Happy Thanksgiving

FROM THE OFFICERS AND STEWARDS OF SENA 9158

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES

Hope to see you all on December 8th General Membership Meeting.

Please stay safe in your holiday plans and travel.

Ensuring Affordable and Accessible Health Care

Ensuring Affordable and Accessible Health Care

USW Core Values Educational Series – Issue 3

The labor movement has always fought for affordable healthcare for workers and their families, both through collective bargaining and legislatively. But even with our ability to bargain, union members far too often must relinquish raises to sustain decent health insurance. In fact, in a membership survey earlier this year, USW members and retirees rated “affordable healthcare and prescription drugs” as their top issue.

Protecting the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA)

The enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 marked a key moment in expanding health care in America. While we’ve worked to perfect the bill in that time, others have repeatedly tried to repeal it in its entirety, gutting protections for USW members and retirees, and wreaking havoc on the healthcare of millions of American families. The Administration is currently arguing for the law to be overturned at the Supreme Court. This case will be heard shortly after the election. This would mean:

  • 20 million People Would Lose Health Insurance – About 20 million people who gained health insurance through the law, both through its expansion of Medicaid and through subsidized private plans on the “exchange,” would lose coverage if it is struck down. The pandemic-related job losses mean that even more people are likely relying on ACA coverage now. States that expanded Medicaid, would also see particularly sharp spikes in the uninsured.
  • Pre-Existing Condition Protections Would be Gone – The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that almost 54 million Americans have a pre-existing condition that would lead to them being denied coverage if they could not get insurance through a job and had to try to buy on the individual market without the ACA’s protections. These folks are not statistics – they are our family, neighbors, and friends.
  • Kids Up to Age 26 Are No Longer Guaranteed Coverage – If the ACA were struck down, the ability for parents to keep their kids on their insurance until age 26 would go away, and it would be up to each employer to decide whether to keep the provision for their health plan. We know what that means: concessions at the table to maintain what the law currently guarantees.
  • Lifetime and Annual Caps Would Return – The ACA prohibits health plans from putting a lifetime or annual dollar limit on benefits you receive – an issue we would often see at the bargaining table. This was a game changer for those with high treatment costs associated with chronic illnesses like cancer and diabetes. Previous to the ACA, coverage could be terminated once the cap had been reached.
  • Retirees and Seniors Will Take a Hit – The ACA reduces prescription drug costs when hitting the “doughnut hole.” Previously, when seniors hit this “hole,” they had to pay 100 percent of costs. Additionally, the ACA provides no-cost preventative screenings, a free wellness exam when joining Medicare, and protections against rising costs and age discrimination.

Whether it’s being able to keep our college aged children on our coverage, not having a lifetime cap on coverage, or worrying about how a pre-existing condition could affect coverage and affordability in the future –we know that there is much at stake should the ACA be overturned by the Supreme Court in November.

Protecting Our Right to Collectively Bargain

USW Core Values Educational Series – Issue 2



Protecting Our Right to Collectively BargainUSW Core Values Educational Series – Issue 2For decades, CEOs and their well-heeled lobbyists have found allies in anti-union lawmakers. These partnerships have resulted in anti-union laws like so-called right to work and the appointment of judges who are quick to rule against us. And, as we’ve seen in the past few years, they’re also tilting power away from workers thanks to a team of corporate appointees at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the very agency charged with safeguarding the rights of workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining.Many of these decisions from the NLRB aren’t making headlines, but they matter a great deal for our ability to get, secure, and enforce good contracts. Some of the rules the Board is overturning have existed for decades. Here are just a few examples:Allowed companies to implement policy changes without bargaining. The Board issued a decision allowing for an employer to make changes unilaterally to its policies and practices without bargaining. Less than a month after one of our locals ratified their contract, their company made changes to their health insurance because management is trying to take advantage of this ruling. In other situations, we’ve seen companies change attendance, drug, and other policies.Allowed employers to put workers in danger. In a series of five memos to their regional directors, the Board concluded that an employer is not obligated to engage in midterm bargaining regarding union proposals for paid sick leave and hazard pay during the pandemic. They also said that an employer does not have to bargain about a temporary closure. For workers who speak up about a dangerous situation on the job, the Board has decided that is not protected speech. This means that they can be fired by their employer. This guidance came after a case was filed by a nurse who was fired after  refusing to work at a nursing home that was requiring workers to share isolation gowns.Allowed employers to retaliate against the union. One USW employer wanted to celebrate after a profitable quarter. Normally, the union and the company would get together and plan a day off; it was always considered normal communication. Instead, the employer gave management the day off while leaving union workers working. An administrative law judge saw this as a “straightforward punishment of union employees in retaliation for past protected activity under the Act.” The Board overturned the judge’s ruling, saying it was ok not to bargain and that it was management’s right to not grant the day off for these workers.And so much more. – The Board has also made it easier for employers to decertify unionsmore difficult for contract employees and workers at franchise businesses to join unions, and sought to dramatically lengthen the timetable for union elections and limit access to workers, giving employers major advantages when they seek to bust unions.

How do we reverse these trends? It is critical that Congress hold the NLRB accountable. Lawmakers must also prioritize reforms that will restore the original promise of 1935’s National Labor Relation Act, which has eroded over time. Our union has done that work by pushing for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which was successful in the House but was stopped in the Senate. It’s also critical to have people in all decision-making positions in our government who will encourage and promote the formation of unions and the practice of collective bargaining.

Protecting Our Right to Collectively Bargain

Protecting Our Right to Collectively BargainUSW Core Values Educational Series – Issue 1Our union understood right from the beginning that we couldn’t rely solely on negotiations to better our members’ lives. We would also have to push our government to act. Elected officials could help us by passing legislation to make us safer on the job, help us secure pensions, get better working hours, and more. A legislative gain meant one more thing we didn’t have to bargain over. We could then focus on even greater goals in our negotiations.We know to be powerful, we have to work for laws and policies that support us. Our core issues include: collective bargaining, safety and health, job security (trade), domestic economic issues (infrastructure investment, domestic procurement and policies that bring fairness to the workplace), health care, and retirement security. These are the fights that help us build family-supportive, good jobs and strong communities. They reflect our values and a vision of the America that works for workers.Over the next few weeks, Rapid Response will be doing a series of educational pieces around these core issues and how we work to protect them. This is the first of that series.Collective Bargaining, Our Right to Organize, and an Anti-Union NLRBOur legally-protected right to organize and collectively bargain – Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935, creating a clear legal pathway for workers to join together to form labor unions and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. It also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is tasked with overseeing union elections and handling labor rights violations. It is governed by a five-person board (one member’s term expires each year) and a General Counsel (four-year term), all of whom are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate.Anti-union NLRB appointees – Two recently-appointed Board members have long histories working for corporations to advance anti-worker and anti-union decisions. Bill Emanuel was a shareholder at Littler Mendelson and Chairman John Ring was a partner at Morgan Lewis, two of the largest union avoidance firms in the US. The Board takes their guidance from its General Counsel, Peter Robb.A General Counsel with a history of breaking unions – Robb, a notorious anti-union crusader, has worked for a series of union-busting law firms and, in 1981, was instrumental in President Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers, one of the most notorious labor actions in U.S. history. Almost immediately upon assuming his role as general counsel, Robb issued a memo outlining the categories of cases issued by the NLRB under the prior Administration, for which he may seek to overturn precedent. The majority of those cases were wins for unions.

USW President Tom Conway’s story about PROTECTING PUBLIC WORKERS

Protecting Public Workers

Posted: June 09, 2020

Tom Conway

Tom ConwayUSW International President

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Steve Scarpa began fishing anti-bacterial wipes, socks and even T-shirts out of the sewers in Groton, Conn.

Scarpa, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9411 and a member of the city’s wastewater treatment crew, said residents went into “mad hysteria cleaning mode” and simply flushed potentially contaminated objects down the toilet.

And so Scarpa and his co-workers risked COVID-19 themselves to remove items that kept jamming the sewer pumps crucial to the wastewater system’s operation.

While millions of Americans did their jobs remotely during the pandemic, public servants turned out in force every day to repair roads, collect trash, operate water systems and keep communities functioning.

They had America’s back. Now, the nation must have theirs as well.

Public workers will face additional exposure to COVID-19 as the lockdown ends and Americans return to government buildings, streets, parks and beaches in growing numbers.

Cities and counties have an obligation to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), enforce social distancing in public offices and implement other measures to protect road crews, water department personnel and code enforcement officers.

But it isn’t only the government’s responsibility to help public workers navigate the health risks that constitute the new normal.

Everyone has a role to play.

Residents can do their part by wearing masks when water department workers show up at the door to repair broken meters and by staying out of government buildings when they’re sick.

They can safeguard the health of crews repairing sidewalks, mowing parks and cleaning storm drains just by staying at least six feet away from work areas.

The public needs to pause and think about the people who perform these essential services—and about the impact careless actions have on them. It’s simply unacceptable for public workers to put themselves at risk because someone flushed a bulky item down a toilet.

“When they push the handle, no one really understands or cares what happens to it,” explained Scarpa, who believes people began flushing items because they feared leaving them inside the house until garbage day.

“We had to go and unplug pumps every day,” he said. “If you don’t unplug them, they’ll overheat, and they’ll burn out. And these things aren’t cheap.”

Public servants performed crucial roles during the pandemic. Many put in longer hours and took on additional responsibilities, such as tracking coronavirus cases or going door-to-door to warn citizens of  COVID-19 hazards.

They paid a heavy price for keeping America’s cities and counties operating.

In New York alone, more than 100 transit workers died of COVID-19. Many other public servants have been infected nationwide.

Despite the risks they faced, these workers and their unions, including the USW, had to fight for commonsense safety measures.

Wanda Howard, president of USW Local 12160, battled the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority to provide PPE for front-line field representatives.

She demanded laptops for union members with health risks so they could do their jobs remotely. She argued for more sick leave so workers could stay home when they felt unwell instead of exposing others to illness on the job.

In recent months, field workers answered only emergency calls at customers’ homes. But as the lockdown ends, Howard worries that customers will deluge authority officials with routine service requests, increasing the chances that her members will encounter someone with COVID-19.

“People who want water service are not going to say they’re sick or somebody in the house is sick,” Howard explained. “They’re just not going to admit to that. My fear is that they’re going to open up appointments and want our servicemen to put themselves more in harm’s way.”

Already, she said, some customers greet union members at the door without masks. At one job site, a contractor helped himself to a worker’s wrench, even though COVID-19 can live on surfaces.

As local governments resume regular operations, it’s important for elected officials to stress the crucial work that public servants do and the collective effort needed to protect them.

That means insisting that customers report any illnesses in a home before crews arrive for service calls. It means demanding that homeowners wear masks and give workers plenty of space to make repairs or perform inspections.

And it means reminding residents to wash their hands frequently, maintain social distancing and take other steps to guard against COVID-19, even if infection rates continue to fall.

“If they stay safe, then we stay safe,” Howard said.

Workers’ lives are at stake. Essential services are as well.

In addition to handling service calls, the 125 members of Local 12160 monitor chemical levels in the drinking water and operate the authority’s offices. If COVID-19 swept through the work force, Howard noted, more than 400,000 people in 15 communities could face service disruptions.

Workers know the hazards they face better than anyone else.

That is why they deserve extensive input into workplace safety plans.

When the pandemic hit, for example, the Niagara Falls Water Board asked Glenn Choolokian for help.

Choolokian, president of USW Local 9434, developed a safety plan with advice from labor and management that protected workers and kept the water flowing. He split the work force into teams that rotated one week on the job and one week off so a surge in infections couldn’t devastate the entire operation.

Now, as the authority resumes more regular operations, he tells union members to contact him if they encounter hazardous conditions or other problems.

As Choolokian sees it, the pandemic requires an unprecedented level of cooperation—one that could make unions and employers partners in pushing for new workplace standards and other ways to enhance safety.

“It’s time to look at things differently,” he said. “I think we have to educate ourselves and see if there’s new equipment, new ideas, new ways of doing things.”

The local promoted public involvement in worker safety through social media posts, and it encouraged local businesses to make and donate PPE. In tight-knit Niagara Falls, Choolokian said, it’s been easy to get residents’ buy-in.

In coming months, that kind of support will become ever more important.

The COVID-19 economic slowdown caused many businesses to close or scale back operations, reducing the tax revenue collected by local governments.

At a time that communities must do more to protect public workers, some may try to cut corners instead. Scarpa fears that towns will cut jobs or slash budgets, straining already-vulnerable work forces.

In a crisis like that, public servants will rely on the public to stand with them in demanding that officials implement aggressive safety plans and provide the other resources that workers need.

“We can’t make these places run with bubble gum and paper clips,” Scarpa said.

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Image of utility truck from Getty Images. Photos of Wanda Howard and Glenn Choolokian