Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

Why Reforming the Senate Rules Still Matters

The Senate's failure to adopt meaningful rules changes yesterday has real consequences for working families and our democracy.

What we saw in the 111th Senate was a shocking manipulation and abuse of rules. Reforms that would help working families, like the Employee Free Choice Act, were never allowed to come up for debate, despite the fact that a majority of senators supported the measure. There were more than 400 bills that passed the House of Representatives that never had a hearing on the Senate floor.

A package of reforms championed by Senators Harkin, Merkley and Udall and strongly supported by CWA would have provided the real change that the American people deserve by restoring debate and deliberation and ending the stalling tactics used to block nominations and keep legislation from full Senate consideration. Without these changes, partisan gridlock will remain the hallmark of the U.S. Senate.

CWA President Larry Cohen said he was proud of CWA's work with a coalition of nearly 60 progressive organizations, including Common Cause, the Sierra Club, Alliance for Justice and others in support of rules reform.

"It will likely be years before we have a Senate that can pass bargaining and organizing rights legislation under the current rules. No progressive legislation can be passed under these current rules. But we will keep building the coalition, add campaign finance to our democracy agenda and make this a key test for all senate elections in the future."

CWA commended the efforts of Senators Harkin, Merkley and Udall and pledged to continue to work with them and fight in the 112th Congress for the legislation that working families need.

New Jobs, Innovation the Focus as Obama Visits IUE-CWA GE Plant

GE Schenectady, N.Y.

President Obama views a steam turbine built by IUE-CWA Local 81301 members at GE's Schenectady, N.Y., plant. (Photos courtesy of GE.)

Below: After a speech inside the factory, the president greets Local 81301 Business Agent Carmen DePoalo.

Obama at GE

President Obama's visit last Friday to an IUE-CWA-represented GE factory in Schenectady, N.Y., left workers optimistic about efforts to create and restore American manufacturing jobs.

In a similar vein to his State of the Union address five days later, the president told Local 81301 members that, "We're going back to Thomas Edison's principles. We're going to build stuff and invent stuff."

After years of GE outsourcing and plant closures, IUE-CWA President Jim Clark said the company has started to add union jobs at U.S. plants. In Schenectady, for instance, a new $100 million battery plant will employ 350 people, in addition to 1,200 Local 81301 members who build turbines and generators. Currently they are at work on $750 million in exports to India.

"We've made some headway," Clark said. "We've got a long way to go, but lately, we've had some success bringing back some of the jobs that GE sent offshore when Jack Welch was CEO."

Obama announced in Schenectady, the birthplace of GE, that he would name current CEO Jeffrey Immelt to chair the new White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, news that pleased Clark and 81301 leaders. "The president made it very clear that he wants to grow jobs in this country, he wants to export more than we import, and fortunately our CEO agreed with him," said Local Business Agent Carmen DePoalo, who got to speak briefly with Obama afterwards.

More than half the president's audience was made up of 167 members of Local 81301. They were selected by lottery to attend, along with GE managers and community leaders. "I think the thing I enjoyed most was the expression on people's faces, the excitement that 'the president of the United States is in our workplace.'" DePoalo said.

'I Have a Story to Tell for the Rest of My Life'

Local 81301 Members Thrilled by President's Tour of Schenectady Factory

IUE-CWA Local 81301 members

President Obama shook hands and chatted with IUE-CWA Local 81301 members both before and after his speech. (Photos courtesy of GE.)

Below: Local 81301 members were ready with their cameras for Obama's visit.

Local 81301 members

Not "in a million years," did Marilyn Primett expect to have the kind of day she had last Friday, when she looked up from wiping down a steam turbine and found President Obama extending his hand in greeting.

Primett, a member of IUE-CWA Local 81301 and 34-year employee at GE's Schenectady, N.Y., plant, had been selected to be on the route that Obama was taking as he toured the factory. But to have him stop and talk with her and three colleagues at their workstation was "unbelievable," she said, still excited days later.

When Obama asked about their task, Primett explained that they were making sure the finished product was free of metal chips or burrs. She felt he was genuinely interested and listening. "When he talks to you, he looks right at you," she said. "It was awesome the way he treated everyone with the same respect."

Local member Jeff Van Buren said watching Obama come toward him at the plant, chatting with coworkers and shaking their hands along the way, "was like a TV show or something you see at the movies. The whole atmosphere was something I'll never forget."

One of Obama's tour guides, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, told the president that Van Buren was a graduate of the company's apprentice program at Hudson Valley Community College. In his speech at the plant a few minutes later, Obama mentioned the program and meeting a worker who'd been through it.

"I did a double take when I heard him say that," Van Buren said, recalling his moments talking and joking with the president. "Everything that day went as good as it could possibly have gone. It was something else. I have a story to tell for the rest of my life."

Public Workers, Unions Scapegoated in Effort to Scrap State Pensions

Anti-union politicians and pundits are trying to pin the blame for the bad economy on public workers and their pensions, falsely claiming they're the reason that states and cities are at risk of going broke.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both potential GOP presidential candidates, are among those fabricating the case against public workers. They want Congress to rewrite bankruptcy laws so that states can escape their pension obligations to current workers and retirees. Even better, they say, would be new laws allowing states to scrap their public workers' contracts entirely.

While states and local governments are facing some $700 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, Pawlenty and others have grossly exaggerated the figures. Economists say the truth is that public pensions account for less than 4 percent of government budgets, and the liabilities are manageable over the next 20 years.

The anti-public worker schemes ignore another critical fact: public employees contribute to their own pensions, something few private sector workers with pensions are required to do. In New Jersey, for instance, public workers pay 5.5 percent of their salary into the pension fund. And for at least 12 of the last 15 years, their payroll deductions have been the only contributions to the plan.

"The public-sector bashers never mention that public workers, on average, contribute 6 percent of their pay to their pension plans and that public employers have skipped their required contributions for years," CWA President Larry Cohen said.

Cohen stressed that all workers need to pay attention, because the hostility isn't directed only at government employees. "Our pensions, our benefits, our pay and our jobs are under attack, by right-wing elected politicians and by most private-sector management across the country," he said. "If we don't stick together, one by one we will all go down."

The bankruptcy scheme is getting ample media coverage but little traction, with some Republicans calling it reckless. That's because a bankrupt state's credit rating would fall and its cost for bonds financing schools, roads and other public projects would soar.

"No state needs to, or wants to declare bankruptcy," California's state treasurer Bill Lockyer told reporters this week. "It would severely injure a state's economy, local businesses, working families, investors and taxpayers."

Miami Air Flight Attendants Overwhelmingly Ratify Long-Sought Contract

Miami Air

AFA-CWA flight attendants at the all-charter Miami Air stayed strong during four years of contract talks.

AFA-CWA flight attendants at Miami Air, a global charter airline whose clients include the Miami Heat and other sports teams, have ratified a new contract after three years of negotiations and a year of mediation.

The four-year agreement improves compensation, work rules, benefits and leave provisions for 150 flight attendants. More than 90 percent of members casting ballots voted to ratify.

"This agreement values our service to the company and to our clients," said AFA Miami Air President Natasha Glasper. "Miami Air is a successful airline and we are a vital part of a team that makes that success possible. Our flight attendants have long deserved a fair contract that recognizes our contributions as first responders and safety professionals."

Last year, AFA-CWA asked the National Mediation Board to declare the protracted talks at an impasse, a move that could have allowed flight attendants to engage in "self-help" or strike action had management failed to reach an agreement.

Thrift Store Workers Join CWA in New Jersey

Seeking benefits, respect and greater job security during the recession, 41 bus drivers and loaders at the Red, White and Blue Thrift Store in Hamilton, N.J., voted 20-16 for representation with CWA Local 1040 this week.

"Workers are very excited to build their union," Local 1040 Organizer Connie English said. The company played hardball, even firing the lead activist on the workers' inside organizing committee. The local is challenging the termination at the NLRB. "We think we have a strong case," English said.

In addition to English, Staff Representative Christopher Young assisted the workers in their campaign.

Workplace Injury/Illness Data Must be Posted by Tuesday

Starting Tuesday, Feb. 1, employers are required by OSHA to post their summary of 2010 work-related injuries and illnesses. The summary must be accessible to workers and remain posted until April 30.

CWA is asking local leaders and safety and health activists to review the summary and ensure that it includes all OSHA-recordable cases. In addition, locals should request a copy of the OSHA 300 Log, which contains more detailed information.

Locals that determine that cases are missing from the summary or 300 Log should contact both CWA headquarters and their nearest federal OSHA office. For questions, or to report missing information to CWA, contact Safety and Health Director Dave LeGrande at (202) 434-1160 or by e-mail at legrande@cwa-union.org. More information is also available at CWA's Safety and Health website.

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