Category: Union Matters

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.”

***

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work

Union Matters

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.

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