The United Steelworkers: an anti-worker union

Ken Blackwell Former Ohio Secretary of State

While refinery workers affiliated with the United Steelworkers held demonstrations in Washington Feb. 15 to protest the closure of two Pennsylvania refineries, their union’s leader, Leo Gerard, continued to express his support for policies that might lead more refineries to cut back operations or shut down — costing even more of his own members their jobs.

The Keystone XL pipeline, the bane of radical environmentalists throughout the country, would bring oil from Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast, creating jobs and stimulating local economies and industries along the way. Unfortunately, President Obama figures he needs the support of radical environmentalists more than he needs the support of middle-class workers, so he’s denying permits for the pipeline’s construction. The project would create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs almost immediately as well as nearly 120,000 indirect jobs over the next few years.

Astoundingly, Gerard has applauded Obama’s decision instead of criticizing it. Gerard’s opposition to the pipeline makes no sense given how many USW members work in U.S. refineries that could manufacture gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, home heating oil, asphalt and other essential products from the oil that the Keystone XL pipeline would transport.

Faced with stiff foreign competition and costly federal regulations in the U.S., the number of American refineries is shrinking — 66 closed in the past 20 years, leaving about 145 today. Three refineries in the Philadelphia area are in the process of closing, wiping out 2,000 jobs of refinery workers and about 20,000 indirect jobs. Even before these newest job losses, refinery closures and the recession had resulted in the loss of 3,000 refinery jobs just since 2008.

Gerard’s opposition to Keystone XL is politics at its worst.

Contrast Gerard’s back-stabbing of his members with Mark Ayers, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. Ayers’ group is an alliance of 13 national and international unions that collectively represent more than 2 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.

“Environmental activists who are not saddled with the economic and psychological scars that accompany long-term unemployment will applaud the fact that they successfully induced the White House to block this project,” Ayers said. “Meanwhile, thousands of proud Americans throughout the heartland will once again be faced with the terrifying prospect of losing their homes and their livelihoods as they struggle to find work.”

Laborers’ International Union of North America General President Terry O’Sullivan pulled his union out of the BlueGreen Alliance — a coalition of unions and environmental groups — after Obama’s action blocking Keystone XL.

“We’re repulsed by some of our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women,” said O’Sullivan, whose union represents more than 500,000 construction industry workers in the U.S. and Canada. “We believe in protecting the planet, but we must also care about the people on it.”

Other unions supporting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline include the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Teamsters and the United Association of Plumbers & Pipe Fitters for the United States & Canada. Leaders of these unions understand that supporting jobs for their members is the reason the unions exist, not to join with the enemy and fight against their own members’ best interests.

J. Kenneth Blackwell is a former Ohio Treasurer and Secretary of State. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Club for Growth