Tom Conway

How Americans can help the frontline workers battling COVID-19

Chad Longpre Shepersky repeatedly took COVID-19 tests—and waited on pins and needles for results each time—during a coronavirus outbreak at Guardian Angels Health and Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing, Minnesota.

Longpre Shepersky, a certified nursing assistant (CNA), never contracted the virus. But he watched in agony as dozens of his patients and coworkers fell ill and fought for their lives.

As a weary nation enters the holiday season, Americans have an opportunity to help health care workers like Longpre Shepersky and start bringing the raging pandemic under control.

Consistently wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions will slow COVID-19's spread and provide much-needed relief to the frontline workers battling burnout as well as the virus.

"Everyone should do their part," insisted Longpre Shepersky, financial secretary and steward for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9349, which represents workers at Guardian Angels. "Just the other day, I witnessed people in Walmart not wearing masks or following 6-foot distancing. Too many people aren't doing what they can to fight the virus."

As infection rates soar to their highest levels nationwide, 10 months into the pandemic, it continues to take a disproportionately deadly toll on frail, vulnerable nursing home residents and the people who care for them.

So many residents and workers at Guardian Angels contracted the virus that the Minnesota National Guard sent a five-person medical team in October to help keep the 90-bed facility operating. Even then, as he worried about his own safety and mourned the deaths of several patients, Longpre Shepersky logged grueling amounts of overtime to fill in for ill colleagues.

"It got to the point where you dreaded going to work because you didn't know what the day was going to bring," recalled Longpre Shepersky, a CNA for 21 years who considers his coworkers and patients a second family. "But there was no one else there to do it. I just pulled up my big boy pants and went in to work and got through the day."

Many nursing home workers endured staffing shortages at their facilities long before the pandemic. Because of low Medicaid payments for patient care, among other reasons, facilities paid low wages, skimped on staff or battled chronic turnover.

When COVID-19 struck, turnover and staff sicknesses compounded the chronic understaffing.

Now, nursing home workers struggle to stay physically and psychologically healthy while putting in extra shifts to ensure residents receive the highest quality care around-the-clock. Besides longer hours, many also took on additional responsibilities, such as serving as surrogate family members to residents cut off from visitors during facility lockdowns.

These everyday heroes feel stretched to the breaking point. Many nursing home workers and other health care professionals report unprecedented levels of burnout and other mental health concerns as they worry not only about their own safety but the fate of their patients and the possibility of bringing the virus home to their own family members.

"I try to go in with a positive mindset," explained Shirley Richardson, unit president for USW Local 7898, which represents workers at the 220-bed Veterans' Victory House in Walterboro, South Carolina. "The main object is being safe. I try to stay focused. I don't let little things get to me."

"It's going to get better," she reminds coworkers who've endured about two dozen cases of COVID-19, including the deaths of several patients and a nurse, at their facility. "This can't go on forever. We just have to work through it."

The pandemic highlighted the essential work that nursing home staff members perform—and the necessity of treating them as essential workers from now on.

That will require fixing the nation's health care system—even if that means allocating additional tax dollars—so that nursing homes receive adequate payment for their services. Then the facilities can hire and retain adequate numbers of workers—and provide hazard pay and paid sick leave to ensure staffing remains at high levels during emergencies.

"It's just the staffing that's been the worst part of this year," explained Chris Sova, unit president for USW Local 15301-1, which represents nurses at Bay County Medical Care Facility in Essexville, Michigan.

"I feel like a zombie, almost. I honestly don't know how we do it anymore," marveled Sova, a third-generation nursing home worker, who described his routine some weeks as, "Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Wake up. Go to work."

It infuriates Sova to know that while he and his coworkers put their lives on the line every day, some Americans refuse to take simple steps to slow the virus' spread.

Across the country, some people fail to wear masks even as infection rates in their own communities skyrocket and strain the capacity of local hospitals.

So far, at least 259,000 Americans died of COVID-19, more than 65,000 of them in nursing homes. Universal mask-wearing, according to one new study, could prevent 130,000 more deaths in the U.S. in coming months.

"People wear seatbelts, but they have a big thing about face masks?" Sova fumed.

Longpre Shepersky faces the upcoming holidays with trepidation, realizing that the family gatherings and parties Americans long for so earnestly this year also present additional opportunities for spreading the virus.

The residents at Guardian Angels wear masks whenever they leave their rooms, and because of the risk of another outbreak, they also could face limits on visitors this holiday season.

If they can make sacrifices to help contain the virus, other Americans can as well.

"Everyone definitely has to take this seriously," Longpre Shepersky said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

'They're holding the whole country hostage': How Mitch McConnell flouts the will of the American people

Tim O'Daniel and his coworkers at Cleveland Clinic Akron General confront additional cases of COVID-19 every day in a hospital so busy it's sometimes difficult to find an empty bed.

They're also battling rising frustration after waiting months for comprehensive coronavirus testing and other federal resources essential to containing the pandemic.

Americans voted overwhelmingly in the November 3 election to support the nation's health care workers and go on the offensive against COVID-19.

But while President-elect Joe Biden assembles a team of scientific advisers and finalizes his strategy for defeating the virus, there's no reason to wait until he takes office on January 20 to begin turning the corner.

Americans can come together to demand that the Republican-controlled Senate immediately pass a commonsense bill providing coronavirus testing, contact-tracing programs and funds that states could use to give hazard pay to essential workers, like health care professionals.

Right now, one person—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—stands in the way of America's fight against COVID-19. Instead of rushing to give Americans the support they demand, he defies the will of the people and lets the bill languish while the pandemic death toll mounts.

"We're paying with our lives," noted O'Daniel, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1014L, who recently lost a colleague to COVID-19. "We're paying with our health."

The House already approved the bill, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which would also set workplace safety standards for the duration of the pandemic and ensure a reliable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the frontline workers putting themselves in harm's way.

McConnell refused to take up the HEROES Act before the election—even as infection rates soared—because saving lives meant less to him than ramming through Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court and cementing the court's right-wing majority for decades to come.

"The confirmation of that justice did nothing to help the American people right now," observed O'Daniel, who's infuriated that McConnell and other Republican senators "can act on a dime" for partisan political gain while dithering for months on measures essential to controlling COVID-19.

"Cleveland Clinic Akron General is inundated with COVID patients right now," he said. "We don't see any kind of lull in the positive cases. They keep coming. We don't see any outside help."

It wasn't enough for McConnell to put politics before Americans' safety in the run-up to the election.

He's now flouting the marching orders that American voters issued on Election Day, when they braved COVID-19 and turned out in record numbers to demand not only a comprehensive pandemic response but also decisive steps to rebuild the nation's shattered economy.

Americans overwhelmingly favor the kinds of economic measures included in the HEROES Act, such as another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to help low- and moderate-income families make ends meet during the crisis. The bill would also extend $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits and emergency health care to millions of workers who lost jobs through no fault of their own, while also protecting the unemployed from eviction and mortgage foreclosure.

However, McConnell opposes aid to ordinary Americans—and even made the ridiculous claim that some workers would rather receive unemployment benefits than return to the jobs the pandemic took from them.

Instead of aiding O'Daniel and other health care workers overrun with COVID-19 patients, he worries about protecting corporations from what he fears will be a flood of lawsuits filed by workers and customers they recklessly exposed to the virus.

And so, although the American people want a stimulus bill to be the Senate's top priority, McConnell and his Republican cronies refuse to act.

"They're holding the whole country hostage," observed Brad Greve, president of USW Local 105, which represents workers at Arconic Davenport Works in Iowa.

The company laid off more than 100 of Greve's members in July. A few moved to take jobs in other cities. But most just struggle to get by while hoping the economy will improve and enable them to return to work.

"A stimulus program is going to have to fill the gap here," Greve said, noting workers laid off from many other businesses in the Davenport area face similar hardships. "They need help."

O'Daniel knows that Biden will take office on January 20 with decisive measures to defeat the virus and restore the economy.

But it angers him to think that while he and other health care workers do their part to fight COVID-19 every day, McConnell just sits on his hands as the pandemic rages. Further delay in attacking the virus, O'Daniel noted, will mean the needless deaths of many more good-hearted Americans like the coworker he'd known for 25 years.

"This can't wait," O'Daniel said. "We needed help a long time ago."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

This election represented an unprecedented exercise in democracy

Ken Yatsko wrote hundreds of postcards and made thousands of phone calls as part of a campaign encouraging fellow union members to perform their civic duty during Election Day on November 3.

And having done his part to generate a record turnout, Yatsko now expects every vote to be counted.

He and other Americans witnessed an unprecedented exercise in democracy as legions of patriotic voters braved COVID-19, long lines at polling places and other hardships to cast ballots in a crucial election.

Now, it's essential to bring the process to its fair and proper end, one that respects the sacrifices voters made—the risks they took—to put the nation on the road to change. That means accurately counting all 160 million ballots—the most ever cast in a presidential election—and ensuring every voter's voice is heard.

"The people have spoken," noted Yatsko, a U.S. Steel retiree and the vice president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 7-1, who was still making get-out-the-vote phone calls on the eve of the election. "The will of the people is that you count the votes, and add them up, and you have a winner."

The surging turnout rate—the highest for a presidential contest in more than a century—reflected Americans' demand that the nation finally mount a comprehensive fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and take decisive steps to rebuild the country's broken economy.

Joe Biden, who unveiled an aggressive strategy for leading the nation's recovery, received more votes than any presidential candidate in history.

Because Biden urged his supporters to vote remotely because of the pandemic, it's taking local election boards longer than usual to tabulate an unprecedented number of mail-in votes.

Elections officials knew this would be the case—and let the public know—well before Election Day. Now, to uphold democracy, these officials need to take as much time as necessary to perform a comprehensive, accurate count.

"Let the process play out," urged Tom Treisch, a longtime United Steelworkers (USW) member and Republic Steel retiree who cast his own ballot by mail because of health concerns. "It's the American way. It's the way we've always done it."

Although many Americans cast mail-in ballots for the first time this year, Treisch noted that this practical and secure form of voting is nothing new.

More Americans use mail-in ballots every year. They give a voice to members of the armed forces serving overseas, Americans living abroad and other voters unable to make it to neighborhood polling places because of work or illness.

And while Americans may be accustomed to the media projecting the outcomes of races on election night, based on partial returns, the reality is that election boards really keep counting votes for days and even certify results weeks down the road. The need to tabulate mail-in votes, which election workers must manually remove from their envelopes, is one reason the process lasts longer than voters think.

The elections officials who responsibly handled long lines and other challenges at the polls on November 3 will prove just as diligent in properly counting the remaining ballots in the coming days.

"They've been doing this for years," Treisch said, noting most are decent working people just like him. "They want to be honest. They want to see things work."

Dorine Godinez, a member of SOAR's executive board and a former worker at ArcelorMittal, expected the flood of votes for Biden.

Disgusted with the mounting COVID-19 death toll and appalling unemployment rate, voters seized control of their destiny and put the nation on a path to recovery. Hardship stoked democracy's fire.

"Americans will step up, and they will fight," Godinez observed. "I think people had to do that now."

Godinez knows that Biden will follow the guidance of the doctors and scientists who know best how to combat COVID-19.

And because he helped save America's auto industry, oversee stimulus programs and rescue the economy after becoming vice president during the last recession, he has the experience necessary to put millions of workers back to work now.

"I think he's gone through so much tragedy in his own life that his compassion is genuine," Godinez said, noting Biden lost his first wife and two of his children. "Those experiences made him who he is today. Biden gives us hope."

Besides trusted leaders, what Americans need is greater solidarity to effectively fight the pandemic and revitalize the economy.

Yatsko noted that Biden not only called for unity but took a step in that direction by pledging to be a president for all Americans, even those who voted against him.

"You can't get any fairer than that," Yatsko said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Trump wants to completely unleash greedy corporations — and workers will pay with life and limb

Nick Miclaus realized just how much his Goodyear colleagues appreciated rigorous COVID-19 safety measures when they started recommending them to friends and family working at other companies.

Yet Miclaus, the United Steelworkers (USW) safety coordinator for Goodyear plants across the U.S., knows that his efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus and other dangers hang in the balance because of Donald Trump.

As Trump wielded his office on behalf of corporations seeking greater deregulation and higher profits, American workers increasingly struggled to safeguard themselves not only against COVID-19 but the everyday hazards that kill, sicken and maim them while callous employers look the other way.

"There are some employers who will say, 'I just need this done. I don't care if you don't wear a mask. I don't care if you don't wear safety glasses,'" observed Miclaus, a member of USW Local 2L, which represents hundreds of workers at Goodyear's Akron, Ohio, location.

The federal government long ago created various agencies to protect workers' rights and safety. But Trump turned them into appendages of corporate America, hamstringing inspectors and other dedicated experts who want to do their jobs as effectively as they did in the past.

Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, for example, rolled back rules requiring chemical-related companies to take proactive steps to protect workers and the public from chemical disasters and to comprehensively investigate deadly incidents when they occur.

It also failed to thoroughly evaluate the risk of dangerous chemicals used at job sites, helping employers cut corners on safety while exposing workers to substances that could sicken or kill them decades down the road.

"They can't enjoy their retirement because they're fighting an illness that could have been prevented," Miclaus said of the potential long-term impact.

Under Trump, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—the agency ostensibly responsible for workplace safety—left workers to fend for themselves long before the pandemic struck.

The Trump political cronies running the agency let key vacancies go unfilled for years, and the number of OSHA inspectors dropped to 1975 levels even while America's workforce continued to expand.

As vigorous enforcement plummeted, deaths increased. OSHA added insult to injury, removing a list of workplace fatalities from its homepage and burying a less-detailed record of deaths deep in its website.

"Before, OSHA was good to lean on when a company wasn't being a good actor," recalled William Wilkinson, president of USW Local 560, which represents about 1,400 workers at the Bobcat plant in Gwinner, North Dakota.

But now Wilkinson has difficulty just getting OSHA to respond to concerns. "They're not there anymore," he said. "They're nonexistent. They're hand in hand with the companies."

When the pandemic hit, the USW and other unions repeatedly demanded that OSHA implement an emergency, temporary infectious disease standard. A standard would require all employers to take consistent, commonsense steps to slow the virus' spread. Instead, the agency let companies do as little as they wanted, even as infection rates across the country skyrocketed.

Just as Miclaus did at Goodyear, Wilkinson ensured that Bobcat provided hand sanitizer, adopted social-distancing practices and took other precautions to protect workers. But now, Trump's corporate-rigged National Labor Relations Board wants to silence them and other workers who advocate for safety.

Peter Robb, the career union buster whom Trump handpicked to be the NLRB's general counsel, sided with a nursing home that fired three workers just because they called out COVID-19 lapses that threatened their colleagues and patients.

A longtime corporate lawyer, Robb also determined that employers have no obligation to bargain over new health and safety issues in the middle of a contract—even when a pandemic creates life-threatening conditions that couldn't have been anticipated during regular negotiations.

Wilkinson was fortunate to have won COVID-19 safety measures for his coworkers before Robb's determination. Otherwise, Wilkinson observed, "we would have gotten nothing" from Bobcat.

"The NLRB is no friend of workers anymore," he observed. "They're clearly for the companies."

It isn't just OSHA and the NLRB that let workers down.

Twice a year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) inspects the mines on Minnesota's Iron Range. Miners—and their families—long took comfort knowing that outside experts not only diligently worked to identify problems but had the authority to require safety improvements.

But USW Local 1938 President Steve Bonach, who represents about 1,300 workers at U.S. Steel's Minntac mine, said those inspections seem less thorough since Trump took office. And instead of defending citations, MSHA often backs down when the company challenges them.

"Trump basically lowered the boom on them," Bonach said of MSHA, noting the company exploits the Trump administration's pro-corporate stance by challenging more citations than it did in previous years.

Bonach worries that Trump will cut MSHA's budget even though the agency already needs more resources than the administration currently provides.

Once he no longer needs workers' votes, Trump will feel free to ramp up his deregulation campaign, just like greedy corporations desperately want.

And workers will pay with life and limb.

Miclaus, for example, worries that OSHA will water down a "lockout/tagout" standard that spells out the procedures companies and workers must take while servicing certain kinds of equipment.

Right now, that standard saves an estimated 120 lives and averts about 50,000 injuries each year.

But if the agency eases the requirements—or gives employers the option of using best practices instead of insisting they follow them—many corporations will take shortcuts and put workers at risk.

"I can see more people getting very seriously injured and killed with the weakening of this standard," Miclaus said. "That's very concerning."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How Donald Trump threatens the retirement of every American worker

Tom Michels worked 31 years at LTV's iron ore mine in northern Minnesota—and had already started making retirement plans—when the company's bankruptcy wiped out his job and most of his hard-earned pension.

Michels took a series of odd jobs to make ends meet until he became eligible for the Social Security benefits that now enable the 71-year-old to buy food, cover health care costs and even travel a little with his wife, Vicky.

Yet because of Donald Trump, Michels' retirement hangs by a thread. If Trump destroys Social Security, as he threatened to do, Michels and millions of other Americans will be cast into poverty with little hope of ever bouncing back.

Some will have no choice but to return to the workforce and toil until they die. Others, too frail to work and lacking other resources to pay mounting bills, would lose everything they spent their lifetimes building.

"I hate to even think about what's going to happen if he's reelected," observed Michels, a former member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 4108 whose income, without Social Security, would fall to just several hundred dollars a month.

"Social Security is not an entitlement. It's something we bought and paid for. Every hour we worked, we were paying for Social Security," Michels said, adding Trump has no right to deprive retirees of benefits they earned.

Because of the country's aging population, in 2021 Social Security will spend more money on benefits for retirees than it takes in through workers' payroll taxes. Many beneficiaries already struggle because payment amounts set by the government fail to keep up with health care costs.

But instead of shoring up this popular and essential program, Trump wants to kill it.

He repeatedly proposed cutting Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, which provide crucial assistance to Americans no longer able to provide for themselves and their families.

This past winter, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Trump expressed his desire to take up so-called entitlement reform if reelected. Astute retirees like Michels understand that is code for cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Then, in August, Trump proposed eliminating payroll taxes under the guise of leaving a few more dollars in the paychecks of Americans struggling to weather the COVID-19 recession.

However, payroll taxes fund Social Security, and cutting off that revenue stream would destroy the program within just a few years. Trump tried to dupe Americans into thinking that abolishing the payroll tax would be good for them.

"It sounded attractive, the way he put it," noted Michels, who is also the president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 33-4. "But in reality, it's not very attractive. There'd be nothing left."

Trump's attacks on Social Security come as Americans depend on the program more than ever.

Greedy corporations no longer provide the pension programs that once supported retirees through their golden years. Even employers that promised pensions, like those employing Michels and fellow SOAR activist Scott Marshall, often abandon their obligations through bankruptcies or other sneaky maneuvers.

Marshall worked for a glass company, a rail car manufacturer, a steelmaker and a paper mill, each offering pension plans.

"They all shut down before I could qualify for a pension," explained Marshall, who lives in Chicago. "Social Security is the only retirement income I have."

Marshall, a vice president of SOAR, noted that another 1.3 million Americans belong to multiemployer pension plans facing insolvency because of investment losses, industry consolidation and other factors over which workers had no control.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a commonsense bill, the Butch Lewis Act, in 2019 that would make low-interest loans to these struggling plans and ensure they continue meeting their obligations to members. But Trump and his Senate Republican cronies refuse to support the measure, even though some of the troubled plans will run out of money in just a few years.

The uncertain future of these plans makes members' Social Security benefits all the more important.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to protect Social Security. If that were truly his goal, he would ensure that millionaires and billionaires, like himself, finally begin contributing their fair share to the program.

Americans pay 6.2 percent of their wages to Social Security. But the government only applies the tax to the first $137,700 of a person's income. That means millionaires and billionaires pay nothing on most of their fortunes and effectively slide by on a tax rate far below the 6.2 percent ordinary citizens pay.

Abolishing the income cap would ensure the long-term viability of Social Security. And that would only be fair because, as Marshall noted, workers created the wealth that America's rich enjoy. They earned dignified retirements in return.

But instead of providing for ordinary Americans, Trump gives handouts to the 1-percenters. While demanding cuts in the Social Security programs protecting disabled and ill workers, he signed the 2017 tax giveaway for millionaires and corporations.

"I know people who voted for Trump originally and are now backing off of him for just that reason," Marshall said. "They totally get what he's trying to do to Social Security. They're not going to put up with that."

After losing their livelihoods and pensions, Michels said, he and his colleagues looked in vain for jobs providing wages and working conditions comparable to what the USW ensured they received at LTV.

Only when they became eligible for Social Security did most of his coworkers regain a measure of financial stability. If Trump strips that away now, Michels said, many LTV retirees would be unable even to afford health care.

"It would be devastating," he said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

'He's a con man': Trump brought out the worst in us when we needed the best

Jackie Anklam realized that Donald Trump was failing the American people when her father died of complications of COVID-19 in a Michigan hospital that ran short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its workers.

What outrages her more is that, several months later, Trump not only refuses to learn from his early blunders but blithely flouts the safety measures critical to slowing the virus.

Instead of leading the nation to safety, Trump downplays the pandemic for personal political gain and divides Americans when they most need to pull together.

"He doesn't care about getting a grip on this. He doesn't even care about giving it to someone," said Anklam, noting Trump refused to wear a mask and defied social distancing requirements while health experts warned that such reckless behavior contributed to the rising death toll.

After seeking treatment for his own infection, Anklam observed, Trump took a joyride outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, potentially exposing the Secret Service agents in his SUV to COVID-19 just so he could wave to supporters. And after cutting short his hospital stay and returning to the White House, Trump still refused to wear a mask even though he risked infecting everyone who came into contact with him, including the photographer forced to snap his picture while he posed on a balcony.

"The president is supposed to put the American people first. He has done everything except that. He has put every American at risk," said Anklam, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9899, who believes her father contracted pneumonia and died because of PPE shortages and infection-control problems in the hospital treating him for COVID-19.

Nearly 10 months after the pandemic hit the United States, hospitals and other health care facilities continue to struggle with chronic, drastic shortages of respirators, gloves, gowns and other safety equipment.

Trump never worked to repair broken supply chains. He never used emergency powers that would have forced factories to retool and produce critical supplies.

And he failed to deliver a comprehensive plan for reinvigorating America's manufacturing base and averting future shortages of essential goods.

Because Trump abandoned his duty, a coalition of organizations, including the USW, filed a federal lawsuit on October 8 demanding the government immediately harness the nation's manufacturing capacity for production of PPE. While the courts consider the case, more front-line workers will die needlessly.

Anklam represents hundreds of workers at Ascension St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, two miles from the facility where her father died. After fighting to get more respirators and cleaning supplies earlier in the pandemic, her colleagues now need more gowns to care for growing numbers of COVID-19 patients.

While the Trump administration fails to implement scientifically sound plans for safely reopening schools, restaurants and other businesses, infection rates in 25 states, including Michigan, continue to soar.

"They're stressed. They're exhausted," Anklam said of her co-workers. "They just pray every day that they don't get it."

But while health care workers put their lives on the line because of PPE shortages, the White House commandeers whatever equipment it needs. Staff members wear "full PPE" while interacting with Trump and also have access to COVID-19 testing unavailable to many Americans.

Trump never rolled out a comprehensive testing program for the rest of America, and surging infection rates now strain available resources.

Health care facilities and laboratories face severe shortages of the chemicals essential for analyzing patient samples. That forces health care officials to limit the number of people who can be tested even as they desperately attempt to track and contain the virus.

And, as Anklam pointed out, the closing of community testing centers prompts some potentially contagious people to seek help in crowded emergency rooms.

Despite the urgent need, Trump refuses to use his influence with Senate Republicans to push through a stimulus bill that would deliver $75 billion for testing and contact tracing.

The bill, already approved by the Democratic-controlled House, also would extend federal unemployment benefits, health insurance and renters' assistance to millions of workers thrown out of work because of the recession.

Among those needing help is Anklam's brother, who lost his job at a bus company months ago. His health care vanished along with his income, and he's used up his savings. He doesn't know what to do next.

Although Trump's own illness underscored the vulnerability of COVID-19 victims, including their need for affordable health care, he won't lift a finger to help Americans less fortunate than himself.

He told Senate Republicans to delay work on a stimulus package because he wanted them to focus on ramming through Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court instead. Packing the court with corporate-friendly justices matters more to him than providing the assistance ordinary people need to survive.

Trump continues to trivialize the virus in a pathetic ploy to shore up his sagging image before the November 3 election.

Just days before he revealed his own infection, Trump declared that the virus "affects virtually nobody" even though U.S. deaths already exceeded 200,000.

Because of Trump's duplicity, some Americans also underestimate the threat the virus poses. Others emulate Trump's cavalier refusal to wear masks or practice social distancing, putting their neighbors and communities at risk.

Despite the surging caseloads in Michigan, for example, Anklam frequently crosses paths with people ignoring safety measures. Although businesses post signs requiring face coverings, she said, the owners say nothing to scofflaws for fear of risking a confrontation.

If Trump were a real leader, Anklam said, he would demand strict compliance with safety guidelines while uniting Americans in a campaign to eradicate the virus and restore the economy.

"But he's a con man," Anklam said. "He's been conning his whole life, and now, he's conning the American people. He only cares about himself."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How Trump and Amy Coney Barrett could wreak damage for generations of American workers

As a union griever, Jason Haynes fought constant battles against employers ever ready to cheat workers out of overtime pay and other hard-earned benefits.

He's also seen firsthand how greedy corporations and their Republican cronies relentlessly erode labor protections at the state and national levels, making it increasingly difficult not only for Americans to organize but for union members to exercise long-held rights.

Now, Haynes fears the addition of anti-worker Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court will help the rich tighten their stranglehold on working people.

Donald Trump nominated Barrett to weaponize the nation's most important court against ordinary Americans. Her confirmation would give the court's right-wingers a 6-3 majority. And because she refuses to adhere to precedent, Barrett could provide a crucial vote on cases potentially overturning organizing rights, rolling back labor protections and dealing other setbacks to workers.

"Having her on there is definitely not going to do any favors for labor, that's for sure," observed Haynes, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6787 who works at ArcelorMittal's Burns Harbor, Indiana, site.

"Labor rights are imperative to giving us a seat at the table," he noted. "If we're not sitting at the table, we're on the menu. Our rights are the only leverage we have."

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP minions determined to ram through her confirmation, Barrett appears to have a lock on the vacancy created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.

But while the 48-year-old Barrett may take Ginsburg's seat, she'll never fill her shoes. Ginsburg devoted her career to advancing the interests of women and workers, even as Barrett used her power to tear them down.

As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit since 2017, Barrett has consistently favored corporations over the workers and twisted laws to the breaking point in support of her opinions.

Citing a law that exempts over-the-road truckers from overtime for safety reasons, for example, Barrett ruled against workers who sued a transportation company that refused to pay them for extra hours they logged. Even though the Wisconsin company exclusively assigned the workers to yard duty, in which they used tractors to pull trailers short distances between warehouses, Barrett ruled they qualified as truckers engaged in interstate commerce. And that left them ineligible for overtime no matter how many hours their bosses required them to work.

Overtime may not mean much to a highly paid federal judge. But Haynes, who represented USW members in overtime disputes when he served as a griever at union shops in New York, said extra pay for extra work is not only fair but a game-changer for many struggling American families.

"It's the difference between making your rent or not," he explained. "It's the difference between a spouse getting a second job or not. It's the difference between putting your children in a safer daycare or not."

As if denying overtime on such flimsy grounds weren't bad enough, Barrett used exactly the opposite argument in ruling against Grubhub delivery drivers who were fighting to secure labor rights for themselves and other gig workers.

The drivers claimed Grubhub misclassified them as contractors—when they were really employees—and refused to pay them minimum wages and other benefits. Grubhub wanted to resolve the disputes through arbitration proceedings with individual drivers. But the drivers, noting federal law exempts many transportation workers from arbitration, filed a class-action lawsuit instead.

A victory not only would have delivered justice to the drivers but helped other gig workers finally win labor rights, decent pay and fair working conditions. But Barrett threw out the suit as Grubhub demanded, ruling the drivers had to accept arbitration. Delivering meals just short distances, she ruled, failed to make them transportation workers with the right to file a lawsuit.

"I believe this lady is going to try to destroy our unions," warned Dottie Kotansky, a retired member of USW Local 8567 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, noting Barrett will fit right in with the right-wing Supreme Court majority that's already delivered many partisan decisions benefiting corporations at the expense of workers.

Kotansky, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) who has encouraged fast-food employees to unionize, worries that Barrett will continue to suppress gig workers and other poorly paid Americans who need union protections now more than ever.

But she also fears Barrett's addition to the court will embolden the ever-stronger conservative faction to issue more rulings "just like Janus" aimed at decimating unions that already exist.

In the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, the right-wing majority overturned four decades of precedent when it ruled that public-sector workers don't have to pay dues or even smaller "fair-share" fees to the unions legally bound to represent them.

By encouraging workers to freeload, the justices hoped to starve unions of funds and kill them. Although the justices ultimately failed to inflict the damage they desired, the ruling dealt labor an ominous turn.

"We're constantly under attack," Haynes pointed out. "Any time we have to give up something, it's nearly impossible to get it back."

Barrett poses extra danger because she's a wild card.

Most justices respect the rulings made by their predecessors and seldom vote to reverse them. But Barrett has no reservations about overturning previous decisions and upending the law. That potentially puts the nation's entire body of labor rights—even the most fundamental protections provided in the landmark 1935 National Labor Relations Act—at risk.

Haynes worries that the voices of ordinary Americans will be drowned out as the court adopts an increasingly corporate-friendly agenda. Because of Barrett's relative youth, he said, she could wreak damage for generations.

"My grandchildren might suffer from the decisions she makes," Haynes said.Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How Trump abandoned workers after promising to bring manufacturing back

Robert B. "Bull" Bulman stood up to FreightCar America because of the poor pay and hazardous working conditions at its Cherokee, Alabama, factory. But the company savagely retaliated with threats to close the plant and relocate to Mexico.

Then, after thwarting the union drive, FreightCar America opted to offshore those 500 jobs anyway in a greedy gambit to exploit low wages and weak laws south of the border.

Although Donald Trump won the White House with a vow to reinvigorate a manufacturing base essential for America's future, he failed to stanch the torrent of U.S. corporations absconding to countries with abysmal working conditions and lax environmental regulations.

Right under Trump's nose, America lost hundreds of factories to offshoring, and corporations relocated nearly 200,000 U.S. jobs, all before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the economy into a nosedive. Some of these callous employers, including FreightCar America, even soaked taxpayers for millions of dollars in subsidies and other aid before they cut and run.

"They're like parasites," observed Bulman, who will lose his job when FreightCar America abandons its mile-long, 2.2-million-square-foot factory by the end of 2020. "They get what they want and leave."

Bulman, who formerly worked at a United Steelworkers (USW)-represented paper mill, helped lead two organizing drives at FreightCar America because he knew a union would compel the company to provide safer working conditions and give a voice to those performing demanding, hazardous jobs.

But FreightCar America waged vicious anti-union campaigns that included threats to close the plant and—the company's very name notwithstanding—move the jobs to Mexico. After defeating both organizing drives, the company still sold out its workers.

Although Trump promised to stop companies from playing these heartless games with families' livelihoods, he refused to intervene with FreightCar America or lift a finger to save manufacturing jobs in a state where workers deeply trusted he'd fight for them.

He gave the cold shoulder to FreightCar America workers who called and emailed the White House with pleas for help, just as he ignored USW members who sought assistance early in 2020 before Goodyear closed its nearly-100-year-old Gadsden, Alabama, tire plant and moved several hundred remaining jobs to Mexico.

Mickey Ray Williams, the former president of Local 12, reached out to several administration officials and provided them with a presentation outlining Goodyear's refusal to invest in the Gadsden factory even as it pumped more and more money into a Mexican site paying workers only a few dollars an hour.

Goodyear's offshoring of the Assurance All-Season tire developed—and long manufactured—in Gadsden was exactly the kind of nefarious practice Trump bragged he would curb.

But after a few conversations that seemed promising, the Trump officials stopped returning Williams' calls. He simply never heard from them again.

"All we asked for was one tweet," explained Williams.

"It was like you flipped a switch, and they went as cold as Alaska," Williams said of his administration contacts. "The way I figure it, there was no political benefit to Trump, so they cut me off. Trump and his administration did nothing to help Gadsden."

Trump's red campaign hats mean more to him than American workers do.

Although the plight of the Gadsden workers elicited no response from the White House, Goodyear's longstanding policy banning political attire, including Trump hats, from its shop floors aroused Trump's fury. He threatened to remove Goodyear tires from Secret Service vehicles and fired off a tweet calling for Americans to boycott the company, even though that would mean the loss of even more American jobs.

"He wouldn't call out Goodyear for workers, but he will for his own agenda," Williams noted. "That's wrong."

Even when Trump injects himself into a company's offshoring scheme, he delivers far less than he promises.

In 2016, Trump assailed Carrier's plans to close an Indianapolis facility and vowed, "We're not going to let Carrier leave."

Trump arranged new tax incentives for the multibillion-dollar manufacturer and then took credit for "saving" the plant when Carrier grudgingly agreed to keep it open. But the plant today isn't what it used to be.

While Carrier kept about 700 jobs at the Indianapolis factory, it still shifted hundreds of others to a Mexican facility that, like the one Goodyear operates there, pays workers just a few dollars an hour.

And despite the deal with Trump, Carrier's parent company also followed through on plans to close a plant in Huntington, Indiana, about 105 miles from Indianapolis, and relocated those 600 or so jobs to Mexico as well.

Instead of meting out "consequences" to companies that offshore, as he pledged to do, Trump helped to accelerate it with measures like the 2017 tax giveaway that he and congressional Republicans bestowed on America's rich.

The legislation gives corporations tax advantages for operations in other countries. Now, on top of low wages and weak laws protecting workers, companies have still more incentives to move jobs overseas and devastate local tax bases like those in Cherokee, Gadsden and Huntington.

After defeating organizing efforts, Bulman said, FreightCar America repeatedly told workers it would remain in Cherokee for the long haul. When Trump signed a pandemic stimulus bill this past spring, the company even took about $10 million in aid that it pledged to use for retaining workers and meeting payroll.

But ever since FreightCar America entered into a joint venture with a Mexican company, Bulman feared that it was only a matter of time before his employer moved their jobs and work across the border.

Now, as he and his colleagues log their final shifts, it angers Bulman to think that FreightCar America and Trump both betrayed them.

"FreightCar employees, including me, definitely think he dropped the ball in our case," Bulman said. "It's very disappointing."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW)

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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