Posts Tagged: USW


Carwash Workers Get Health Care

Watch how a United Steelworkers-community campaign is providing health care and changing lives. Says carwash worker Oscar, “Now, thank God my life has changed. If I get sick and feel bad, I have a clinic to go to. This is all because of the campaign.” Click image to watch video.


Amid ‘Sabotage’ Investigation, Honeywell Lays Off Plant’s Entire Union Workforce

By Mike Elk

Mike Elk

Last Thursday, May 10, at around 2 p.m., managers walked into Honeywell’s uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., and told workers—both union and nonunion—they had to leave the plant immediately. Multiple workers present say a manager explained the sudden dismissal by noting that the company had to investigate “sabotage” of plant equipment.Since May 10, Honeywell has allowed 100 of 170 nonunion salaried workers to return to work, and has allowed 90 of its 100 nonunion contactors to continue working in the plant. But none of the plant’s 168 hourly union employees have been allowed to return to work—the company has informed them that they’ve been laid-off indefinitely. All laid-off union workers were immediately left without pay and health insurance. In contrast, when Honeywell locked out USW union workers in June 2010, it waited nearly three months to cut off their health insurance.

The Metropolis plant is no stranger to contentious labor relations. In 2010 and 2011, it  was the scene of a tense 13-month long lockout of United Steelworker (USW) members. That dispute was resolved last fall when the union ratified a new contract. Since then, however, the work environment has been tense; several key USW Local 7-669 leaders have been fired by Honeywell. Local 7-669 leaders say Honeywell is trying to bust the union.

For many workers, the order by management to leave the plant felt like lock-out déjà vu. “I have been through a lockout and it felt like this. If this isn’t a lockout, I don’t know what it is,” Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech says.

But unlike a lockout—a tactic companies sometimes resort to when contract negotiations have stalled—laid-off union members cannot picket the worksite location. If the union did so, a company can claim that the union is engaged in an “illegal strike” and the union would then be subject to heavy fines. Lech says the union is looking into all legal options and being very careful.

“I would not suggest that company would create a circumstance to frame the union, but if they were presented with a circumstance, I know they would love to find a way to use it somehow against the union,” Lech says.

The sudden layoffs may be a violation of their contract language, he says. The contract states that Honeywell must give workers at least five days notice of any layoffs. Metropolis workers were given no notice. “If the circumstance allows it, we will certainly picket and go down the road of action,” says Lech.

Asked Wednesday whether or not the lay-offs were legal, Metropolis plant manager Larry Smith hung up. Honeywell, which is based in New Jersey, did not respond to further request for comment. Company spokesman Peter Dalpe told the Chicago Tribune that he “can’t comment on the specific damage, but added that the equipment was not operational.” Dapel also told the Tribune “that the company intends to resume production after it assesses the damages and inspects the plant.”

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the plant, told the Chicago Tribune, “We are standing by watching their investigation and we will do our own follow up.”

Mike Elk is a staff writer for In These Times. This piece first a appeared on the Working In These Times blog.


Labor Notes: Steelworkers at Oil Refiner Tesoro Ready for Strike

A little after midnight on Good Friday last year, a heat exchanger on a naphtha hydrotreater unit at the Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington, catastrophically failed.

The unit exploded, setting off a blast that shook homes five miles away and igniting a fire that could be seen everywhere in town. Three oil workers died in the blast; four others died at the hospital from injuries sustained in the incident.

The Washington State Department of Labor said the explosion was preventable. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board reported that Tesoro failed to adequately maintain the nearly 40-year-old heat exchanger and that microscopic cracks had built up, making a rupture possible.

Because of the explosion, the refinery went idle for months. The company reported losing at least $40 million in downtime, equipment damage, and fines.

But rather than eating the losses and taking steps to prevent further tragedies, Tesoro management thought of a novel way to recoup the losses—it would force workers to pay for its mistakes.

Six months after the deadly blast, Tesoro managers announced that they would be implementing steep cuts to workers’ pensions and retiree health care. The company has pushed through a shift from defined-benefit pensions to a less secure defined-contribution plan, and is trying to force the union to write the change into the contract—a demand the Steelworkers are refusing.

Prepping for a Strike

Union members are holding strong against the cutbacks, voting overwhelmingly for strike authorizations at four refineries. A strike at the company’s four refineries would impact about 78 percent of the company’s refining capacity, potentially affecting 439,000 barrels daily. Most of the gasoline produced by the company is sold through Tesoro, Shell, and USA Gasoline branded retail stations across the West Coast.

The first strike votes came after contracts expired February 1 in North Dakota, California, and Washington state. They were joined by fellow members of the Steelworkers at a Los Angeles refinery, who voted in favor of strike authorization in advance of their May 1 contract expiration.

Workers are poised to strike at all four locations any time after May 1.

At the bargaining tables in these four locations, the company is trying to force workers to agree to make pension and retiree health care cuts permanent. Tesoro wants to implement even deeper cuts to workers’ vacation, and extract an agreement that would give the company the unfettered right to change benefits at any time, without bargaining.

USW members at Tesoro are furious that they’re being asked to pay for management’s mistakes. Mark Laurance, unit chair for USW Local 591, said, “Here in Anacortes, we’ve already paid enough for their mistakes. Some of us have paid with our lives, the rest of us have lost friends and family members. We’re not going to pay any more.”

Coordinated Campaign

In addition to strong shows of opposition to the company’s concessionary demands, USW members are mounting an extensive campaign to pressure Tesoro at the bargaining table and build public support for their fight.

All four locals have organized demonstrations at dozens of Tesoro-owned gas stations across the West Coast. On April 14, Tesoro workers were joined by dozens of other USW members and community supporters for a day of action that saw demonstrations at 15 locations.

USW members are also taking action on the refinery floor. Throughout April, top Tesoro bosses traveled from refinery to refinery on a road show to hold town-hall meetings presenting the company’s business plans.

In location after location, Tesoro’s top brass were confronted by angry union members, peppered with difficult questions, and angrily booed by workers. In one location workers staged a walkout during the talk.

In early May, USW members at Tesoro plan to take their message to shareholders at the company’s shareholder meeting in San Antonio.

Workers from all four locations will deliver more than 8,000 letters from union activists around the country demanding that the company bargain a fair contract. After the meeting Tesoro workers will be joined by busloads of union activists from around the region for a demonstration outside the company’s headquarters. From there, several activists will head straight to the May 4-6 Labor Notes Conference in Chicago.

It’s still too early to tell whether or not Tesoro’s outrageous demands will force workers to strike, but one thing is clear: USW members at Tesoro aren’t willing to pay for management’s mistakes.

Patrick Young is a strategic campaigns coordinator for the United Steelworkers.


Kicking Underdogs When They’re Down


By Leo W. Gerard
USW International President

Americans love an underdog. Maybe it’s an artifact of the American Revolution, when a rag-tag rabble of farmers and frontiersmen defeated the disciplined and well-provisioned military of the most powerful nation on earth.

Even though the United States has usurped most powerful status, Americans still ally with Davids in contests with Goliaths. They love to see a top dog taken down a notch. They rooted for the perennial loser Red Sox in the 2004 World Series and reveled in the win by America’s unseasoned ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

That’s why the sudden surge of right-to-work (for less) legislation is so confounding. Right-to-work (for less) laws are perks for the wealthy, for the top dogs. These laws facilitate destruction of unions. The concerted action of a labor union is a tool that workers use to win fair wages, benefits and conditions from the powerful, from the likes of massive multi-national corporations. At a time of dwindling union membership, at a time when labor union participation is so small as to be nearly negligible, state legislatures across the country are taking up right-to-work (for less) laws that will further decimate union ranks. They’re kicking the underdog when it’s down.

Despite the derisive “big union boss” label that right wingers throw at labor leaders, unions are not the big dogs. Union representation in the United States has declined steadily since the 1950s, following federal legislation in 1947 impeding unionization. Just after World War II, about 35 percent of workers belonged to unions. And those who didn’t benefitted from the higher wages and good benefits that union workers negotiated because non-union employers felt compelled to provide competitive compensation. Last year, the percentage of U.S. workers in unions fell to 11.9, the lowest in more than 70 years.

As unions atrophied and the recession raged, the median income of working Americans declined.  Meanwhile, at the top, the big dogs who run corporations continued awarding themselves colossal compensation and bonus packages. Median compensation for executives quadrupled over the past four decades. Last year, most executives got big bumps, whether their companies did well or not. Now, income inequality is greater than at any time since the robber baron days of the 1920s. 

Still, somehow, legislatures across the country are rooting for CEOs, the top dogs, and bashing unions. Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, Idaho, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and South Dakota have attacked public sector unions. Politicians in South Carolina, Minnesota, New Hampshire, even Michigan and West Virginia are pushing right-to-work (for less) legislation.

Republican-controlled Indiana actually passed it this year. The law forbids companies and unions from negotiating terms that require every worker benefitting from the contract to pay his or her share of the cost of bargaining it. In other words, these laws allow workers to refuse to pay union dues and simply freeload on those who do.

Right-to-work (for less) is great for CEOs. It enables them to pocket more of the profits because such laws weaken unions, ultimately resulting in lower pay and benefits for workers, both those who are in unions and those who are not. Oklahoma’s experience illustrates the sad fact that right-to-work (for less) guarantees lower pay for workers, while not ensuring them more jobs. 

Oklahoma adopted right-to-work (for less) a decade ago, the last state to favor the big dogs before Indiana. It joined other right-to-work (for less) states where wages are 3.2 percent lower; the likelihood of employers providing health coverage is 2.6 percent lower, and the rate of employer-sponsored pensions is 4.8 percent lower. These tragic statistics are detailed in the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report, “The Compensation Penalty of ‘Right-to-Work Laws.” 

Oklahoma workers didn’t get additional jobs out of the deal either. That’s documented in a study titled, “Does Right-to-Work Create Jobs?”  Its authors, a labor expert and an economist at EPI, determined the law had no effect on jobs.

But CEOs, the 1 percent, do benefit.  A 2009 study by Hofstra University Business Research Institute Director Lonnie K. Stevans shows that right-to-work (for less) is exactly that for employees but the opposite for CEOs. Stevans writes:

“Wages and personal income are both lower in right-to-work states, yet proprietors’ income is higher.” 

The “proprietors,” the top dogs, win.  The workers, the underdogs, lose. And they’re defeated by a special advantage that lawmakers give to top dogs with right-to-work (for less) legislation.

It doesn’t make sense in a society enamored of underdogs. It doesn’t make sense to give additional perks to the already-advantaged. It doesn’t make sense to turn workers into beggars, but that’s what right-to-work (for less) laws do. They eviscerate unions, so that each worker is on his or her own to seek just compensation, benefits, job security and safe working conditions from massive multi-national corporations.

It is Oliver Twist, his gruel bowl upheld, begging of the workhouse overlord, “Please, sir, I want some more.” Oliver didn’t get it. And workers who are thwarted from collective action by this legislation won’t either.

To win fair wages, the underdogs must band together as a team. 

Original story:
Kicking Underdogs When They’re Down


End the lockout of United Steel Workers members at Cooper Tire!!

More and more, employers are using the lockout against union workers.  From the NFLPA and NBPA in the NFL and NBA to Steel Workers, Teamsters, and Bakery and Confectionery Workers at Cooper Tire, Sotheby’s, and American Crystal. Something is very wrong when strikes are at an all time low, and lockouts are at an all time high.


After Union Bails Out Cooper Tire, Company Locks Workers Out

LN: Steelworkers locked out at a Cooper Tire plant in Ohio are raising the alarm as scabs move in to start building tires.

The conflict at Cooper’s Findlay plant, where 1,050 Steelworkers build replacement tires for pickups, stems from new machinery the company recently introduced. Tires are mostly hand-built, but the equipment cut a step out of the process.

The company asked the union to accept a new rate system and figure out the details over the coming year. USW’s Pat Gallagher said the union could not tell members what they would be earning, because the company would not define the new production standards.

The Steelworkers offered an extension to the agreement, but Cooper locked them out November 28. CEO Roy V. Armes is also a board member of the Manitowoc Co. in Wisconsin, where workers are on strike over Scott Walker-like union-busting demands.


The Steelworkers are incensed by the lockout because the union gave back $31.2 million in concessions in the last contract and because the union had helped manufacturers like Cooper by lobbying successfully for a tariff on Chinese tires.

The tariff curtailed imports, boosted Cooper’s profitability, and allowed it to buy the new equipment, the union says. Cooper, which produces tires in China, did not join the call for the tariff—but now says its expiration next year mandates another round of concessions.

The company wants a five-tier wage scheme, no defined-benefit pensions for new hires, and no health care coverage for future retirees. Cooper made $302.4 million in profit between 2009 and September 2011.


10 Ways Companies and Governments Bust Unions


Freedom at Work to organize in the workplace and bargain collectively gives workers a voice on the job and the opportunity to strive towards a better life. Workers around the world face systematic barriers to organizing including egregious acts of violence and intimidation.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are part of the four core labor standards recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights yet these rights are frequently violated.  View ILRF’s Freedom at Work Toolkit here.
The following outlines common tactics used by governments and employers worldwide:
10 Ways Companies and Governments Bust Unions

  1. Hiring paramilitary groups or colluding with local police or military forces to perform violent acts of intimidation against union leaders, activists and their families. These acts include assassinations, death threats, false arrests and physical and verbal harassment. According to the International Trade Union Confederation’s Annual Survey, 76 unionists were killed in 2008. Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place to be a union leader and the Philippine military systematically commits acts of violence and intimidation against unionists.
  2. Contracting workers out to temporary employment agencies, labor “cooperatives,” or moving them to short-term contracts to disable them from joining unions and bargaining collectively. Even when contract workers can legally unionize, they are less likely to risk being fired for unionizing when their jobs are so precarious. Learn about Pakistani Lipton workers’ struggle to organize and become permanent employees.
  3. Firing workers who are organizing or workers who are already union members. In countries where it is illegal to fire workers without “just cause,” firings are often under the guise of “layoffs” where many workers are told to leave but only non-union members are hired back. Learn about Turkish workers’ who were fired for trying to unionize.
  4. Blacklisting workers who were fired for organizing throughout a particular region or industry, sending an even stronger message that employers will not allow workers to form organizations of their choice. Learn about pineapple workers who were blacklisted for unionizing in Costa Rica.
  5. Benefiting from Export Processing Zones (EPZs) which are often exempt from laws establishing freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and other labor laws. It is almost always illegal to strike in EPZs, so when workers protest the conditions – which are often some of the worst in the country — they can be arrested, or subjected to violence. An estimated 63 million people are employed in EPZs worldwide. Over 53 million are accounted for in Asia with China alone accounting for 40 million. Learn about violence against workers in EPZs in the Philippines.
  6. Factory and farm closings, reorganizations and relocations that are specifically designed to eliminate union presence or send a message that “unions force factories to close.” The same facility often reopens with new non-union employees miles away. Learn about Russell workers in Honduras.
  7. Replacing independent unions with company-dominated unions or company run “committees” comprised of workers chosen by management. Certain countries allow companies to negotiate “pacts” or other non-binding “agreements” meant to replace legally binding collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). They are rarely democratically negotiated by workers. These tactics are often promoted by employer-funded anti-union schools meant to spread discriminatory messages about unions to workers starting at a young age. Learn about Dole cut-flower workers’ struggle in Colombia to battle a company dominated union and the Liberian Firestone workers’ independent union.
  8. Interfering in the union registration or collective bargaining process and manipulating workers into revoking their union memberships. Interference in the union process often occurs at the government labor department level. It is also common for companies to refuse to bargain a contract (CBA) with workers for years on end, even if their union is legally registered. This frustrates workers and weakens the union. Learn about truckers in the U.S. who are being denied the right to collectively bargain.
  9. Exploiting migrants and children and recruiting them to replace union workers or serve as “strikebreakers” are common tactics used by companies to create xenophobic resentment and decrease solidarity amongst workers. Migrants are sometimes legally barred from unionizing and employers often threaten to deport migrant workers who try to organize. Children are also illegally employed as another tactic to undermine adult union organizing efforts.
  10. Criminalizing labor activists through defamation charges, false arrests, arrests of striking or protesting workers or illegal detentions. In countries where counter-terrorism efforts targeting rebel groups are strong, military forces have accused union activists of being terrorists. Learn about criminalization of unionists in the Philippines.

If your union is facing repression or violence because of your organizing, please contact ILRF at