United Steelworkers Union President Tom Conway Dies at 71

Tom Conway, who was president of the United Steelworkers union since 2019, has died at the age of 71.

(Bloomberg) — Tom Conway, who was president of the United Steelworkers union since 2019, has died at the age of 71.

Conway had been active in the union since 1978, the USW said in a statement on Monday, without giving a cause of his death. His leadership coincided with a tumultuous few years in the domestic steel industry: profits surged in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s import tariffs before being buffeted by the pandemic, but the sector has bounced back strongly in recent years.

Conway had a long history with President Joe Biden, stretching back to when he was a pro-union senator from Delaware. When Biden toured Ohio and Pennsylvania by train as a presidential nominee in 2020, Conway went along. 

“With Tom Conway’s passing, American workers have lost an extraordinary champion, and I’ve lost a great friend,” Biden said in a statement. “Tom was someone I confided in. He had my absolute trust. I knew that if I was doing a good job, he’d tell me – and if I needed to do better, he’d tell me that, too.” 

Conway led the USW in its most recent labor negotiations with Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and United States Steel Corp., which included a 20% increase in wages, increased pensions and additional holidays. He was widely regarded across the entire industry — Wall Street analysts, investors, employees, executives, rivals and politicians — as an intelligent and fair-minded individual, with the rare ability to communicate and connect with groups from all backgrounds.

“He was first and foremost an advocate for his members, but it’s rare that a union leader commands the respect that Tom did from business leaders and elected officials, as well as his own members,” said Todd Malan, chief of external affairs at Talon Metals Corp., who worked with Conway and the union for a decade dating back to his days at Rio Tinto Group. “That’s hard to pull off consistently, to be seen as fair, smart and savvy about issues of the day.”

Conway was also frank. When US Steel announced in 2021 it was canceling a $1.3 billion plan to upgrade union-run Mon Valley, a flagship plant where founder Andrew Carnegie built his first mill in the 1870s, just months after completing a $1.5 billion purchase of a non-union mill, Conway was livid.

“To lose that facility would be devastating,” Conway said an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek last year. “This company is certainly not the steelmaking leader they have been historically, and that’s unfortunate.”

This year, Conway made headlines with an aggressively public stance on the battle over the future of US Steel — the company has rejected an offer from Cliffs and started a strategic review instead. Conway repeatedly expressed support for Cliffs and its CEO Lourenco Goncalves, and even committed to transfer the USW’s right to launch a counteroffer for US Steel to Cliffs.

On Monday, both CEOs paid tribute. Goncalves said he regarded Conway as a personal friend and a trusted business partner, while his counterpart at US Steel, Dave Burritt, said he respected Conway’s passion for his mission.

(Updates with Biden’s statement in 4th graph, and details throughout)

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