Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

'Legislative University' Prepares CWA Activists for Major Battles

Speakers Stress Effective Lobbying, Alliance-Building to Protect Workers


Legislative Political Action Team activists from around the country came to Washington, D.C., this week to learn skills that will help CWA activists fight for critical working family issues in Congress and state legislatures.

CWA's first-ever "Legislative University" drew 100 activists and staff to Washington, D.C., this week to learn how to get the ear of lawmakers, build coalitions and create effective plans to combat attacks on workers in Congress and statehouses around the country.

Legislative Political Action Team, or LPAT, activists came from more than 20 states for the intensive four-day training. Highlights included advice from a U.S. House Democrat and Republican, as well as a panel of Capitol Hill staffers, and sessions on alliance-building with the Sierra Club, Common Cause and other CWA partners.

"The energy and enthusiasm was palpable," CWA Executive Vice President Annie Hill said. "Our LPAT activists understand how vital they are as we fight for sustainable jobs, retirement security, collective bargaining and organizing rights, health care for all and restoring democracy to our legislative process."

Among the expert advice offered, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said hearing from CWA members directly is invaluable. "She told us that on some days just getting 10 phone calls can make an issue skyrocket to the top of her agenda," CWA Legislative Director Shane Larson said.

Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), among a handful of Republicans who supported the Employee Free Choice Act, recently circulated a letter supporting T-Mobile workers. He urged union members not to bypass Republicans when lobbying because some will support some worker issues. "He said, 'If you don’t come in and talk to us, you’re always going to get a goose egg in terms of support,'" Larson said.

Staffers stressed that hand-written letters always stand out when trying to get the attention of Congress. They also reminded activists of the lasting importance of thanking lawmakers, and staff, when they’ve fought for CWA issues.

On Tuesday, Legislative University participants spent the day at the "Good Jobs, Green Jobs" conference put on by the BlueGreen Alliance of unions and environmental groups. A workshop with Common Cause the next day also stressed the critical need for progressive groups to work together.

At various times, activists broke into state and CWA district groups to map out development and growth of LPATs, and plans for fighting the legislative attacks on workers rights', union organizing, public workers and pensions. "Now they’re returning to their states to put those plans into action, and they know they don’t have a moment to lose," Larson said.

Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference

Economic Justice Means Rights for Workers, Sustainable Jobs

Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference 2011

CWA President Larry Cohen speaks Tuesday at the 2011 Good Jobs Green Jobs conference. Also pictured, from left, Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry and, at right, national talk show host Bill Press.

IUE-CWA Green Jobs poster

Creating good, sustainable jobs in the nation's emerging green economy will require workers, community and political leaders to build coalitions that put pressure on employers, CWA President Larry Cohen told the "Good Jobs, Green Jobs" conference Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Cohen was part of a panel discussion at the conference, which drew nearly 2,000 labor, environmental and community activists, including more than 80 CWA members. Most of them were IUE-CWA members working in jobs that are forming the foundation of a revitalized U.S. manufacturing sector.

"We have IUE-CWA members from our industrial division who are working hard to convert manufacturing jobs for the new economy," Cohen said. "They are doing it by working with and often pushing their employers to create jobs that will be here for the next generation."

Cohen's panel, including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, discussed the challenges of today's political climate and ways to build a grassroots movement at the state level for creating good, family-supporting jobs. Click here to hear the full discussion. Henry, whose members are working to "green up hospitals" and other health industry workplaces, said BlueGreen allies "need to use our organizing energy to move things on together."

Beinecke's National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and other BlueGreen Alliance partners helped unions fight for the Employee Free Choice Act and continue to be strong allies for workers' rights.

Cohen said allies share values even if their goals differ. "Labor and environmental groups need to demonstrate how the economic justice issues that we work on are related – for secure sustainable jobs, health care for all, retirement security, and bargaining and organizing rights."

He said the key to overcoming political opposition is for allies to build support locally. Toward that end, future GJGJ conferences will be held at the state level to facilitate state- and community-level organizing.

CWA: USF Reform Will Bring High Speed Broadband to Rural Areas

The unanimous vote by the Federal Communications Commission to reform the Universal Service Fund (USF) is a first step toward bringing the promise of high speed broadband to communities, residents and businesses in rural and underserved areas.

"For five years, the Communications Workers of America's Speed Matters campaign has been pressing for modernization of the USF, to move it from its successful support for 'plain old telephone service' to helping build the 21st century communications systems that are critical to economic and community development, especially in underserved areas. The FCC's decision will help close the digital divide and help achieve world class broadband in the U.S.," said CWA President Larry Cohen.

Universal broadband deployment and adoption are not yet a reality in the United States, and some 24 million Americans have no home access to broadband. The United States continues to lag behind other nations in high-speed networks, falling to 15th in the world in broadband adoption and 25th in broadband speed. Despite modest gains in broadband adoption rates this year, the digital divide persists. All Americans must have access to affordable high-speed Internet so they can realize the economic, educational, and social benefits that this 21st century communications network provides.

NABET-CWA Member Saves Colleagues from Angry Mob in Egypt

Pro-Mubarak Crowd Threatens to Behead ABC News Team near Cairo

Akram Abi-hanna

Akram Abi-hanna, an ABC cameraman represented by NABET-CWA Local 51016, used his cultural and language skills to save the lives of his news team when they were carjacked and threatened with beheading while covering the events in Egypt.

A NABET-CWA member is credited with saving the lives of his ABC news team after they were carjacked and threatened with beheading, one of more than 100 violent attacks on journalists covering the events in Egypt.

Akram Abi-hanna, a veteran ABC photographer from Local 51016 in New York City, used his Lebanese heritage and Arabic language skills to persuade the pro-Mubarak mob to release him, producer Brian Hartman and two other team members. Hartman said Abi-hanna is only reason they are still alive.

"The men released us only after our cameraman appealed to the generous spirit of the Egyptian people, hugging and kissing an elder," Hartman wrote in a Twitter message.

In a news report that ended with anchor Diane Sawyer praising Abi-hanna's "spiritual genius," Hartman described the chilling scene. "There was a man in a police uniform as angry as I've ever seen anybody in my life, looking me in the eye, screaming. He thought the media coverage was biased against President Mubarak. He said, 'So help me God, I will cut off your head' and all around him people are saying, 'Cut head now! Cut head now!' It was terrifying."

The Feb. 3 events began when the news team was stopped at a checkpoint on a road between Cairo's airport and downtown. As their credentials were being checked, a man pushed their driver out of the car, jumped in and drove them toward the mob. "We thought we were goners," Hartman said. "We absolutely thought we were doomed."

NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce said Abi-hanna is a longtime local member and ABC staff photographer who often takes overseas assignments. In the past two weeks, ABC and NBC have deployed a number of NABET-CWA members to cover the events in Egypt for network and local TV news. It's not clear how many other NABET members, as well as TNG-CWA members, may still be working in Egypt.

"Our viewers and readers don't necessarily realize what it takes to get these stories and how much risk people put into their jobs," Joyce said. "What happened to Akram and his team in Egypt is a dramatic example of how our members selflessly put their lives on the line to bring the important stories of world-changing events to people back in the United States and around the world."

Guild Leaders Lunzer, Rothman Re-Elected at TNG-CWA Conference

TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer and Secretary-Treasurer Carol Rothman were re-elected to three-year terms by acclamation Saturday at the Guild's annual sector conference in Orlando.

Because Lunzer and Rothman were the only candidates nominated for their positions, a mail vote of the full membership was not required. They were elected to their first terms in 2007.

The sector conference drew 88 delegates from 36 locals and focused on the union's challenges as consolidation and technology continue to alter the media industry and put journalists out of work.

"This is an extremely critical meeting for us," Lunzer told delegates. "I submit to you, if we don't make plans for our future, others will."

NLRB Defends Employees' Right to Talk about Work, Union on Facebook

Workers' use of Facebook to discuss or complain about work-related issues has been defended by Region 34 of the National Labor Relations Board as "protected concerted activity" in a complaint it settled this week with an employer.

The pre-trial settlement between the Board's regional office in Hartford, Conn., and a Connecticut ambulance service should make employers think twice before disciplining workers who use social networking websites to talk about work-related issues.

American Medical Response of Connecticut fired the worker, a member of the Teamsters union, for Facebook comments about a supervisor, to which some of her coworkers responded. The NLRB charged that the company violated the worker's protected rights, and that its policies on blogging, Internet posting, and communications illegally restricted workers from activities permitted under the National Labor Relations Act.

The company settled with the NLRB before the case, which began in December 2009, went to trial. As part of that settlement, it promised not to discipline employees for engaging in lawful activities, and agreed to revise its personnel policies so they do not restrict workers from discussing wages, hours and working conditions with each other outside of work. The worker's discharge was resolved in a separate agreement between the employee and the company.

In a related case, CWA has filed a unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB against T-Mobile over the company's restrictive and overly broad policies against employees' freedom to discuss workplace issues on social networking sites. "The policy forbids employees from discussing any workplace controversies," District 1 staff attorney Gay Semel said. "Under such a policy, T-Mobile would bar workers from even commenting on the unfair labor practice complaint that we have filed on their behalf."

Semel said that workers' ability to discuss work-related issues on Facebook should not be treated differently under the law. "Concerted activity is permitted and should be protected wherever workers talk about the terms and conditions of their work that concern them," she said.

CWA Says 'Thank You' to Supporters of Senate Rules Reform

The Senate's failure to change the way it operates was a big disappointment, because the opportunity has been lost, at least for now, to end partisan gridlock and obstructionism in the U.S. Senate.

But several senators stood with working and middle-class families for real change. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) strongly championed reforms to restore debate and end the stalling tactics that have blocked nominations and kept legislation from full Senate consideration.

They were supported by many other Democratic senators, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana. In radio spots in several states, CWA thanked senators for supporting accountability and transparency and taking a stand against "business as usual."

Listen to one of the ads here.

Louis B. Knecht, CWA Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus, Dies at 90

CWA Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus Louis ("Louie") B. Knecht, a longtime union leader who helped guide CWA through a period of tremendous growth and transition, died Feb. 5. He was 90. He stepped down as Secretary-Treasurer in 1985 after more than 38 years of service to CWA.

Knecht started working in the industry in 1947 as a telephone repairman on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation in New Mexico, where his father ran the reservation's hospital. He became a union activist with CWA Local 9505 while working at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph in Los Angeles. Angered at being unfairly passed over for an installer's job, Knecht got involved in his local, serving as a steward, secretary-treasurer and member of the local bargaining committee.

Knecht joined the CWA staff in 1950, serving first in Southern California, and then at CWA headquarters in Washington, D.C., as assistant education director. In 1953, he returned to the West Coast to become the assistant director for CWA District 9. Knecht was elected the district's director two years later and served until 1965, when he was appointed assistant to CWA President Joe Beirne.

Knecht was elected as executive vice president in 1971, and as secretary-treasurer in 1974. Throughout his union career, he was active in politics, serving as a member of the National Democratic Committee's Finance Council and in many other posts where he fought for workers' rights.

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