PITTSBURGH—Stan Johnson is one of the top three officers within the United Steelworkers union, but he wasn't a fan of the former United Rubber Workers joining with the USW in 1995.
In fact, as a member of the URW's Executive Board, he vocally opposed uniting the unions at the URW's special convention to vote on the merger—a move he now admits was a mistake.
At the time, the much smaller URW was in the middle of the “War of "94,” where prolonged strikes at several tire companies had eaten through the Akron-based union's strike fund. One of those plants was the Pirelli Armstrong Tire Co. factory in Nashville, Tenn., where Johnson—now the USW's secretary-treasurer—was president of the local at the time.
The URW was in desperate need of a savior, and the bigger, better-financed Pittsburgh-based USW stepped in. During the merger convention, Johnson played a more prominent role than he had imagined.
“It was not a position against the Steelworkers. There was no appetite to raise the dues within the Rubber Workers and remain a viable institution,” Johnson said. “There was a lot of frustration that built up with present leadership at the time. I took the position in opposition saying that we should shop around more. I went into the convention, did the minority report from the board, and the convention was extremely animated.”
In the end, the merger passed by a mere three votes.
“As the merger concluded, I took the position from the floor that once the vote was done, it was done,” Johnson said. “We were Steelworkers, and I made a motion to make it unanimous so we didn't have to go through the turmoil of people being for or against.”
Little did he know at that time where his future career path would lead. He met with then-USW President George Becker sometime later in Nashville at the Bridgestone/Firestone world conference. Becker said he wanted Johnson to join the USW staff.
Johnson's reply: “Do you have any idea the kind of (grief) I would take for taking a position with the Steelworkers now?”
Becker looked at him across the table, eye-to-eye, and said “Do you have any idea of the (grief) I'm going to take for putting you on staff?”
“It was a magical moment,” Johnson said. “It was obvious that he was a person I already respected, but now could truly trust. I think it was reciprocal. From that discussion, we formed a bond and a relationship.”
Johnson came to Pittsburgh in April of 1996 to run the union's rapid response political operation. From there, he held a variety of USW posts inside and outside of Pittsburgh before being appointed secretary-treasurer in 2009.