The United Steelworkers (USW; formally the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union) is a major industrial labor union. The union is a member of the AFL-CIO union federation and Workers Uniting, a partnership with British labor union Unite. The USW reported a U.S.–based membership of 559,558 and dues collections of $276,634,067 in 2017.
Formed in 1942, over the decades since it has absorbed, merged or formed strategic alliances with numerous smaller unions, particularly in Canada, but also elsewhere in North America, Australia and Great Britain. The union has led two long-lasting and significant strikes by the USW against steelmakers, in 1959 and 1986.
The USW endorsed every Democratic presidential nominee between 2000 and 2016, and its political spending is almost exclusively sent to Democratic candidates and left-wing advocacy. From 1990 to 2016, the United Steelworkers PAC spent $37 million, with $18 million of the total given directly to Democratic candidates and committees, and $73,600 to Republicans. Left-leaning political and policy advocacy organizations receiving financial support from the USW during the 2016 election cycle and since include the New American Jobs Fund, For Our Future, Americans for Democratic Action, and Family Values @ Work.
In 2006 USW and the Sierra Club co-founded the BlueGreen Alliance, a joint effort by big labor organizations and major environmental groups to advocate together for common causes. Similarly, the New American Jobs Fund is a left wing political committee jointly funded by the Steelworkers and the League of Conservation Voters.
The current president, Leo W. Gerard, has held the office since 2001. He and another USW executive have admitted to trying to shut down the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle by pushing large obstacles onto Seattle streets during mass demonstrations. They were two of an estimated 1,400 USW members participating in the protest.
USW national and local executives have been implicated in several recent financial scandals. In 2013, Charles E. Rocha, the national political director of the USW, was convicted of embezzling from the union. He was banned from involvement as a union executive until 2026, but later became one of the highest paid political consultants for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. 
United Steelworkers was voted into existence in May 1942 at a convention of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC). Five years earlier, U.S. Steel (then the nation’s largest steel manufacturer) recognized SWOC. Philip Murray, head of SWOC, was sworn in as the first USW president at the 1942 convention, and would hold the job until his death in late 1952.
The 1959 Steel Strike
The 116-day USW strike that began in July 1959 was at the time the longest work stoppage in steel industry history. Management at the steel companies was seeking the ability to introduce new machinery, work rules, and job assignments into the plants, but this required the USW to surrender provisions in existing contracts preventing these changes. The impasse occurred because the USW was unwilling to give up these provisions without other concessions. The strike by 500,000 steelworkers led to shortages at U.S. auto plants, warnings of layoffs from automakers, and the first large imports of foreign steel into the U.S.
Steelworkers were ordered back to work under provisions of the federal Taft-Hartley Act, but were permitted to retain the disputed work rules provision. The major lasting impact of the strike was the introduction of imported steel to the U.S. market, and for this reason the dispute is now considered a loss for both the USW and U.S. steel companies.
The 1986 Steel Labor Disputes
Starting in the late 1970s, steel imports began to put severe and sustained pressure on domestic manufacturers. The domestic suppliers reacted with significant cost-cutting measures through the early 1980s, including job cuts and outsourcing of work formerly done by USW members. Between 1983 and 1987 U.S. Steel (then known as USX) reduced its workforce by 20,000, and in 1986 – when the collective bargaining agreement with the USW expired – pushed for wage concessions from the union so as to keep the company competitive with foreign steelmakers.
The USW refused to discuss wage and benefit cuts unless USX/US Steel would agree to cease the layoffs and outsourcing. The contract expired in August 1986, touching off a work stoppage that would last for 184 days, becoming the longest steel work stoppage in American history.
Brief violence occurred just before Thanksgiving in November 1986. A plant near Lorain, Ohio, was holding steel pipe that had been finished before the dispute began and the company tried to ship the load out to customers by rail. USW members illegally blocked the tracks, leading to a clash with 160 police officers, the arrest of 14 steelworkers and the hospitalization of four others. Three police officers were also injured. The shipment left the plant.
An agreement was reached in January 1987, granting a profit-sharing plan to the workers in exchange for the wage and benefit cuts desired by the company.
USW has merged with and/or absorbed numerous other unions in both the U.S. and Canada. In the United States these include the Aluminum Workers of America; the United Gas, Coke, and Chemical Workers of America; the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union; the United Papermakers and Paperworkers; the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers; the United Stone and Allied Products Workers of America; District 50, Allied and Technical Workers; the Upholsterers International Union; dozens of locals from the Independent Workers of North America; the United Rubber Workers; the Aluminum, Brick, and Glass Workers; the American Flint Glass Workers Union; the National Pharmacists Association; and the Telecommunications Workers Union.
In April 2005 USW merged with the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers International Union (PACE), becoming the continent’s largest industrial union. The official name changed to the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW). Shortly before this era and since, numerous other mergers and strategic alliances were formed between USW and unions in the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, and Mexico. The merger with PACE created a union with 850,000 members in North America and the Caribbean.
Allies and Partners
The United Steelworkers lists a number of organizations as “allies and partners.” They include:
- Alliance for Retired Americans: A labor-union sponsored advocacy organization pushing a left wing agenda and purporting to be the voice of older Americans.
- Americans for Democratic Action: A left wing policy advocacy organization with chapters across the nation that received $5000 support from USW in 2017.
- BlueGreen Alliance (formerly the Apollo Alliance): A joint effort by big labor organizations and major environmental groups to advocate together for common causes. It was jointly co-founded in 2006 by the Sierra Club and the USW.
- Coalition of Black Trade Unionists: An AFL-CIO constituency group for African American union members.
- Family Values @ Work: A policy advocacy organization that promotes the agenda of labor unions. It received $5000 support from the USW in 2017.
- Interfaith Worker Justice: An advocacy organization pushing a left wing pro-union agenda from the perspective of religious leaders. 
- National College Players Association: A membership organization, somewhat like a labor union, that seeks to increase protections, benefits and pay for college football and basketball players. In 2017 it received $30,000 in organizing assistance from the USW and another $15,000 in direct donations.
- United Students Against Sweatshops: A labor-backed organization that mobilizes college students to protest major apparel companies that manufacture clothing outside the United States.
Political support from the USW skews heavily toward Democrats, with endorsements in the last five U.S. Presidential races going to Democrats Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The USW’s political spending has overwhelmingly favored Democratic candidates and been in alliance with left leaning organizations. For the fourteen federal election cycles from 1990 to 2016, the United Steelworkers PAC spent $37 million, with $18 million of the total given directly to Democratic candidates and committees, and $73,600 to Republicans.
The Steelworkers’ PAC raised $7,877,283 for the 2016 election cycle. Democratic congressional candidates and committees were given $810,824 and Republican candidates received no support. Most of the 2016 money was transferred to outside political organizations, mostly to support Democrats or oppose Republicans.
Two of the largest outside recipients of United Steelworkers PAC funding in 2016 were directly affiliated organizations: USW Works ($3,675,264) and the United Steelworkers 527 ($571,145). Non-Steelworker affiliated PACs receiving large 2016 political donations through the Steelworkers’ PAC included the New American Jobs Fund ($1,615,000) and For Our Future ($1,000,000).
For Our Future is a left wing political committee funded mostly through donations from seven left wing political and labor organizations. It received nearly $28 million for the 2016 cycle, the top donor ($20 million) being the NextGen Climate Action Committee, an environmentalist political organization which is part of the network of groups supported by left-wing billionaire Tom Steyer.
For 2017 the USW reported combined annual political and lobbying spending of $9,120,116.
2018 Strike Vote
On September 10, 2018, USW membership authorized union executives to call strike against U.S. Steel and Arcelor-Mittal, if they deem it necessary. The union began working without a contract on September 1, 2018, and sought higher wages to reflect the healthier profits being earned by the U.S. steel industry following President Donald Trump’s decision earlier in the year to impose 25 percent tariffs on imports of foreign steel.
On July 30, 2013, Charles Rocha, former national political director for the USW, was sentenced to two years probation and a $2000 fine for embezzling from the union. Paraphrasing the federal judge’s sentencing comments, the U.S. Department of Justice news release said the case sends a message that “this prosecution against a senior member of one of the largest labor organizations in the world would help ensure that union dues are used only for proper purposes.” A grand jury had indicted Mr. Rocha for charging nearly $7000 in personal spending over 18 months – including golfing trips and a visit to a Stanley Cup Finals game – to his USW credit card.
Mr. Rocha’s USW salary at the time misdeed took place was $99,942.
By February of 2016, Mr. Rocha was an outside political consultant for the U.S. presidential campaign of Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and had charged the campaign at least $204,000 for his services during the preceding five months. The terms of his 2013 federal sentence prevent him from working again as a labor union officer until 2026.
In the year between the summer of 2017 and the summer of 2018, at least ten USW locals had officers convicted and/or sentenced for embezzlement incidents totaling more than $900,000.
- August 2018 – Albany, Oregon:
The former supervisor of a career development training fund for a USW local pleaded guilty to stealing from the fund. A union adviser estimates total theft to have been $200,000.
- July 2018 – Findlay, Ohio:
The former financial secretary for United Steelworkers Local 207L received two years’ probation after pleading guilty to stealing $30,639 over four years.
- July 2018 – Little Rock, Arkansas:
The former financial secretary for the United Steelworkers Local 6904 was sentenced to repay the $43,274.97 she pleaded guilty to embezzling.
- June 2018 – Green Bay, Wisconsin:
The former treasurer of the USW local was sentenced to 13 months in prison for stealing $98,000 over four years.
- April 2018 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:
The former financial secretary for United Steelworkers Local 10-53-G was sentenced to six months’ home detention after pleading guilty to stealing $21,000.
- April 2018 – Richland, Washington:
The former secretary-treasurer for United Steelworkers Local Union 12-990 was sentenced to six months in a federal prison after pleading guilty to stealing $40,000.
- March 2018 – Harrisburg, North Carolina:
The former president of United Steelworkers Local 1089 pleaded guilty to embezzlement of $63,999.
- March 2018 – Munising, Michigan:
The former secretary-treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 2-87 was sentenced to fines and financial restitution after pleading guilty to falsifying financial records. The original charge was embezzlement of $12,751.
- October 2017 – Cleveland, Ohio:
The former president of a USW local was sentenced to five months’ house arrest after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return and obstruction of justice. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped dozens of other chargers, including two accusations of embezzlement totaling $385,000.
- July 2017 – Wilmington, Delaware:
The former financial secretary for Steelworkers Local 8936 is sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay full restitution on the $24,287 he was charged with embezzling.
Leo W. Gerard became the USW president in 2001. As of 2017, Mr. Gerard’s salary as president of the union was $183,965.
In 1999, when Gerard was USW secretary-treasurer, participated in the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Both men have said they dragged large obstacles into the middle of city streets to prevent delegates from attending the meetings. “We thought it was important to educate the public about the WTO snake under the rock,” Mr. Gerard told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In a quote attributed to the New York Times by the USW’s online biography of Gerard, he is identified as the “No. 1 scourge of free traders.” Even though his union endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for President in 2018, Gerard has spoken kindly of President Trump’s protectionist policies, especially following the President’s decision to impose steel tariffs on several U.S. trading partners in early 2018.
Gerard is Canadian, and was the USW’s national director for Canada from 1991-1994, and a local USW executive in Ontario from 1986-1991. He is involved directly with several other left wing advocacy organizations, as a co-founder of the BlueGreen Alliance, and as a member of the board of directors for the Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.
Thomas Conway is international vice president of the USW. A longtime ally of Gerard, he also participated in the 1999 Seattle demonstrations.
Conway’s salary was $149,210 in 2017.