Posts from David McCall

We’re Here. And We’re Strong.

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

We’re Here. And We’re Strong.
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Donneta Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025 and a longtime optical fiber maker at the Corning plant in Wilmington, N.C., knows how important it is for workers intent on forming a union to speak directly with peers who walk in the same shoes.

So Williams agreed to send three of her colleagues to Corning’s Tarboro facility, about 145 miles away, when workers at that site approached the union with questions about organizing.

Local 1025 members shared firsthand accounts of how the union boosted their wages, gave them a voice and kept them safe on the job. And about two weeks ago, the workers at Tarboro filed for an election to join the USW.

They’re among a growing number of workers across the South eager to leverage the power of solidarity and build brighter futures, even as CEOs and Republicans in this part of the country still conspire to hold them down.

“It’s all about making life better,” said Williams, who also serves as a vice president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, noting that workers are organizing across numerous industries in a string of Southern states with traditionally low numbers of union members.

“The narrative on unions in the South needs to change,” she added, pointing out that growing numbers of workers are grasping the benefits of collective action and demanding their fair share in the booming post-pandemic economy.

“We’re here,” she said. “We’re strong. We’re standing up, and we’re fighting with all that we have.”

About 1,400 workers at the Blue Bird electric bus factory in Fort Valley, Ga., last year voted overwhelmingly to organize through the USW.

The vote was a breakthrough for workers on the front lines of a vital, growing industry. It also sent a pointed, defiant message to a Republican governor who lies about unions and tries to prevent Georgians from joining them.

On the heels of that monumental victory, autoworkers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., overcame Republican opposition and voted by a huge majority last month to unionize.

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Solidarity Sends the Bullies Packing

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Sends the Bullies Packing

Management at Amfuel tried to bully Jo Tucker and her 200 co-workers—most of them Black women, a number of them single moms—into accepting dozens of unnecessary concessions in a new contract.

For four years, however, the manufacturing workers in Magnolia, Ark., remained strong and resolute as the company tried to break the union and wear them down.

And then, just as the workers prepared to launch an unfair labor practice strike a couple of weeks ago, Amfuel surrendered. Because of their unflinching solidarity, the workers beat back the concessions and won a contract with life-changing raises, additional holidays and other benefit enhancements.

“We didn’t lose anything,” noted Tucker, a negotiating committee member and the financial secretary for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 607L. “That was good.”

Employers frequently try to kill morale, punish workers, or force them into concessionary contracts by dragging their feet at the bargaining table. But as union members at Amfuel and other companies prove time and again, a united front sends the bullies packing.

“We all hung in there together,” Tucker said of the workers, who make fuel cells for military helicopters and fighter jets. “It wasn’t easy. But we prevailed, and I thank God that we did.”

“It was teamwork,” she added. “Everybody was working together.”

As the workers geared up for bargaining in 2020, Amfuel received an infusion of money from new investors and additional support from the Defense Department and local community leaders. The company embarked on a growth plan, intending to rely ever more heavily on the skilled work force. It even bragged publicly about giving workers a bigger voice on the job.

Yet Amfuel stunned workers with a contract proposal demanding nearly 70 concessions.

Among other untenable proposals, Amfuel wanted to abolish seniority, reduce vacation pay and eliminate the grievance process, which would have made it easier for management to try to eliminate workers for any reason or none at all.

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Building Resilience, Saving Lives

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building Resilience, Saving Lives
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Scott Cox sprinted across the field, slogging through ankle-deep water, to where his parents’ house stood moments before.

He found a mountain of debris from the EF5 tornado, a milk truck that the unusually powerful twister had flung into the yard, and his parents’ horse, bleeding, covered with welts, standing dazed near the remnants of the back deck.

And then Cox, a longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW), heard his mother’s cries. He dug her out of the rubble by hand, saving her, only to lose his father, who was too injured even for CPR and perished along with 15 others in Smithville, Miss., that day.

The people of Smithville opened a domed tornado shelter following the April 2011 disaster, but that merely underscored America’s need for a comprehensive, forward-looking approach that empowers communities to fortify defenses, construct new bulwarks and avert climate-related destruction in the first place.

Now, thanks to President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the nation is building that kind of lifesaving resilience.

The USW-backed IIJA delivers billions for projects to end droughts, protect the coasts against hurricanes, harden infrastructure, build stronger buildings, and provide grants for storm-resistant safe rooms.

Mississippi alone received hundreds of millions so far, including $4.8 million announced just this month to upgrade two hurricane evacuation routes.

“The ultimate responsibility of the government is to keep people safe,” observed Cox, president of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 9-8. “That’s the No. 1 priority—and not only safe from enemies foreign and domestic but also from natural disasters.

“Having these resources, I think, is very, very important, especially in rural areas,” continued Cox, describing the Smithville disaster as a “traumatic experience that won’t end.”

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A New Manufacturing Frontier

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A New Manufacturing Frontier
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Tom Bixler and several hundred of his co-workers produced top-quality glassware at the Libbey Glass plant in Toledo, Ohio, over the years while keeping the aging equipment there operating through sheer grit.

They even set efficiency standards despite the steep odds and carried the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, all to ensure the sprawling manufacturing complex remained viable and a centerpiece of the local economy.

But while they’re rightly proud of all they’ve done to sustain the facility, Bixler and fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) know they need to continue innovating to build a more secure, sustainable future. They’re now embarking on a critical transformation of their plant that will not only safeguard Northwest Ohio’s glassmaking jobs for decades to come but help forge a new frontier in American manufacturing.

Bixler, president of USW Local 65T, joined U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur last week as they highlighted a federal grant award of up to $45.1 million that will enable the plant to install a pair of larger hybrid electric furnaces intended to boost efficiency, reduce pollution and expand employment.

The cutting-edge furnace technology—combining the advantages of oxygen fuel and electric melting to process the raw materials for glassmaking, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60 percent—has the potential to set a new standard for the industry and revolutionize glass production nationwide.

And this commitment to the glass industry represents just one part of President Joe Biden’s initiative to grow the manufacturing economy with clean energy and union jobs. In all, his administration this month announced $6 billion for 33 decarbonization and modernization projects, deploying a range of new technology, in iron, steel, chemicals, refining, cement, pulp and paper, and other industries.

Historic union-backed legislation—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act—will fund the grants.

“This is something that’s going to blaze a whole new trail,” said Bixler, a mold maker at Libbey for 41 years, who considers the federal grant, to be matched by the company, as Biden’s investment in workers who have worked so hard to preserve the plant and keep the community strong.

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A New Shipbuilding Era

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

A New Shipbuilding Era
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James Crawford served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps maintaining the radar systems on super-sophisticated warplanes built to fend off enemy attacks from air, sea and land.

But not once during his time in numerous ports as far away as Asia did he see a U.S. commercial vessel plying the seas, a sign, he now realizes, of another kind of threat to the homeland.

America’s security begins with skilled union workers manufacturing the goods, equipment and other essentials, including cargo freighters and tankers, needed to keep the nation independent and free.

And so Crawford joined fellow members of the United Steelworkers (USW) recently in taking action to resuscitate the country’s decimated commercial shipbuilding industry and end a growing, perilous dependence on Chinese shipping.

The USW and other unions filed a petition with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai seeking an investigation into China’s illegal predatory trade practices, unfair state support for its own commercial shipbuilding industry, and plot to dominate global logistics networks.

China’s network of policies—including massive subsidies for the industry, such as cash payments, tax incentives and other handouts—continues to kill competition in America and other countries. As a result, China not only controls an enormous percentage of the world’s commercial shipbuilding output but wields the power to cut off access to ships it builds and operates at any time, for any reason.

“You can’t go somewhere to fight if you’re weak at home,” observed Crawford, unit president for USW Local 3372-07 who works at Hunt Valve in Salem, Ohio, noting that the U.S. not only needs commercial ships to carry manufactured goods to the far corners of the world but to provide sealift capacity to the military in times of crisis.

The United States once had about 30 major shipyards with 180,000 workers and contracts for more than 70 commercial vessels a year. But tens of thousands of those shipyard jobs disappeared since the 1980s as China hijacked the industry.

Some shipyards, like the USW-represented complex in Newport News, Va., began focusing entirely on military contracts. Others, like the Sun Shipping and Dry Dock complex in Chester, Pa., once the world’s largest shipyard and a center of shipbuilding innovation, simply closed. A casino now occupies the property.

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Building America, Fighting Greed

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Building America, Fighting Greed
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The widowed single mom attacked grocery shopping with the doggedness of a Marine on a mission.

To provide for her family in the face of corporate price-gouging, she bought off-brand items and selected eggs for protein instead of higher-costing meat. She even worked multiple jobs to keep the family solvent.

And despite the challenges she faced, she never complained, recalled Denny Mitchell, a longtime United Steelworkers (USW) activist who’s filled with admiration for the way the woman raised her family.

Ordinary working people like Mitchell’s friend continue to build America with humble heroism, even as the greedy rich try to cheat them not only at the checkout line but everywhere from the workplace to the halls of power.

“It’s a fight. It’s always a fight,” observed Mitchell, noting that Kellogg’s CEO Gary Pilnick underscored the arrogance of the 1 percent when he flippantly suggested a few weeks ago that struggling families eat cereal for dinner.

Pilnick, who pockets millions in salary and incentive compensation, runs a corporation largely responsible for the rampant price-gouging in the nation’s grocery stores.

Kellogg’s jacked up prices by more than 14 percent over the past couple of years while announcing plans to shower shareholders with stock buybacks and dividends.

Other food-makers joined in the exploitation, raising prices, reducing the amount of product in their packaging or switching to cheaper, lower-quality ingredients that enable them to pad their bottom lines on unwitting consumers’ backs.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania released a report in December assailing numerous companies for “shrinking products to super-size profits.” Among many other examples, Casey revealed that General Mills quietly shaved 1.2 ounces from boxes of Cocoa Puffs in 2021 while Conagra started skimping on ingredients in its Smart Balance spread in 2022, “resulting in a watery product that sparked consumer backlash.”

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Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Defying the South’s Corporate Lackeys
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Tanya Gaines and her co-workers launched a union drive 10 years ago because it was the only way to win livable wages, fair treatment and safe working conditions at the Golden Dragon copper tube manufacturing plant in Pine Hill, Ala., one of the state’s poorest areas.

Workers anticipated management’s opposition, but they felt blindsided when Alabama’s Republican governor at the time, Robert Bentley, also came out against the organizing drive and wrote a letter demanding they vote against the union.

Gaines and her colleagues stood up to Bentley’s bullying, joined the United Steelworkers (USW) and began building better lives.

More and more workers across the South seek the same path forward that union membership provides. But they’re still forced to defy Republican officials who’d rather toady to wealthy corporations than support workers’ fight for a fair economy.

Autoworkers in Alabama, for example, vowed to stay the course last month after the state’s current governor, Republican Kay Ivey, publicly rebuked their efforts to unionize a Mercedes-Benz plant.

Equally furious USW members and other workers in South Carolina demanded that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster correct course after he bragged during his state of the state address last month that he’d oppose unions “to the gates of hell.”

Unionizing is entirely the workers’ choice, a right guaranteed under federal law. And yet Ivey and McMaster stuck their noses where they didn’t belong, just like Bentley did with the workers at Golden Dragon in 2014.

“It was like a slap in the face,” Gaines, who grew up in a union family and learned the power of solidarity at a young age, said of Bentley’s interference.

“We’re here on site, doing the job. He had no idea of the problem it was to work here,” she added, recalling the exploitation that workers faced. “We need a voice. This is our voice.”

Gaines said she and her co-workers continue battling Golden Dragon over safety and other issues—a fight she can’t imagine waging without the protections and resources the USW provides.

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Solidarity Saved Him

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Solidarity Saved Him
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Christopher Betterley arrived at the Altamont Veterans Facility in Buffalo, N.Y., a few years ago needing a home, a haircut and a fresh start after treatment for alcohol use.

He saw a sign tacked to the shelter’s dining room wall advertising jobs at the nearby Sumitomo tire plant, so he cleaned himself up, went for an interview and quickly impressed both management and leaders of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 135L.

But while the new job opened doors for Betterley, it was really union solidarity that saved him. He learned the trade from longtime union tire builders, leaned on the USW family that rallied around him, and pieced his life back together.

As Betterley discovered, unions lift up all workers. They fight for fair treatment and look out for the most vulnerable. They provide a path forward.

“When they took a chance on me, it really was them giving me a second shot,” explained Betterley, who deployed to Afghanistan during his six-year year stint in the New York Army National Guard.

“I’m not shy about any of this. It’s what happened,” continued Betterley, who’s proud of his military service but acknowledged that the experience contributed to the tough times he encountered later on.

“Things weren’t very great in my life prior to me starting to work with the Steelworkers,” he said. “I was hungry to get back on my feet and turn things around for myself. Working with the Steelworkers union gave me an opportunity to be able to do that.”

Betterley, a New York native, never worked in a manufacturing environment or belonged to a union before. But Local 135L members showed him the ropes.

They explained the power of collective action and outlined the union contract, which makes the workers at Sumitomo some of the best compensated tire makers in the world.

Union colleagues also ensured that Betterley received steel-toed boots and other personal protective equipment to keep him safe on the job. They helped him secure overtime hours and access the additional skills that paved the way to even higher wages.

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Fighting for Time to Heal

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Fighting for Time to Heal
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Mike Morales’s doctor advised him to take four weeks off for an important procedure, and the longtime crane operator readily agreed, secure in the knowledge that he wouldn’t lose a dime in pay or face other repercussions at work.

Morales’ union contract enabled him to step away from his job at the Chevron Phillips plastics complex in Pasadena, Texas, to attend to his health.

He received regular pay during his absence and returned to work when he was able to do so. Morales, a unit recording secretary with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 13-227, recalled having just one concern during his convalescence—getting well.

Workers across the country need the same peace of mind while recovering from surgery or sickness. They need time to care for ill loved ones, bond with infants or welcome other new family members without risking their jobs or forfeiting the income needed to keep their households afloat.

And they need to be empowered to escape domestic violence, ensure family stability during a service member’s deployment or confront other emergencies without throwing themselves on the mercy of employers.

A bipartisan House committee recently released a “draft framework” of a leave plan, which would give states and employers new incentives to provide more workers with paid time off for emergencies. But that’s a far cry from the mandatory, universal and uniform leave available to workers in many countries.

Unfortunately, Americans’ access to paid leave right now depends largely on where they work and whether they’re fortunate enough to belong to a union. And many still have no paid sick leave at all, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a great benefit to us,” observed Morales, who’s stayed at the Chevron Phillips site for 43 years partly because of the USW-negotiated leave allotment, which renews periodically and even enables him to take days off to help family members.

He empathizes with contract workers at the site, saying they face the same life crises as union counterparts but lack the weeks or days off needed to effectively deal with them.

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Putting Money in Workers’ Pockets

David McCall

David McCall USW International President

Putting Money in Workers’ Pockets
Joe Biden at a USW picnic in 2022

Libbi Urban’s co-workers broke into applause at the union hall last year when they learned that their new contract with Cleveland-Cliffs not only increased wages by a whopping 20 percent but provided greater work-life balance and even enabled them to retire earlier than planned.

They’d spent years fighting for some of the improvements. But this time, they wielded extra bargaining power because of the hot economy that President Joe Biden engineered with bold investments and a deep commitment to working people.

Workers in aluminum, auto, steel, tire, mining, paper, heavy equipment, service, health care and package delivery, among other industries, all racked up historic contract gains as the economy exploded under the current administration.

Biden inherited a nation battered by COVID-19. But under his steady leadership, America turned the tide.

His Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) unleashed $1.2 trillion to upgrade transportation, communications and energy networks with union labor and union-made materials and parts. His CHIPS and Science Act catalyzed billions more to boost production of semiconductors and rebuild crucial supply chains.

“We came out of COVID. The demand for steel was picking up,” said Urban, a longtime vice president with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9231 in New Carlisle, Ind., recalling the backdrop for negotiations with Cleveland-Cliffs.

“People were starting to buy and build. Everything hit just right for us,” continued Urban, one of 12,000 USW members in six states to benefit from the new contract.

The same scenario is playing out in one industry after another.

Wages nationwide are now growing at a faster rate than they did in the years before the pandemic. They’re outpacing inflation, which under Biden’s careful handling has dropped for months in a row without triggering the recession doubters feared.

The nation’s unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent during the early days of the pandemic, the highest level since the Great Depression. But it’s plummeted since Biden took the helm, registering just 3.7 percent—a historic low—last month.

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