More than 1,600 activists from USW and Communications Workers of America (CWA) locals, along with managers at USW- and CWA-represented companies, are in Pittsburgh this week aiming to make their workplaces safer and healthier.
“The work that you’re doing is crucial to the union,” International President Tom Conway told the crowd at the outset of Monday’s union-only session that kicked off the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Conference.
Conway said that at one point in the history of the steel industry, 500 workers died each year, just in Pittsburgh-area mills.
“In many ways, the work that you do this week grows out of that history,” he said.
The newly installed president said that the work of making facilities safer goes hand-in-hand with organizing and growing the union.
“The foundation of our union is the safety and health work that we do,” Conway said. “We’re not going to leave that work undone.”
Bobby “Mac” McAuliffe, director of District 10, which comprises the state of Pennsylvania, welcomed the delegates to Pittsburgh by reminding them that the knowledge they gain at the weeklong event belongs to every member of the USW.
“Take what you learn back to your locals,” McAuliffe said. “Talk about it. You learn more sometimes after the workshops are over by talking to each other.”
Ken Neumann, national director for Canada, said that grassroots activism is the key to making permanent, positive change on safety issues.
“There is nothing more fundamental than making sure we can count on coming home at the end of the day,” Neumann said. “That’s why the Steelworkers will continue to lead.”
Other speakers at Monday’s session included USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Mike Wright, AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Rebecca Reindel, and CWA Deputy Director of Health and Safety Micki Siegel de Hernandez.
Wright closed out Monday’s plenary session by moderating a panel discussion about a health and safety issue that stretches well beyond USW workplaces – the topic of climate change.
The panel included USW members, scientists and environmentalists, all of whom agreed that workers must be an integral part the discussion on climate policy. The session ended with questions and comments from delegates.
Brandi Sanders, a refinery worker and member of Local 13-1, said that the USW and its allies must focus not just on combatting the effects of climate change but also on making sure that the transition to a “green” economy includes good-paying union jobs for all workers.
“That’s why we need you in this fight,” Wright said.