The Union Bond

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

The Union Bond
USW members protesting National Grid.

Dave Dell Isola, the son and grandson of union members, grew up grateful for the family-sustaining wages and benefits that organized labor won for working people.

But he never fully grasped the might of solidarity until he and his wife, Barbara, and their two sons lost everything in an apartment fire. Dell Isola’s brothers and sisters in the United Steelworkers (USW) rushed to the couple’s side with financial assistance and other support to help them through the tragedy.

“They had me in tears,” recalled Dell Isola, now vice president of USW Local 12012, which represents hundreds of natural gas and propane industry workers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The union bond is so powerful that corporate interests and their allies across the country desperately want to smash it.

Twenty-seven states already have falsely named right-to-work (RTW) laws on the books, and advocates of these union-busting measures now hope to enact them in New Hampshire and Montana.

In addition, corporations and their allies want to make another effort to ram the legislation through in Missouri, even though angry voters there rejected it by a landslide just a few years ago. And Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want to enshrine their anti-worker law in the state constitution, just to make it more difficult for wiser heads to repeal the legislation one day.

Working people only win fair wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions when they stand together. Solidarity also gives union members the grit to survive battles like the months-long lockout that Dell Isola and his co-workers at National Grid in Massachusetts endured during their successful fight for a fair contract.

Corporations want to rig the scales in their favor. They push RTW laws so they can divide workers—tear at the union bond—and exploit them more easily.

These laws allow workers to opt out of supporting unions while still reaping the benefits. Unions remain legally bound to represent workers regardless of whether they pay dues.

And just as corporations want, that erodes union activism and starves locals like Dell Isola’s of the resources they need to bargain with strength, enforce contracts, build solidarity and survive labor disputes.

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Building Better Lives

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Building Better Lives
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When workers at Orchid Orthopedic Solutions tried to form a union, the company quickly brought in five full-time union-busters to torment them day and night.

The hired guns saturated the Bridgeport, Mich., plant with anti-union messages, publicly belittled organizers, harangued workers on the shop floor and asked them how they’d feed their families if the plant closed.

The months of endless bullying took their toll, as the company intended, and workers voted against forming the union just to bring the harassment to an end.

“Fear was their main tactic,” recalled Duane Forbes, one of the workers, noting the union-busters not only threatened the future of the plant but warned the company would eliminate his colleagues’ jobs and health care during a labor dispute. “Fear is the hardest thing to overcome.”

Legislation now before Congress would ensure that corporations never trample workers’ rights like this again.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced on Thursday, will free Americans to build better lives and curtail the scorched-earth campaigns that employers wage to keep unions out at any cost.

The PRO Act, backed by President Joe Biden and pro-worker majorities in the House and the Senate, will impose stiff financial penalties on companies that retaliate against organizers and require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to fast-track legal proceedings for workers suspended or fired for union activism. It also empowers workers to file their own civil lawsuits against employers that violate their labor rights.

The legislation will bar employers from permanently replacing workers during labor disputes, eliminating a threat that companies like Orchid Orthopedic often use to thwart organizing campaigns.

And the PRO Act will empower the NLRB to force corporations into bargaining with workers if they interfere in union drives. That means an end to the mandatory town-hall meetings that employers regularly use to disparage organized labor and hector workers into voting against unions.

Orchid Orthopedic’s union-busters forced Forbes and his colleagues into hour-long browbeating sessions once or twice a week for months—and that was on top of the daily, one-on-one bullying the workers endured on the production floor.

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Empowering America’s Workers

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Empowering America’s Workers
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Time and again over the past few years, as he fought to protect his co-workers at Bobcat’s North Dakota plant, William Wilkinson faced two obstacles.

One was the company. The other was a federal government that, instead of fulfilling its duty to safeguard workers, helped management exploit them.

Within hours of taking office on Jan. 20, however, President Joe Biden began to level the playing field and harness the strength of working people to tackle the huge challenges confronting the country.

Biden understands that only with a healthy, empowered workforce can America end the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy.

So in one of his first official acts, Biden fired Peter Robb, the union-busting corporate lawyer who wormed his way into the general counsel’s job at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then used his power to turn the agency against the people it was created to protect.

Robb, who directed agency field offices and set policy, thwarted organizing drives and advocated stripping workers of long-standing union protections. He determined employers had no obligation to bargain with unions seeking COVID-19 protections and even sided with employers who fired workers for voicing coronavirus safety concerns.

“Board charges used to scare the company. Now, they mean nothing,” said Wilkinson, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 560, who sensed Robb’s anti-worker animus rigging the scales in numerous cases that he filed on behalf of his members.

“No matter what, your case is dead before you get there,” Wilkinson said, recalling one dispute in which the NLRB refused to make Bobcat turn over financial data the union needed to assess a health insurance hike. “It’s Bizarro World. They have no interest in wrongdoing or whatever problem brought you there.”

Righting the NLRB will involve not only selecting a new, capable general counsel but, in a change from the former administration, installing board members committed to upholding labor law.

Biden’s housecleaning will ensure the agency returns to its mission of protecting labor rights, such as ensuring that the growing number of Americans who want to join unions—including employees of Amazon, Google and transportation services—can do so without harassment or retaliation.

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Seizing the Moment

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Seizing the Moment
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When COVID-19 forced the 66-bed Maryhill Manor into lockdown, a resolute Veronica Dixon and her colleagues realized they had to make a choice: band together or fall apart.

So they put in longer hours, shouldered extra duties and leaned on each other to keep the Niagara, Wis., nursing facility operating as the coronavirus swept through, sickening dozens of residents and staff members.

What saved Maryhill Manor also offers hope for a country convulsed by storms. Only by working together can Americans end the pandemic, create a more equitable society and build a just economic system.

Dixon, a cook at the nursing home and the financial secretary of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 3168, noted that COVID-19 exacerbated the inequality that mires millions in poverty and tears at the nation’s social fabric.

“How can you not come together and try to work it out?” she asked.

“The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer,” observed Dixon, who’s seen more people in Niagara struggle since a local paper mill shut down, eliminating hundreds of family-sustaining jobs, more than a decade ago. “There has to be something in between so people can live a decent life and not worry about how to pay their bills.”

So many Americans see the nation at a crossroads that they came together in record numbers to elect Joe Biden, charting a course for healing and progress.

Then, in runoff elections for U.S. Senate this month, Georgia voters propelled the nation yet another step along the path of change by electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, inclusive candidates committed to progress.

“You can’t lie about the numbers,” Dixon said of the historic election results. “People want change.”

But it isn’t enough for Americans to band together at the ballot box. It’s just as important to rally behind the initiatives that build a fairer country, just as the solidarity of union workers yielded the 40-hour work week, decent benefits and workplace safety in previous decades.

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A Life-Saving Partnership

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Life-Saving Partnership
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For months, Penny Burroughs kept a close eye on working conditions at PCI Pharma Services and worried about her colleagues contracting COVID-19.

Burroughs and other representatives of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 286 collaborated with the pharmaceutical packaging company on intensive safety plans—even on-site medical care and a shuttle service—to protect workers.

And because these cooperative, proactive measures helped to keep the virus out of the Philadelphia plant, PCI had hundreds of healthy, energized workers ready to leap into action when pharmaceutical manufacturers sought assistance packaging and distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

While the pandemic drove home the need to reinvigorate the nation’s manufacturing base, it also underscored employers’ obligation to keep Americans safe on the job.

The foresight demonstrated by PCI and Local 286, for example, will help the nation vanquish a virus that’s claimed at least 359,000 U.S. lives so far and pushed unemployment to the highest level since the Great Depression.

Since the first shipment of vaccine arrived at PCI’s facility several weeks ago—escorted by U.S. marshals—workers already helped to distribute hundreds of thousands of life-saving doses.

Even as they do their part to battle the pandemic, Burroughs and her colleagues also continue labeling, assembling, packaging and shipping their regular customers’ orders for items like blood-pressure medications, auto-injectors, over-the-counter pain relievers and other products that consumers still need every day.

Union members always performed their jobs with the utmost diligence, realizing that the medications they provide to hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies helped to keep fellow Americans—maybe even their own friends and family members—well.

But the exceptional dedication and loyalty they demonstrated during the pandemic highlighted just how much the company relies on them.

Helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines—a process that involves labeling the vials before packaging them for shipment—created new levels of pride and enthusiasm at the plant.

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‘Standing Up for What’s Right’

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

‘Standing Up for What’s Right’
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Vermeshia Slay burns up the phone lines these days, encouraging Georgia voters to join the burgeoning grassroots movement to transform America’s future.

After delivering a crucial victory for Joe Biden in November, Slay and millions of other change-hungry Georgia voters set their sights on something even bigger.

They want to help the new administration put America on the path to health and shared prosperity.

By electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the state’s Jan. 5 runoff elections for the U.S. Senate, Georgians will lock in congressional support for Biden’s agenda to defeat COVID-19 and build an economy that works for everyone.

Moving America forward matters so much to Slay, an American Red Cross laboratory worker and unit chair of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 254, that the longtime voter threw herself into campaigning for the first time.

Slay operates a one-person phone bank from her suburban Atlanta living room, urging one registered voter after another to join the surge of Georgians pushing their state—and the country—in a fresh direction. She wants voters to make sure they grasp the importance of electing Warnock and Ossoff and giving Democrats a Senate majority in January.

Many of those on the other end of the line tell her, “We’re with you.”

More than a million Georgians requested mail-in ballots for the runoffs, and hundreds of thousands lined up this week for the start of early balloting—more signs that the voters who turned out in record numbers for Biden want a further hand in charting America’s future.

“It’s a lot of people coming together and standing up for what’s right,” Slay said, noting that young voters, Black women, suburbanites and beleaguered health care workers, among many other groups, coalesced into a movement for change.

Their goals include social justice, economic equality, affordable health care and an end to a pandemic that’s wiped out far too many lives and jobs.

“I think everybody is about fed up,” declared Slay, who saw her own hours at the Red Cross temporarily reduced when COVID-19 affected blood-collection efforts last spring. The experience gave her a firsthand look at the financial challenges many of her neighbors faced even before the health crisis struck.

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Never Again

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Never Again
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Brian Banks and his colleagues at Nipro Glass log 60- or 70-hour weeks right now in a grueling race to produce the glass tubing and vials essential to distributing millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Banks, a maintenance mechanic for nearly three decades, often feared over the years that the Millville, N.J., complex would close like so many other glass-making facilities around the country. If it had, America would struggle all the more to turn the corner on a pandemic that’s already claimed 275,000 U.S. lives.

COVID-19 laid bare the decades-long decline of manufacturing that left the nation straining to produce the face masks, ventilators, glass and other items needed to contain the coronavirus. Now, with vaccines nearly ready for distribution, America has an opportunity to defeat the virus and revive a manufacturing base crucial for protecting the country from future crises.

Of all the responsibilities that President-elect Joe Biden faces upon taking office Jan. 20, none demands more attention—and requires greater urgency—than ramping up production capacity and rebuilding broken supply chains to keep America safe.

Biden’s Build Back Better campaign will make common-sense investments in U.S. manufacturing that put millions to work and ensure a reliable, high-quality supply of critical goods, like the Nipro vials that are used not only to store COVID-19 vaccine but also the other drugs needed to treat hospitalized patients.

“It’s comforting for us to know that what we’re doing is contributing to something major,” explained Banks, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 219M, which represents the 200 or so dedicated workers keeping Nipro’s two Millville plants operating around the clock.

“There used to be lots of different places where we could get this glass. They’ve left. If we didn’t have this plant, where would we get it from?” asked Banks, who saw his own local shrink by thousands of members as several local glass facilities closed in recent decades.

In the urgent scramble to build stockpiles of vaccine that can be swiftly released for distribution once federal regulators give approval, multiple drug-makers approached Nipro for help.

The company added production capacity to help meet the flood of orders and relied on workers to put in extra shifts. However, as Banks noted, the nation could have more easily addressed the surging demand if it still had the large number of producers it did in years past and marshaled those collective resources to ramp up glass production.

“The product is still being made, just not in the U.S. It could have stayed here,” said Banks, who already wonders whether Nipro will embrace America’s long-term need for manufacturing and maintain its recently added capacity once the pandemic ends.

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Shared Sacrifice

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Shared Sacrifice
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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.

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A Duty to Act

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

A Duty to Act
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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.

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Democracy in Action

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Democracy in Action
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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.

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