Posts from Tom Conway

Shared Sacrifice

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Shared Sacrifice

Chad Longpre Shepersky repeatedly took COVID-19 tests—and waited on pins and needles for results each time—during a coronavirus outbreak at Guardian Angels Health & Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, Minn.

Longpre Shepersky, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), never contracted the virus. But he watched in agony as dozens of his patients and co-workers fell ill and fought for their lives.

As a weary nation enters the holiday season, Americans have an opportunity to help health care workers like Longpre Shepersky and start bringing the raging pandemic under control.

Consistently wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions will slow COVID-19’s spread and provide much-needed relief to the front-line workers battling burnout as well as the virus.

“Everyone should do their part,” insisted Longpre Shepersky, financial secretary and steward for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9349, which represents workers at Guardian Angels. “Just the other day, I witnessed people in Walmart not wearing masks or following 6-foot distancing. Too many people aren’t doing what they can to fight the virus.”

As infection rates soar to their highest levels nationwide, the 10-month-old pandemic continues to take a disproportionately deadly toll on frail, vulnerable nursing home residents and the people who care for them.

So many residents and workers at Guardian Angels contracted the virus that the Minnesota National Guard last month sent a five-person team to help keep the 90-bed facility operating. Even then, as he worried about his own safety and mourned the deaths of several patients, Longpre Shepersky logged grueling amounts of overtime to fill in for ill colleagues.

“It got to the point where you dreaded going to work because you didn’t know what the day was going to bring,” recalled Longpre Shepersky, a CNA for 21 years who considers his co-workers and patients a second family. “But there was no one else there to do it. I just pulled up my Big Boy pants and went in to work and got through the day.”

Many nursing home workers endured staffing shortages at their facilities long before the pandemic. Because of low Medicaid payments for patient care, among other reasons, facilities paid low wages, skimped on staff or battled chronic turnover.

When COVID-19 struck, turnover and staff sicknesses compounded the chronic understaffing.

More ...

A Duty to Act

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Duty to Act

Tim O’Daniel and his co-workers at Cleveland Clinic Akron General confront additional cases of COVID-19 every day in a hospital so busy it’s sometimes difficult to find an empty bed.

They’re also battling rising frustration after waiting months for comprehensive coronavirus testing and other federal resources essential to containing the pandemic.

Americans voted overwhelmingly in the Nov. 3 election to support the nation’s health care workers and go on the offensive against COVID-19.

But while President-elect Joe Biden assembles a team of scientific advisers and finalizes his strategy for defeating the virus, there’s no reason to wait until he takes office Jan. 20 to begin turning the corner.

Americans can come together to demand that the Republican-controlled Senate immediately pass a common-sense bill providing coronavirus testing, contact-tracing programs and funds that states could use to give hazard pay to essential workers, like health care professionals.

Right now, one person—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—stands in the way of America’s fight against COVID-19. Instead of rushing to give Americans the support they demand, he defies the will of the people and lets the bill languish while the pandemic death toll mounts.

“We’re paying with our lives,” noted O’Daniel, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014L, who just days ago lost a colleague to COVID-19. “We’re paying with our health."

The House already approved the bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which also would set workplace safety standards for the duration of the pandemic and ensure a reliable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the front-line workers putting themselves in harm’s way.

McConnell refused to take up the HEROES Act before the election—even as infection rates soared—because saving lives meant less than to him than ramming through Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and cementing the court’s right-wing majority for decades to come.

“The confirmation of that justice did nothing to help the American people right now,” observed O’Daniel, who’s infuriated that McConnell and other Republican senators “can act on a dime” for partisan political gain while dithering for months on measures essential to controlling COVID-19.

More ...

Democracy in Action

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Democracy in Action

Ken Yatsko wrote hundreds of postcards and made thousands of phone calls as part of a campaign encouraging fellow union members to perform their civic duty in Tuesday’s election.

And having done his part to generate a record turnout, Yatsko now expects every vote to be counted.

He and other Americans witnessed an unprecedented exercise in democracy as legions of patriotic voters braved COVID-19, long lines at polling places and other hardships to cast ballots in a crucial election.

Now, it’s essential to bring the process to its fair and proper end, one that respects the sacrifices voters made—the risks they took—to put the nation on the road to change. That means accurately counting all 160 million ballots—the most ever cast in a presidential election—and ensuring every voter’s voice is heard.

“The people have spoken,” noted Yatsko, a U.S. Steel retiree and the vice president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 7-1, who was still making get-out-the-vote phone calls on the eve of the election. “The will of the people is that you count the votes, and add them up, and you have a winner.”

The surging turnout rate—the highest for a presidential contest in more than a century—reflected Americans’ demand that the nation finally mount a comprehensive fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and take decisive steps to rebuild the country’s broken economy.

Joe Biden, who unveiled an aggressive strategy for leading the nation’s recovery, received more votes than any presidential candidate in history.

Because Biden urged his supporters to vote remotely because of the pandemic, it’s taking local election boards longer than usual to tabulate an unprecedented number of mail-in votes.

Elections officials knew this would be the case—and let the public know—well before Election Day. Now, to uphold democracy, these officials need to take as much time as necessary to perform a comprehensive, accurate count.

More ...

Keeping Democracy Alive

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Keeping Democracy Alive

Bill Finkle will brave COVID-19 and drive around Kansas City all day Tuesday, giving free rides to seniors who need a lift to the polls.

Finkle passionately believes both in giving citizens every opportunity to vote and in properly counting every ballot cast.

Yet while ordinary citizens like him risk their very lives to keep democracy running, notorious liar Donald Trump pursues an unprecedented campaign to undermine the will of the people in an attempt to steal a second term.

“You can’t put anything past him,” noted Finkle, 73, treasurer of the Steelworkers Organization of Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 34-3 and vice president of the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans.

“He’s trying to throw democracy right down the drain,” said Finkle, who joined the Marines at 18 and spent three years defending the Constitution that Trump disgraces. “If that happens, God help us.”

Trump began plotting his heist months ago as the COVID-19 pandemic fueled unprecedented demand for mail-in ballots from Americans worried about contracting the coronavirus at crowded polling places.

Any other president would have used his office to expand mail-in balloting and ensure that all voters have their voices heard. Mail-in ballots are a practical and secure form of voting that members of the armed forces, homebound seniors and Americans living overseas all relied on for decades, without controversy, until Trump manufactured one.

Because he fears Americans’ wrath after bungling the nation’s pandemic response and sending the economy into a nosedive, Trump resolved to disenfranchise—to silence—those he suspected would hold him accountable for his failures.

He tried to destroy the U.S. Postal Service to thwart the delivery of mail-in ballots. And he repeatedly went to court to disenfranchise Americans who voted remotely, even though he hypocritically cast his own ballot by mail.

“It’s just something for him to say to discredit the election,” Ben Armstrong, a trustee for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 377, said of Trump’s groundless claims about a “rigged” outcome.

 “That way, if he loses, he’ll have something to take to the Supreme Court. I do believe that if he were ahead in the polls, it would never be an issue,” explained Armstrong, whose work at International Paper in Georgetown, S.C., includes making ballot stock for elections.

More ...

The Blood on Trump’s Hands

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

The Blood on Trump’s Hands

Nick Miclaus realized just how much his Goodyear colleagues appreciated rigorous COVID-19 safety measures when they started recommending them to friends and family working at other companies.

Yet Miclaus, the United Steelworkers (USW) safety coordinator for Goodyear plants across the U.S., knows that his efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus and other dangers hang in the balance because of Donald Trump.

As Trump wielded his office on behalf of corporations seeking greater deregulation and higher profits, American workers increasingly struggled to safeguard themselves not only against COVID-19 but the everyday hazards that kill, sicken and maim them while callous employers look the other way.

“There are some employers who will say, ‘I just need this done. I don’t care if you don’t wear a mask. I don’t care if you don’t wear safety glasses,’” observed Miclaus, a member of USW Local 2L, which represents hundreds of workers at Goodyear’s Akron, Ohio, location.

The federal government long ago created various agencies to protect workers’ rights and safety. But Trump turned them into appendages of corporate America, hamstringing inspectors and other dedicated experts who want to do their jobs as effectively as they did in the past.

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, for example, rolled back rules requiring chemical-related companies to take proactive steps to protect workers and the public from chemical disasters and to comprehensively investigate deadly incidents when they occur.

It also failed to thoroughly evaluate the risk of dangerous chemicals used at job sites, helping employers cut corners on safety while exposing workers to substances that could sicken or kill them decades down the road.

“They can’t enjoy their retirement because they’re fighting an illness that could have been prevented,” Miclaus said of the potential long-term impact.

Under Trump, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—the agency ostensibly responsible for workplace safety—left workers to fend for themselves long before the pandemic struck.

The Trump political cronies running the agency let key vacancies go unfilled for years, and the number of OSHA inspectors dropped to 1975 levels even while America’s work force continued to expand.

As vigorous enforcement plummeted, deaths increased. OSHA added insult to injury, removing a list of workplace fatalities from its homepage and burying a less-detailed record of deaths deep in its website.

More ...

Hanging by a Thread

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Hanging by a Thread

Tom Michels worked 31 years at LTV’s iron ore mine in northern Minnesota—and had already started making retirement plans—when the company’s bankruptcy wiped out his job and most of his hard-earned pension.

Michels took a series of odd jobs to make ends meet until he became eligible for the Social Security benefits that now enable the 71-year-old to buy food, cover health care costs and even travel a little with his wife, Vicky.

Yet because of Donald Trump, Michels’ retirement hangs by a thread. If Trump destroys Social Security, as he threatened to do, Michels and millions of other Americans will be cast into poverty with little hope of ever bouncing back.

Some will have no choice but return to the work force and toil until they die. Others, too frail to work and lacking other resources to pay mounting bills, would lose everything they spent their lifetimes building.

“I hate to even think about what’s going to happen if he’s reelected,” observed Michels, a former member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4108 whose income, without Social Security, would fall to just several hundred dollars a month.

“Social Security is not an entitlement. It’s something we bought and paid for. Every hour we worked, we were paying for Social Security,” Michels said, adding Trump has no right to deprive retirees of benefits they earned.

Because of the country’s aging population, Social Security next year will spend more money on benefits for retirees than it takes in through workers’ payroll taxes. Many beneficiaries already struggle because payment amounts set by the government fail to keep up with health care costs.

But instead of shoring up this popular and essential program, Trump wants to kill it.

He repeatedly proposed cutting Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, which provide crucial assistance to Americans no longer able to provide for themselves and their families.

This past winter, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Trump expressed his desire to take up so-called entitlement reform if reelected. Astute retirees like Michels understand that is code for cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare.

More ...

Putting Every American at Risk

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Putting Every American at Risk

Jackie Anklam realized that Donald Trump was failing the American people when her father died of complications of COVID-19 in a Michigan hospital that ran short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its workers.

What outrages her more is that, several months later, Trump not only refuses to learn from his early blunders but blithely flouts the safety measures critical to slowing the virus.

Instead of leading the nation to safety, Trump downplays the pandemic for personal political gain and divides Americans when they most need to pull together.

“He doesn’t care about getting a grip on this. He doesn’t even care about giving it to someone,” said Anklam, noting Trump refused to wear a mask and defied social distancing requirements while health experts warned that such reckless behavior contributed to the rising death toll.

After seeking treatment for his own infection, Anklam observed, Trump took a joy ride on the grounds of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, potentially exposing the Secret Service agents in his SUV to COVID-19 just so he could wave to supporters. And after cutting short his hospital stay and returning to the White House, Trump still refused to wear a mask even though he risked infecting everyone who came into contact with him, including the photographer forced to snap his picture while he posed on a balcony.

“The president is supposed to put the American people first. He has done everything except that. He has put every American at risk,” said Anklam, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9899, who believes her father contracted pneumonia and died because of PPE shortages and infection-control problems in the hospital treating him for COVID-19.

Nearly 10 months after the pandemic hit the U.S., hospitals and other health care facilities continue to struggle with chronic, drastic shortages of respirators, gloves, gowns and other safety equipment.

Trump never worked to repair broken supply chains. He never used emergency powers that would have forced factories to retool and produce critical supplies.

And he failed to deliver a comprehensive plan for reinvigorating America’s manufacturing base and averting future shortages of essential goods.

Because Trump abandoned his duty, a coalition of organizations, including the USW, filed a federal lawsuit this week demanding the government immediately harness the nation’s manufacturing capacity for production of PPE. While the courts consider the case, more front-line workers will die needlessly.

More ...

Weaponizing the Supreme Court

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Weaponizing the Supreme Court

As a union griever, Jason Haynes fought constant battles against employers ever ready to cheat workers out of overtime pay and other hard-earned benefits.

He’s also seen firsthand how greedy corporations and their Republican cronies relentlessly erode labor protections at the state and national levels, making it increasingly difficult not only for Americans to organize but for union members to exercise long-held rights.

Now, Haynes fears the addition of anti-worker Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court will help the rich tighten their stranglehold on working people.

Donald Trump nominated Barrett to weaponize the nation’s most important court against ordinary Americans. Her confirmation would give the court’s right-wingers a 6-3 majority. And because she refuses to adhere to precedent, Barrett could provide a crucial vote on cases potentially overturning organizing rights, rolling back labor protections and dealing other setbacks to workers.

“Having her on there is definitely not going to do any favors for labor, that’s for sure,” observed Haynes, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6787 who works at ArcelorMittal’s Burns Harbor, Ind., site.

“Labor rights are imperative to giving us a seat at the table,” he noted. “If we’re not sitting at the table, we’re on the menu. Our rights are the only leverage we have.”

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP minions determined to ram through her confirmation, Barrett appears to have a lock on the vacancy created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

But while the 48-year-old Barrett may take Ginsburg’s seat, she’ll never fill her shoes. Ginsburg devoted her career to advancing the interests of women and workers, even as Barrett used her power to tear them down.

As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit since 2017, Barrett has consistently favored corporations over workers and twisted laws to the breaking point in support of her opinions.

Citing a law that exempts over-the-road truckers from overtime for safety reasons, for example, Barrett ruled against workers who sued a transportation company that refused to pay them for extra hours they logged. Even though the Wisconsin company exclusively assigned the workers to yard duty, in which they used tractors to pull trailers short distances between warehouses, Barrett ruled they qualified as truckers engaged in interstate commerce. And that left them ineligible for overtime no matter how many hours their bosses required them to work.

More ...

Giving Workers the Cold Shoulder

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Giving Workers the Cold Shoulder

Robert B. “Bull” Bulman stood up to FreightCar America because of the poor pay and hazardous working conditions at its Cherokee, Ala., factory. But the company savagely retaliated with threats to close the plant and relocate to Mexico.

Then, after thwarting the union drive, FreightCar America opted to offshore those 500 jobs anyway in a greedy gambit to exploit low wages and weak laws south of the border.

Although Donald Trump won the White House with a vow to reinvigorate a manufacturing base essential for America’s future, he failed to stanch the torrent of U.S. corporations absconding to countries with abysmal working conditions and lax environmental regulation.

Right under Trump’s nose, America lost hundreds of factories to offshoring, and corporations relocated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs, all before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the economy into a nosedive. Some of these callous employers, including FreightCar America, even soaked taxpayers for millions of dollars in subsidies and other aid before they cut and run.

“They’re like parasites,” observed Bulman, who will lose his job when FreightCar America abandons its mile-long, 2.2-million-square-foot factory by the end of the year. “They get what they want and leave.”

Bulman, who formerly worked at a United Steelworkers (USW)-represented paper mill, helped lead two organizing drives at FreightCar America because he knew a union would compel the company to provide safer working conditions and give a voice to those performing demanding, hazardous jobs.

But FreightCar America waged vicious anti-union campaigns that included threats to close the plant and—the company’s very name notwithstanding—move the jobs to Mexico. After defeating both organizing drives, the company still sold out its workers.

Although Trump promised to stop companies from playing these heartless games with families’ livelihoods, he refused to intervene with FreightCar America or lift a finger to save manufacturing jobs in a state where workers deeply trusted he’d fight for them.

He gave the cold shoulder to FreightCar America workers who called and emailed the White House with pleas for help, just as he ignored USW members who sought assistance this year before Goodyear closed its nearly-100-year-old Gadsden, Ala., tire plant and moved several hundred remaining jobs to Mexico.

Mickey Ray Williams, the former president of Local 12, reached out to several administration officials and provided them with a presentation outlining Goodyear’s refusal to invest in the Gadsden factory even as it pumped more and more money into a Mexican site paying workers only a few dollars an hour.

Goodyear’s offshoring of the Assurance All-Season tire developed—and long manufactured—in Gadsden was exactly the kind of nefarious practice Trump bragged he would curb.

More ...

Trump’s Biggest Con

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Trump’s Biggest Con

Bob Kemper recalls the hope Donald Trump intentionally stirred in 2016 by pledging to revive manufacturing and keep factories busy producing steel, aluminum and other materials for a major infrastructure overhaul.

Kemper knows that seductive rhetoric won over many Americans, including some of his co-workers at U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Works in Michigan.

Over the past four years, however, Trump repeatedly showed Kemper’s colleagues and millions of other workers that his vow to save manufacturing was just a con to win the election, not a promise he ever intended to keep.

Trump failed to deliver the manufacturing renaissance that propelled him to the White House and then stood idly by while wave after wave of factory closures devastated the very families who pinned their hopes on him.

Instead of bringing industry back, as he boasted during a visit to Detroit in 2016, Trump turned a blind eye when U.S. Steel last year announced it would lay off as many as 1,500 workers at Great Lakes and idle much of the complex because of low demand for steel.

“It was a feint and a lie,” Kemper, grievance chairman for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1299, which represents Great Lakes workers, said of Trump’s pledge. “He told Americans what they wanted to hear. It’s all broken promises.”

On Trump’s watch, hundreds of factories like Great Lakes went dark—and America’s manufacturing sector fell into recession—even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. His botched response to the health crisis further wrecked the economy and forced still more producers of steel, aluminum, paper and other products to cut back or close.

Since Trump took office, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing workers lost family-sustaining jobs, including more than 16,000 in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in the year before the pandemic alone.

The factory closures decimated local communities and further eroded America’s capacity to produce critical goods like face masks for health care workers and supplies for the armed forces, putting the nation’s security at risk.

“Heaven forbid we ever get into a real conflict, and we don’t have the capability to produce our own steel for our military,” Kemper noted.

In 2016, Trump repeatedly touted a massive infrastructure program that would fund urgently needed improvements to the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, locks, dams, ports and drinking water systems.

More ...

Stronger Together

Stronger Together

Union Matters

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.

More ...