Category: From the USW International President

Gordon Gekko Gets Religion, Sort of

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Gordon Gekko found religion this week. Gekko, the lead in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” about capitalism gone corruptly amok, is most famous for his phrase: “greed is good.”

On Monday, real-world Gekkos – 181 corporate CEOs who belong to the Business Roundtable – signed a pledge saying they think greed isn’t so good, after all. 

Instead of bowing at the altar of larger corporate profits to hand out to executives and shareholders, these CEOs declared that corporations must demonstrate some reverence for other stakeholders as well: workers, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.

If corporations actually devoted themselves to achieving this goal, it would be a return to the decades of the 20th century between 1930 and 1970 when many corporations did, in fact, abide by these values. The American middle class was more robust then, as pay rose in tandem with productivity. Unions held a stronger position in the economy. And the disparity between CEO and worker pay was dramatically smaller. But believing the country will revert to those economic times without force is naïve. The Roundtable’s announcement is nothing but a stunt.

Though the 181 Roundtable CEOs signed the stakeholder capitalism document, practicing the principles is an entirely different thing. And not even every member of the Business Roundtable came around and endorsed the document. The “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” says those who did sign “share a commitment to all of our stakeholders.” They underlined the word all. And they wrote in the present tense, as if they were already operating their corporations this way.

That, frankly, is ridiculous.

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A Tire that Inspires Fear

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Mickey Ray Williams keeps a Goodyear tire in his Gadsden, Ala., conference room. Made in Mexico and imported to Gadsden, that tire induces fear. 

It’s an Assurance All-Season tire. Those were developed at Goodyear’s Gadsden factory in 2014. Now some, or possibly all, are built in a brand-new, half-billion-dollar plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. And Goodyear is furloughing workers at its tire plant in Gadsden, where Williams is president of the USW local union.

This sad story is as old as NAFTA. That’s a quarter century of pain. An American corporation, GM or Nabisco or Carrier, builds a factory in Mexico. There, NAFTA will protect the company from tariffs when it imports the Mexican-made cars or Oreos or furnaces back into the United States. And in Mexico, the company can pollute freely, pay workers as little as $2 an hour, and establish company-controlled unions so workers can’t bargain for more. It’s a lose-lose for workers. American workers get fired; Mexican workers get exploited.

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Trump Picked the Wrong Side

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Donald Trump: billionaire of the people. When he ran for office, he said, “The American worker will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”

And how’s that working out for the American worker? Not very well, actually, not very well. When it comes down to picking sides – standing up for workers’ rights or lining the pockets of CEOs and shareholders – Trump aligned himself and his policies with the fat cats. This cost workers money and safety. The truth is that American corporations got a president who protected them and fought for them.

The proof is in Trump legislation, regulation and secretary selections. The most recent example is Trump’s Twitter appointment of Eugene Scalia as Secretary of Labor. This is the department specifically designated to “foster, promote and develop the welfare of wage earners, job seekers and retirees.” Scalia, though, has made his fortune over decades by fighting to ensure that the big guys – corporations – don’t, in fact, have to abide by regulations intended to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the little guys – wage earners, job seekers and retirees.

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Double or Nothing on Infrastructure

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Double or Nothing on Infrastructure

Bad news about infrastructure is as ubiquitous as potholes. Failures in a 108-year-old railroad bridge and tunnel cost New York commuters thousands of hours in delays. Illinois doesn’t regularly inspect, let alone fix, decaying bridges. Flooding in Nebraska caused nearly half a billion in road and bridge damage – just this year.

No problem, though. President Donald Trump promised to fix all this. The great dealmaker, the builder of eponymous buildings, the star of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump, during his campaign, urged Americans to bet on him because he’d double what his opponent would spend on infrastructure. Double, he pledged!

So far, that wager has netted Americans nothing. No money. No deal. No bridges, roads or leadless water pipes. And there’s nothing on the horizon since Trump stormed out of the most recent meeting. That was a three-minute session in May with Democratic leaders at which Trump was supposed to discuss the $2 trillion he had proposed earlier to spend on infrastructure. In a press conference immediately afterward, Trump said if the Democrats continued to investigate him, he would refuse to keep his promises to the American people to repair the nation’s infrastructure.

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China and America: The Struggle for Independence

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

China and America: The Struggle for Independence

The United States is number one. First to secure independence from a colonial overlord, it boasts the freest speech, the best junk food, and the largest economy. And, frankly, its citizens like it that way. Being free and number one defines Americans.

That standing, however, is at risk.

China is ascendant. Deliberately and strategically, China is moving toward becoming the world’s largest economy.  It would be one thing if that occurred naturally. But key to China’s rise is fraud, including violation of international laws, norms and standards.

That’s what President Donald Trump confronts when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping Saturday in Japan at the annual Group of 20 summit. The Trump administration has imposed tariffs and sought to curb China’s rogue practices. U.S. trade negotiators have stood strong in the face of withering criticism. And that’s exactly right. America needs a tough, enforceable agreement, or China is going to own America. And being owned is not being free.

Three examples – trains, telephones, and steel – explain the threat.

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NAFTA Old and New: Deals by the Rich for the Rich

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

The new NAFTA must contain language under which Mexico would actively protect its workers' right to organize into independent unions, negotiate labor agreements and strike when necessary. Image by Yevhenii Dubinko on Getty Images

Mick Mulvaney, a millionaire who is President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, awarded himself another job last week: spokesman for labor.

Referring to the proposed new NAFTA, he told the Wall Street Journal, “We know that labor supports it.”

That, right there, is the problem with NAFTA, old and new. One percenters like Mulvaney, self-dealing corporate honchos and fancy-pants corporate lobbyists negotiated the deals. Those fat cats claimed they spoke for labor. But when they opened their mouths, only the word profit emerged.

They didn’t give a damn about jobs or wages or workers’ welfare. The ravages NAFTA inflicted on the non-rich prove that. The proposed new NAFTA is barely different. Mulvaney, though he tried to usurp labor’s voice, is far from labor’s mouthpiece. Labor speaks for itself. And it is railing against NAFTA, old and new.

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New Leadership for USW

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
 
As many of you have heard by now, I’ve announced my decision to retire as USW International President, effective July 15, 2019. Fighting alongside all of you has been my privilege for more than 50 years. Our shared mission to improve the lives of all working people will always be my guiding light, as well as the enduring purpose of our union.
 
But now it’s time for other activists to take up the mantle of leadership.
In my decades as a local union activist, union staff, District Director, National Director of Canada, Secretary-Treasurer and finally International President, our union has grown and changed.
 
Our great union has welcomed new members in new sectors. We’ve weathered difficult negotiations, and we’ve taken our fights on many issues important to our members to our nations’ capitals.
 
We developed key partnerships with international allies, including forming the first global union, Workers Uniting. And our union was one of the founders of the Blue Green Alliance (BGA) and the Centre for Research in Occupational Health and Safety (CROSH).
 
We took on big, multinational corporations, we beat back unfair trade deals, and we made our workplaces safer.
 
My work with the union is not ending. Over the course of my career I was deeply touched to be awarded honorary degrees from three Canadian universities in recognition of our union’s important work: Laurentian University, Brock University and the University of Guelph. Now, I intend to remain active in the labor community, and I’ll always fight on the side of workers’ rights.
 
However, I also intend to step back, to enjoy my retirement and spend more time with my wife and family.
 
As union brothers and sisters, we’ve stood together through good and bad. I now ask you to join me in supporting the next step in our union’s future.
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Leo W. Gerard Announces Retirement; VP Tom Conway to Replace Him

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH (PAI) – Making official what he had unofficially disclosed in prior interviews, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard announced this week that he will retire as head of the largest manufacturing union in North America in mid-July. Vice President Tom Conway will succeed him.

The union executive board approved the changes – including retirements of Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson and two more vice presidents, plus promotion of other people, including two top women, to take their seats – as well as a transition plan.

“The decision to announce these changes together will ensure that a capable and experienced group of trade union leaders will hit the ground running as a team,” Gerard said after the board adopted the transition resolution. “It will also pave the way so that the union continues to be on solid footing and that the transition is seamless and serves the best interest of our membership.” 

Conway, who will succeed Gerard, has been the union’s international vice president for administration since 2005. Starting as a millwright at Bethlehem Steel in 1978, Conway rose to be a staff representative and eventually secretary of the union’s Basic Steel Conference. He chaired major sector bargaining in steel, mining, aluminum, tires, rubber, oil, and other manufacturing. He was also a big part of USW’s trade enforcement and manufacturing revitalization campaigns.

Gerard, an Ontario native, started his union career at age 18 while working at a precious metals mine and smelter in Sudbury. He rose to local, regional and national posts over 50-plus years. The board elected him president in 2001, following the late George Becker. 

Mixing brains, street smarts, a talent for organizing and activism, and the ability to build alliances with other unionists in the United States and abroad, Gerard made the USW a force to be reckoned with.

He jump-started the USW’s political activism with its Rapid Response teams, in ways that other unions have since replicated. Under Gerard’s leadership, the USW filed and won a record number of cases seeking tariffs to punish unfair trade practices that threatened the jobs of USW members.

Building on past work by Becker and former USW President Lynn Williams, the USW under Gerard’s leadership joined with the Sierra Club to create the BlueGreen Alliance. The alliance, which now includes as members nearly every major national environmental group and many other labor unions, advocates for massive reindustrialization, construction of factories to produce green energy components, such as solar panels and wind turbines, unionizing workers and gaining for them good wages and benefits.

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Beware Billionaires Bearing Gifts

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

There’s a new Koch organization in town. Instead of trying to buy politicians to do the bidding of billionaires, as Charles and David Koch have historically done, this foundation will support community groups trying to cure the miseries of eons – everything from poverty to addiction.

And they’ve got some street cred, having successfully worked with renowned liberal Van Jones to secure legislation to reduce mass incarceration. Billionaire Charles Koch says the mission is this: “We must stand together to help every person rise.”

That is some good stuff, right there. It’s what labor unions have always preached – workers must stand together to gain the collective power essential to pull every one of them up. It works, too. In the middle of the last century, collective bargaining created the great American middle class.

There’s an important difference, though, between the work of labor unions and billionaire-funded organizations. Labor unions are created and controlled by workers. Billionaire-funded organizations are beholden to billionaires.

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The PRO Act: Pathway to Power for Workers

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Photo by Fibonacci Blue on FlickrAbigail Disney, granddaughter of the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co., called out the family business’ current CEO last month for making what’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth pretty darn miserable for its workers.

All of the company profits shouldn’t be going into executives’ pockets, she said in a Washington Post column. The workers whose labor makes those profits should not live in abject poverty.

This is what labor leaders have said for two centuries. But Disney executives and bank executives and oil company executives don’t play well with others. They won’t give workers more unless workers force them to. And the only way to do that is with collective bargaining – that is, the power of concerted action.

The United States recognized this in the 1930s and gave Americans the right to organize labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA). The increase in unionization encouraged by the law significantly diminished income inequality over the next forty years. American workers prospered as a result of having a voice in the workplace.

But right-wing politicians, at the beck and call of CEOs, have chiseled large chunks out of labor organizing rights, diminishing unions and breeding vast economic disparities.

The decline in union density accounts for one-third of the rise in income inequality among men and one-fifth among women, Economic Policy Institute researchers found.

The solution, of course, is the same as it was in 1935. In order to restore balance to an astronomically uneven economy, Congress must restore workers’ power to organize. Democrats took a first step last week toward accomplishing that when they introduced the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the U.S. House and Senate. It would give back to workers the power they need to demand their fair share of the profits created by the sweat of their brows.

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Corruption Coordinates

Corruption Coordinates

Union Matters

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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