Hundreds of USW paperworkers representing 600 locals from across North America kicked off the USW’s paper sector conference on Tuesday, July 17, in Pittsburgh with a plenary session that focused on improving health and safety in one of the union’s most dangerous industries.
The paper industry sees more worker fatalities than any other in the USW, said Assistant to the International President Leeann Foster, who coordinates bargaining in the paper sector.
To highlight the importance of safety in the paper industry, the 2018 National Paper Bargaining Conference began with a video honoring the 11 members who lost their lives in the sector since the previous conference in April 2016, as well as a tribute to two members who suffered severed limbs in tragic workplace incidents.
International Vice President Jon Geenen, who oversees the union’s paper sector, told the delegation that safety was far from the only challenge facing the union – politicians and powerful big-money interests are pushing bills designed to legislate the labor movement out of existence. Members must fight for each other every day – in and out of the workplace – to keep that from happening, he said.
“The theme of this conference is ‘We Have Each Other’s Backs,’” Geenen said. “Remember – paying dues isn’t what makes you a union member. It’s standing up for each other.”
The conference agenda was aimed at building solidarity across the industry, setting collective bargaining goals and holding training programs aimed at building stronger local unions and safer workplaces.
Members will spend much of the week examining and updating the union’s safety bargaining agenda, including items such as making sure members have the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to participate in and develop safety programs in their plants, and the right to know what potentially hazardous materials are in their workplaces.
International President Leo W. Gerard will address the delegates on Thursday morning.