Labor Movement mourns passing of United Steelworkers International President Tom Conway

TOM CONWAY, international president of the United Steelworkers (USW), passed away Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, at the age of 71. – United Steelworkers photo

Pittsburgh, PA – United Steelworkers International President Tom Conway died Sept. 25 at age 71.

Elected as the union’s president in 2019, Conway was known for his quick wit, formidable bargaining skills and unwavering devotion to workers and their families.

His opinion pieces were frequently featured in the Labor Tribune.

“From his earliest time making steel to his steady hand leading us through the darkest days of the pandemic, Tom followed two simple guiding principles: the dignity of work and the power of working people,” said David R. McCall, the USW’s international vice president of administration, who was selected last week to succeed Conway as president. “Tom was never afraid of a fight, and thanks to his ingenuity and determination, generations of workers can enjoy better jobs and brighter futures.”

Conway relished going toe-to-toe with top leaders of some of the biggest corporations where USW members work, and over the course of his career, became one of the union’s most accomplished contract negotiators in steel, aluminum, oil and other major industries, often directing bargaining during crises.

As president, he also spearheaded innovative initiatives to organize more workers into the Labor Movement, extending the benefits of union representation to workers in a variety of fields from manufacturing to higher education. Under Conway’s leadership, USW members gained some of the Movement’s most significant organizing victories.

SOLIDARITY
“Solidarity wasn’t just a word to Tom; it was a way of life,” said USW International Secretary-Treasurer John Shinn. “He understood that by working together, we will balance the scales against greedy corporations and the billionaire class.”

During his time in office, Conway relentlessly advocated for fair trade, demanding that the government enforce trade laws to prevent importation of illegally subsidized and dumped products that damage domestic industries and destroy good-paying jobs.

At the same time, Conway worked not just to save jobs but to create them, finding new ways to engage both companies and elected officials to expand manufacturing, secure domestic supply chains and invest in healthy, flourishing communities.

Conway first became an activist in USW Local 6787 in 1978 when he went to work at the Burns Harbor Works of Bethlehem Steel. While working as a millwright in the coke plant, Conway served as a griever for plant-wide maintenance and was a member of the Safety and Contracting-out committees. He joined the union’s International staff in 1987 and was elected as USW International Vice President in 2005.

“We will all miss Tom’s passion, his integrity, his gift for strategy and not least of all, his sense of humor,” said McCall. “His time as USW president was too short, but it’s clear he will leave an indelible impact on our union and beyond.”

MENTOR AND LEADER
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler called Conway a friend, mentor and leader whose influence on the Labor Movement extended far beyond his own union. As a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, Conway’s sage guidance on how to build an inclusive, modern Labor Movement that renews strength and solidarity among working people was invaluable, Shuler said.

“Our hearts are breaking today. The loss of Tom is deeply felt not only by his Steelworker sisters, brothers and siblings, but by every worker he positively impacted through his forceful leadership,” Shuler said. “We send our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and all who knew and loved him. Tom’s legacy will forever remain—and we’ll all continue to learn from his life in service to working people.”

CHAMPION OF WORKERS’ RIGHTS
Jobs with Justice released the following statement on Conway’s passing:

“We at Jobs With Justice are deeply saddened by the loss of Tom Conway, a relentless champion for workers’ rights. His contributions to the United Steelworkers and Labor Movement will leave a lasting impact and will long be remembered for advancing fair and just working conditions for this and future generations of workers.

“We were lucky enough to award Tom and USW workers an Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award just last year, celebrating the union’s innovative efforts to organize workers at tire plants in the South. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and all those who knew and worked with him at USW and throughout the Labor Movement. May his legacy serve as an inspiration as we continue the fight for worker justice.”

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, mining, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, the service, public and health care sectors and higher education.

Steelworkers’ David McCall selected as new president

The United Steelworkers International Executive Board has appointed David McCall as the union’s new international president to fill the remainder of Tom Conway’s term. Conway passed away Sept. 25 after four years as the USW’s leader.

“We are all mourning a great loss,” McCall said, “but even in our sadness, our union is strong, thanks in large part to Tom’s leadership and vision. Now, we’ll move forward the only way we can: together. Together, we’ll honor Tom’s legacy, as together, we fight for justice and fairness for working families.”

McCall served as USW international vice president of administration since July 2019. In that role, he bargained contracts with some of the union’s largest employers in steel, aluminum, rubber and other industries.

Before his election as vice president, he served for 21 years as the director of USW District 1, a job in which he represented 70,000 USW members and retirees throughout the state of Ohio and bargained some of the union’s biggest contracts.

 

BEGAN CAREER AS UNION ACTIVIST
McCall began his career as a union activist with USW Local 6787 at the Burns Harbor integrated steel facility in Northwest Indiana. There, he worked as a millwright and served the local union in various positions, including grievance chairman and vice president.

During his tenure with Local 6787, McCall established the local union’s food bank and unemployment support committee. He joined the USW international staff in 1986.

LEADERSHIP DURING STEEL CRISIS
McCall’s leadership during the American steel crisis from 1998 to 2002 helped to restore benefits to tens of thousands of retired steelworkers. During the global economic recession in 2008 and 2009, he fought to save thousands of jobs with a focus on long-term viability and sustainability.

“Our union is changing,” said McCall. “We’re organizing new members in new industries in both the United States and Canada, even as we bargain cutting-edge agreements for members in our traditional sectors. I am humbled to lead our union as we continue to fight for a better future for all working people.”

 

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