• Ben Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Roxanne Brown of United Steelworkers

One of the best things about the Common Sense Colloquy is the opportunity it affords us to expand the conversation about energy and environment communications. This month we’re doing that with a Q&A with Roxanne Brown, International Vice President at Large for the United Steelworkers. We asked Roxanne to share her thoughts about communications, public affairs, climate and industrial emissions reductions along with our standard questions on the best common sense communications advice she’s received and given.


Roxanne was recently promoted from Legislative Director in the union’s Washington, D.C. office to International Vice President at Large. She now oversees the union’s public policy and legislative agenda and its political work along with her expanded global responsibilities. Roxanne’s career has included engagement on many of the most significant environmental and economic policies of this century including policies affecting boilers and emissions and other climate-related initiatives. She was a founding Steering Committee member of the BlueGreen Alliance and is a member of the Democratic National Committee and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.


We’ve had the pleasure of working with Roxanne through the union’s participation in the Carbon Capture Coalition (a RENEWPR client). We’re grateful that Roxanne found time in her busy schedule to share her thoughts here. She has been instrumental in advancing the concerns of the nation’s labor force within the political and policy dialogue and ensuring that good jobs and good environmental policy can continue to be a reality: lucky us to have this opportunity to hear from her.


Our BIG thanks to Roxanne for sharing her time and insight with us – and you.


Q: Your career has focused on the intersection of policy, jobs and environmental protection. What have you learned about how to communicate about the many linkages among these issues? 


A: Essentially every policy – good or bad - that moves through Congress or the Administration impacts workers, their families or their communities in some way. I’ve learned that speaking plainly about what workers face on the job and in their communities, and allowing workers themselves to tell their own stories can have a profound impact on policymakers and can sometimes lead to transformational policy.


Q: Given the increasing interest in climate change and the growing focus on industrial emissions, the steel industry is being asked to explain what it is doing to address the climate impacts of its operations. How do you respond to those kinds of questions when you get them? 


A: Overall greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. industrial sector have declined over the last two decades or so for a host of reasons: investments in energy efficiency at steel, paper, cement and other facilities, changes in fuel sources and investments in renewables and of course – as our union and our members have seen too many times – the offshoring of manufacturing to other countries. That said, there does need to be a comprehensive plan to further decarbonize the domestic industrial sector. Much of this rests in the deployment of technologies like carbon capture utilization and storage, the increased use of combined heat and power, and significant investments in the research, development and deployment of other critical technologies.     


Q: As a legislative and government affairs executive, you likely rely on communications to help make the case for the policies you advocate. What do you wish communications professionals understood about policy communications that would make your job easier? 


A:  I often wish communications professionals would drill down to the people behind the policies. That way of communicating loses everyday people because they are left to either assume the worst, or wonder where the heck they fit! 


Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?


A:  Keep it simple. Oftentimes in the policy space, we think the more words we use, the more convincing our arguments and the more we pull an audience in. We can’t help but be “wonks”! That may work when communicating with policymakers, but workers are also a key element of moving policy. Workers are astute and tuned into what’s happening, but they are also really busy working 10-12 hours shifts and juggling their kids, ailing parents, or other commitments. They don’t have time to read white papers, so the more simple and straightforward the message the better!  


Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?


A: Tell your story. This is the advice we give our members when they come to D.C. to meet with their members of Congress. Their experiences at their mill, hospital, refinery, smelter or plant are uniquely theirs and will not be familiar to policymakers, so we encourage them to speak from the facts of their own lives vs. any wonky fact sheet we pull together. This way of communicating provides essential data that policymakers don’t have, but need.   




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