Local 1557’s Renee Hough reflects on how the union helped her find freedom from abuse

Renee Hough has been a member of USW Local 1557 at U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works in southwestern Pennsylvania for 27 years. She works as a utility technician, or loader; it’s a job that Hough loves and that came along at the right time, and saved her life.

As Hough prepares to retire in less than two years, she finds herself looking back on her decision to leave an abusive marriage more than two decades ago. At the time, she knew she needed a good-paying job that would provide her the resources to leave and take her kids with her, and her job then as a cook at Denny’s wasn’t cutting it.

Then she saw an advertisement announcing that U.S. Steel was hiring in Clairton. It seemed like it was written in the stars, as getting the job would make her a fourth-generation union member.

“I needed better pay and security so I could remove myself from that situation,” Hough said.


She got the job and began saving money. Seven months in, she was well on her way when her husband beat her so badly she had to spend a night in the hospital. Hough’s mother convinced her that this incident was a turning point she could not ignore. The next day, Renee moved in with her mother and began the process of divorcing her husband.

“I wouldn’t have been able to leave if I didn’t have my job to fall back on,” Hough said. “I owe both the union and my mother so much for that.”

What followed was a pain-staking year involving lots of counseling, court hearings, and other appointments. Hough believes unions can and should use their bargaining power to add language into contracts that allows time off for survivors of domestic violence for this reason.

Some local unions in recent years have done exactly this, including Local 2699 in Ontario, Canada. The USW’s Raising the Bar on Women’s Health and Safety action guide can be a resource for other locals looking to do the same thing.

Hough, who serves as chair of her local’s Women of Steel Committee, believes that this topic needs to be discussed more because of the shame and stigma that can go along with it, especially for men. She also wants other survivors to know they aren’t alone.

“If my story helps just one person, then it’s worth it,” Hough said.

When she isn’t working, Hough loves to bowl and spend time with her family, especially her three grandchildren.


If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence in the United States, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or 7233. Additionally, teen survivors of domestic abuse can call Love Is Respect, a dedicated hotline for minors, at 1-866-331-9474.

You can also reach out to USW District 1 Assistant to the Director Teresa Cassady, who has offered to be a safe and nonjudgmental ear for members experiencing abuse, at tcassady@usw.org.  

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