PITTSBURGH — Tom Conway, the international president of United Steelworkers, died at 71, the union announced Monday.
It was a "devastating" loss for Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and Conway's co-chair at the BlueGreen Alliance until the day he died.
"He was a giant in every way," O'Mara said in an interview. "Most folks have no idea the impact that he had."
Conway, of O’Hara, was absolutely committed to making things in America, O'Mara said. Recent strides in federal manufacturing investment like the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would not have been possible without his leadership, he said.
"He never gave up on the American worker," O'Mara said, and he was unwilling to accept the premise that globalization was better.
As O'Mara tried to reform manufacturing to make a cleaner environment, Conway worked alongside him, finding similar benefits for worker health and safety. The "legendary negotiator" fully believed in the ideal that we are "stronger together."
The mission he fought for was relatively simple, O'Mara said: Support people and support their communities.
Conway led the Downtown Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers as president since 2019, advocating for fair trade and domestic industry as one of its most accomplished backers. He bargained throughout multiple industry crises and strived to bring more workers into the movement, extending the benefits of union representation to workers in a variety of fields from manufacturing to higher education.
Conway first became an activist in 1978 when he joined USW Local 6787 at the Burns Harbor Works of Bethlehem Steel. As a millwright at the Indiana coke plant, Conway also joined 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. The USW represents 850,000 North American workers in industries ranging from metals and mining to health care and higher education.
President Joe Biden on Monday recalled Conway as a personal friend and trusted confidant with whom he once shared a train ride from Ohio to Pittsburgh, during which they discussed ways to improve the lives of steelworkers and union workers everywhere.
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