPO, a clear case of trying to get out while the getting seemed good. That maneuver chopped two-thirds off WeWork’s $47 billion market value and had WeWork investors demanding Neumann’s head. They got it. Neumann last week stepped down as WeWork CEO. The good news for Neumann? He still has plenty of pillows to rest his head on. He owns five homes worth a combined $80 million.

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Reposted from Inequality.org

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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California Protects Precariat Workers

From the AFL-CIO

In a historic win for California’s workers, the California Legislature approved a bill Sept. 13 that makes the misclassification of employees as independent contractors more difficult.

Sponsored by the California Labor Federation, Assembly Bill 5 codifies and expands on a 2018 California Supreme Court decision.

The bill also will help curb the rampant exploitation of workers by unscrupulous employers and give California’s working people the basic rights and protections we all deserve. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the bill into law.

 “The time is up for unscrupulous employers who claim their workers are ‘independent’ in order to cut corners on costs,”  California Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez said about A.B. 5

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He Gets the Bucks, We Get All the Deadly Bangs

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre has had better weeks. First came the horrific early August slaughters in California, Texas, and Ohio that left dozens dead, murders that elevated public pressure on the NRA’s hardline against even the mildest of moves against gun violence. Then came revelations that LaPierre — whose labors on behalf of the nonprofit NRA have made him a millionaire many times over — last year planned to have his gun lobby group bankroll a 10,000-square-foot luxury manse near Dallas for his personal use. In response, LaPierre had his flacks charge that the NRA’s former ad agency had done the scheming to buy the mansion. The ad agency called that assertion “patently false” and related that LaPierre had sought the agency’s involvement in the scheme, a request the agency rejected. The mansion scandal, notes the Washington Post, comes as the NRA is already “contending with the fallout from allegations of lavish spending by top executives.”

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Reject Scalia for Labor Secretary

From the AFL-CIO

Eugene Scalia, the nominee for secretary of labor, has spent his entire career making life more difficult and dangerous for working people. The AFL-CIO opposed him in 2002 for solicitor of labor based on his anti-worker record. He has fought ergonomics standards, threatened to destroy workers’ retirement savings, challenged the expansion of health care and dismissed repetitive injuries as “junk science.” The secretary of labor needs to be a true advocate for working people. Scalia’s views are dangerously outside the mainstream and leave us no choice but to oppose his nomination.

Take Action

Reject Eugene Scalia.

New Minnesota Law Protects Workers from Wage Theft

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a member of the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, signed into a law last week a measure to protect workers against wage theft in the state by imposing strict penalties.

The law will double the number of state investigators probing wage-theft allegations and subject violators to felony records and prison terms.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry estimates that $12 million is lost yearly as a result of wage theft. Wage theft can occur through wrongful withholdings, failure to pay at least minimum wage or the agreed upon wage rate, and denying payment for mandatory breaks or overtime.

“This is the same thing as if they walked in and took the money from you,” Walz said after the signing. “It’s insidious in that it undermines our faith in the system.”

Employers now face felony charges if they fail to pay their workers the wages to which they are entitled. They will also be required to provide new employees with written notice of employment terms, and the state will allocate about $2 million annually toward enforcement of the state’s wage and hour laws.

Under this law, which will apply to violations occurring on or after Aug. 1, 2019, the penalties will vary based on the value of the theft. For example, if the amount of theft ranges from $1,000-4,999, the penalty could be a maximum imprisonment of five years, or a maximum fine of $10,000. If the theft is $35,000 or higher, the maximum imprisonment could be 20 years – and the maximum fine could be $100,000.

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Raise the Wage!

From the AFL-CIO

It’s been a decade since the federal minimum wage was increased—the longest period in American history without an increase. In that time, the cost of living has increased and working families have struggled to make ends meet. The Raise the Wage Act would finally bring the federal minimum wage up to $15 an hour.

The House of Representatives is voting tomorrow on the Raise the Wage Act, and we need to make sure lawmakers know where workers stand. Will you show your support and ask your friends to call their representatives?

One in 9 workers in the U.S. is in poverty—even when working full time and year-round. Passing the Raise the Wage Act as it stands would empower working families in need and build an economy that works for everyone.

Share our #RaisetheWage message on social media right now.

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Stronger Together

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