USW Chemical Sector Holds Virtual Meeting to Bring Locals Together

The USW chemical sector held a virtual meeting April 20, the first sector-wide event since before the 2005 USW-PACE merger.

Many chemical locals and units are members of other councils, such as in the oil and pharmaceutical sectors. But last month’s meeting provided an opportunity for all the locals, some of which had never attended an international event, to get acquainted with each other, share their activities and learn the resources available to them.

In his introduction to the meeting, USW Secretary Treasurer John Shinn, who heads the union’s chemical sector, discussed USW chemical workers’ vital work.

“The products chemical workers produce interact with every sector we have in our union, from food and drugs to oil, plastics and transportation,” Shinn said.

The USW’s chemical sector comprises over 20,000 members in about 328 local unions or units within amalgamated locals. Shinn said one challenge in the sector is the size of the units. Most contain an average of 55 workers and are spread throughout the United States. Only five sites have more than 300 members, and only 14 locations have more than 200.

Further, very few chemical companies have more than five units. This makes forming a sector-wide chemical council challenging. The USW has chemical councils for BASF, 3M, Evonik and Solvay. It is involved in the DowDuPont North American Labor Council, which has representatives from Dow, DuPont, Chemours and the other spin-off companies from the DowDuPont merger.

The pandemic prevented face-to-face council and regional meetings and trainings over the past year, so Shinn said he hopes to mix virtual  council meetings with a possible in-person, joint district chemical meeting this fall. Next year, he plans to have area chemical sector meetings involving two or more districts. In past years, chemical locals from Districts 4 and 10 met in a regional meeting for training and to share information about their companies and issues.


One of the major opportunities in the chemical sector is organizing. Shinn said the chemical industry is the “most under-organized sector “ in the USW, and that there are about 600,000 non-represented chemical workers in the nation that the USW could organize.

Another opportunity is to improve health and safety within the chemical industry. “There are a lot of behavioral-based safety programs within the chemical industry, and we have to push back on these ‘blame the worker’ programs,” Shinn said.

“We have to communicate that locals need to put contract language on the table for health and safety, and at least get some protection. Plus, companies need to treat us as essential—taking care of retirement and paying us well,” he added. “The work local union leaders did protecting their members during the pandemic was second to none.”

One reason for organizing the virtual meeting was to communicate the opportunities available to locals that are not part of an existing council, and to tell them to contact their staff reps when they need these services.

Members learned about the Building Power program and how it helped 3M locals beat back concessions and make contract gains; the communication channels available to them; how to build strength through organizing; and the union-led educational opportunities available to local union members, including the monthly Stewards’ Corner newsletter.

Other presentations concerned the union’s infrastructure campaign, , the American Jobs Plan, and health and safety.

“The structure and resources are available to local unions,” said V. Miles, a Local 4-943 member, at the end of the second session. “It’s just a matter of taking the extra step of finding out about them and taking action.”

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