Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

Today's Fight a 'Moral Obligation and a Mission'

Civil Rights Pioneer John Lewis Joins CWA for Third Virtual Town Hall Meeting

Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, joined CWA's third virtual town hall meeting Tuesday night, building excitement for the nationwide events on Monday, April 4, and the ongoing battle for workers' rights.

Speaking to thousands of CWA members by phone and Internet, Lewis called the fight "a moral obligation and a mission" and made this pledge: "You want me to walk a picket line, to march, to make a speech? I will do whatever it takes to protect collective bargaining."

ver.di

Members of the German union ver.di show support for American workers fighting for their rights. A CWA delegation is visiting with ver.di this week.

CWA President Larry Cohen hosted the call from Berlin, where he is meeting with ver.di, the German union representing workers at T-Mobile's parent company. Cohen recalled how King was murdered on April 4, 1968, while he was in Memphis to march with striking sanitation workers. The events honoring King's legacy on Monday "will be another spark in the movement we are building across our country," he said.

NAACP President Ben Jealous also joined the call, saying that in addition to planning more than 40 events, his organization has reached out to major black church congregations. "They'll be asking pastors across the country to preach the good word on April 3 about April 4," he said.

"We're proud to stand in solidarity with labor at a time of unprecedented attacks, and proud that labor is standing with us as we come together to push for the vision that this is one nation, that we are one," Jealous said.

Three CWA members talked about their locals' plans for April 4 and the fights in their states. "Let me tell you: working people across New Mexico are mad," said Michelle Lewis, president of the New Mexico State Employee Alliance-CWA Local 7076.

Members are encouraged to wear "chili pepper" red on Monday and attend lunchtime meetings, among other activities. "We'll be preparing report cards to give to state legislators for outstanding achievement," Lewis said. "It was a rough legislative session that just ended, with a down-and-out assault on public workers, so we want to commend those elected who stood with us."

Local 6450 President Colleen Downing said her members in Missouri will be hand-billing at worksites while wearing red shirts and black wrist bands that say 4/4/11 on one side and "Stand Up for Workers' Rights" on the other. "At noon, approximately 600 members will stand up, some holding placards that say 'Stand Up for Workers' Rights.'" We will declare that workers' rights are civil rights," she said.

Dennis Csillag, president of NABET-CWA Local 59504 in San Diego, said his members are especially fired up, having just beaten back a decertification attempt.

"We're a tough group that has been working for a long time without a contract, but we didn't back down in our contract fight and we won't back down on the national fight for workers' rights," Csillag said.

Click here or go to www.cwa-union.org to listen to Tuesday's call.

Bargaining Rights Mean Dignity: The Message of April 4

 Stand Up for Workers' Rights

Across our country on April 4, working people and allies from the civil rights movement, the religious community, student groups and many more are standing together for the rights of all workers to bargain for a middle-class life, our right to a voice in the political process and the respect that all people deserve.

More than 250 CWA events are planned so far, with more being posted every day at www.cwaaction.org. Check out the map to find out what's happening in your community. And go to www.we-R-1.org for community events and other actions in your area. So far, there are 600 events being planned by allies, with 100 teach-ins scheduled. Stay tuned.

Just a few highlights:

  • Members of Local 1102 in Staten Island, N.Y., will take a "ferry ride for freedom," then march to the "We Are One" rally outside city hall in NYC.
  • In Newark, NJ, CWA and other union members, allies and civil rights activists will rally at the corner of Broad and Market Streets, then march to Essex County College for music, speeches and other events remembering Dr. Martin Luther King and his commitment to workers’ rights.
  • In Salt Lake City, Utah, members of Local 7704 will be leafleting outside offices and wearing red to show support for workers' bargaining rights.
  • Lots of action and leafleting outside more than two dozen T-Mobile stores and call centers, where workers are excited about having a voice on the job.
  • In Washington, D.C., activists will rally outside the Washington office of the Koch brothers, big financial backers of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other extremists.

Call Congress NOW to Keep Airline Union Elections Fair and Democratic

The White House has said that the Obama Administration would veto legislation that would strip airline and other transportation workers of their right to have democratic union representation elections. The Obama Administration underscored a commitment to preserving fair elections for airline workers as anti-union lawmakers in the House prepare to vote on a measure that would return airline union elections to the dark ages.

The vote, which is expected tonight, will be on a bipartisan amendment offered by Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) to remove a provision in the bill that would count non-voting employees as "No" votes in a union election. The bad provision in the FAA Reauthorization is sponsored by House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica (R-Fla.). Mica receives large campaign donations from the airline industry, and claims his bill is about "fairness" for airline workers. It's just the opposite.

The National Mediation Board overturned these rules last year.

Join with thousands of CWAers who are now calling their House representatives to strip the anti-union measure by voting to support the LaTourette amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill. Call your member of the House of Representatives at 1-888-894-6720 or text NMB to 69866. (Standard text messaging rates apply.)

Union, Consumer Alliance Puts Breaks on NJ Telecom Deregulation

A coalition of New Jersey CWA members, the AARP, Citizen Action, the League of Municipalities and other groups has succeeded in scuttling, for now, a telecom deregulation bill that would have hurt consumers, workers and quality telephone service.

"We've won a round, but the fight's not over," said District 1 Legislative/Political Director Bob Master. "We expect an amended version of the bill to be pushed later in April, and we'll be doing battle again."

Backed by Verizon and other major cable and telephone companies, the bill would have removed virtually all public supervision over the industry. Members of the state Senate sent the bill back to committee last week after facing certain defeat. The measure had been expected to pass and be signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

CWA argued that deregulation makes it too easy for companies to dump less profitable parts of their business onto smaller companies that are unable to maintain or provide quality service. Verizon's past spin-offs of landline infrastructure to Hawaiian Telecom, FairPoint and Frontier led to bankruptcy.

The coalition’s mass letter-writing and phone-calling campaign demonstrated how strong alliances can overcome the spending advantage enjoyed by corporate interests.

The coalition will be called on again, as the fight over telecom deregulation in New Jersey is by no means over. CWA fully expects the industry to regroup for another battle.

White House Forum Spotlights Women and Organizing

White House Forum

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, talk with women workers who want a voice in their workplaces. At right is Liliana Bequer, who works at a T-Mobile call center.

Women workers who are determined to have a voice on the job told their stories at the White House, as part of a forum on women and organizing.

Liliana Bequer, a T-Mobile call center worker, was one of four women who talked about the benefits of a union voice. "I want to have a voice. I want to have respect. And a union is important because it gives us a voice," she said.

The women talked with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The forum was part of Women's History Month and also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, where 146 workers, mostly women, tragically died because of their employer's greed.

With an audience of more than 100 women union leaders, the panel talked about how bargaining rights make a big difference in their lives.

"A union would help us have a workplace where we're not afraid to speak up and propose new ideas that might make things better, for customers and the company. Right now, we can't even express our ideas," Bequer said. "We all want T-Mobile to succeed. We want to be a part of it."

Bequer was part of a delegation of T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility workers to Germany, to meet with members of ver.di, the union of T-Mobile workers in Germany about the campaign for a union voice at T-Mobile USA. T-Mobile is owned by the German company Deutsche Telekom, but AT&T has made a proposal to acquire T-Mobile USA.

Ohio House Guts Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Rights

CWA, Coalition of Allies, Prepare to Put Issue Before Voters in November

Ohio Statehouse

CWA members Ron Gay, Local 4300, and Diane Bailey, Local 4310, watch as boxes of petitions with 65,000 signatures opposing Senate Bill 5 are delivered Tuesday to the Ohio statehouse.
CREDIT: Tom Dodge/Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio House Republicans voted Wednesday night to kill collective bargaining rights for 350,000 public workers, but the fight is far from over as unions and their allies prepare to put the issue on the state ballot in November.

"It is an outrage that the Ohio Legislature took this radical step," CWA District 4 Vice President Seth Rosen said. "The Republican leadership ignored the views of the majority of Ohioans and the bipartisan opposition in both the House and the Senate. We can and will take this issue to the people and put it on the November ballot for a citizen veto and reject this attack on good jobs and strong communities."

Rosen and other CWAers were among about a thousand union members and other workers who packed the statehouse for hearings Tuesday and for votes in both chambers Wednesday. The House voted 53-44 to pass the bill; the Senate, which passed an earlier version, passed the revised bill by a single vote, 17-16. Onlookers booed and shouted, "Shame, Shame!"

Rosen said the process of gathering petition signatures for a November referendum will begin in April. A large army of foot soldiers is ready to go, thanks to the "Good Jobs and Strong Communities" coalition that Rosen and CWA helped launch last month. Find the coalition on Facebook.

The coalition’s unions, neighborhood groups, civil rights organizations, churches, social justice advocates and other allies are committed to overturning the law, seeing the clear link between workers' rights and good, family-wage jobs that in turn build strong communities, Rosen said.

Like politicians in other states, Kasich and Republican lawmakers are trying to blame Ohio’s financial troubles on public employees, a claim Democrats attacked head-on in debate Wednesday. "Unions didn't cause the problems in the budget. They tried to resolve it," said Rep. Kenny Yuko, detailing the wage cuts, furloughs and benefit changes unionized public workers negotiated to help Ohio balance its budget.

Indiana House Democrats Win Concessions for Workers, Return Home

Thanks Indiana Dems

Indiana CWAers helped welcome returning Democrats home with "Thank You" signs Monday night at the state capitol.

The 39 Indiana House Democrats who left the state Feb. 22 to prevent Republicans from ramming through their anti-worker agenda are returning this week after the GOP agreed to drop its "right-to-work" bill and made other concessions.

Among them, Republicans agreed not to pursue a law that would make permanent Gov. Mitch Daniel's 2005 executive order banning collective bargaining for state workers.

Rep. Patrick Bauer, leader of the House Democrats, said while the deal isn't perfect, it was worth the sacrifice that his caucus made, including thousands of dollars each in fines imposed by the Republicans.

CWAers, who turned out in force for demonstrations at the capitol over the last five weeks, were among hundreds of union members who gathered with "Thank You" signs to cheer the Democrats as they returned to work Monday afternoon.

California Workers' Rights March Includes T-Mobile Protest

California Rally

CWA's blue balloons floated over a workers' rights march last Saturday in Los Angeles, where demonstrators stopped to protest outside a T-Mobile store.

California Rally

More than 10,000 people, including a large and spirited CWA contingent, marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to fight for good jobs in their communities and stand with embattled workers across the country.

Thousands of blue CWA balloons with a message supporting T-Mobile workers struggling to organize could be seen all along the parade route. Outside a T-Mobile store, one of four stops along the route, marchers sent text messages to the company demanding it treat its workers fairly. Click here for a video of the event.

"Thanks to our Southern Cal mobilization effort, the CWA turnout was outstanding," CWA District 9 Area Director Libby Sayre said. "Together with other unions and our allies, we sent a strong message that no one is going to take away our collective bargaining rights."

Wisconsin CWAer Featured in Ad for Recall of Union-Busting Lawmakers

Local 4621 VP Betsy LaFontaine

CWA Local 4621 VP Betsy LaFontaine is featured in a new TV ad urging recall of state senators who voted to strip public workers' collective bargaining rights.

A CWA member is featured in a new TV ad with other Wisconsin workers who are gathering signatures to recall their state's union-busting senators.

"Republicans declared war on the middle class and with this recall campaign we are fighting back and we are going to win," CWA Local 4621 Vice President Betsy LaFontaine, an AT&T customer service representative, says as the ad ends. Retirees, a student, a teacher and a corrections officer who is a lifelong Republican also speak out against the GOP's anti-worker agenda.

Click here or go to www.cwa-union.org to watch the ad, which is funded by donations.

As part of the nationwide April 4 events on Monday, Wisconsin CWAers will continue to focus on the recall effort and on elections next Tuesday for local offices and the state Supreme Court, where the new law stripping public employees of their bargaining rights may land.

"We're hoping to send a real message," CWA Representative Frank Matthews said, describing phone banks, mobilization tables at every worksite, red CWA bandanas for every member and a wide range of workplace and evening activities on Monday. "We're going to have vigils and rallies and Get-Out-The-Vote door-to-door."

Meanwhile, a judge is continuing to review whether Republicans acted illegally four weeks ago when they rushed to pass the union-busting bill. Blatantly violating the judge's order to stay the law pending her ruling, Gov. Scott Walker's administration took steps to make it effective immediately.

At a hearing Tuesday, Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi restated her order and warned state leaders. "Now that I've made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin," she said.

CWA, Allies Focus on Florida Senate to Fight Anti-Worker Bills

The nearly 3-1 Republican majority in the Florida House has passed a bill banning payroll dues deduction for public sector unions, but a labor alliance is working hard to stop it and other union-busting legislation in the state Senate.

"Any one of these bills would drive a knife through the heart of labor," said CWA Local 3179 President Steve Sarnoff, who got on a bus with other public worker union members at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday for a five-hour Lobby Day trip to the state capitol in Tallahassee.

Sarnoff said he's cautiously optimistic after speaking with Republican senators who represent his members, municipal workers in Clearwater and four other cities. "As I talked with them and other staff, it appeared there is a lot of pushback against Gov. Scott's anti-union agenda," he said. "They're not all in tune with him the way the Wisconsin Republicans were with Gov. Walker."

In the House, three Republicans broke ranks and voted against the dues-deduction ban. "I went and thanked them all personally," Sarnoff said.

CWA is part of an AFL-CIO strategic campaign that is fighting Florida's anti-union bills by targeting 14 Senate Republicans and one Democrat. Currently, the bills are all in committees, with no dates set for hearings or votes. "Normally, you'd consider that a good a thing, but when you have a party that's a supermajority, they can decide tomorrow morning to bring a bill to the floor," Sarnoff said. "We are trying hard to make sure that doesn't happen, and that these bills never become law."

Missouri Members Turn State Capitol into Sea of CWA Red

Missouri Lobby Day

CWA Local 6355 President Bradley Harmon leads members into the Missouri state capitol Wednesday for Lobby Day.

Lobby Day in Missouri drew 400 CWA members to the Missouri state capitol on Wednesday for meetings with lawmakers and their staffs about vital workers' rights and working-family issues.

"Every time you turned around in the state capitol, no matter what floor you were on, you'd see a group of people in red CWA shirts," said Richard von Glahn, organizing director for Local 6355, which represents 7,000 public workers statewide.

The local has been getting "overwhelmingly positive feedback" from members, von Glahn said, even those who had the eye-opening experience of learning how difficult it can be to persuade lawmakers on the other side of the aisle. "Some people probably came away with a clearer understanding of the things we're up against," he said.

Other locals also sent members to Jefferson City, including 17 who came by bus from Local 6450 in Kansas City. Local President Colleen Downing said they talked with lawmakers about some of the controversial bills, including one that would require state workers to pay an $8 fee to have union dues deducted from their paychecks.

Some Republican lawmakers, who include many freshmen because of Missouri's term limits, said they weren't aware of the bill, and didn't seem to like it. One of them summed up his opposition: "It's a tax," he told Downing. She also discovered that some Republicans are opposed to a right-to-work law, which has been shelved for the legislature's 2011 session but is likely to come up next year.

When it does, Missouri CWAers will be ready. "Some of them drove four and a half, five hours to get to the capitol," von Glahn said. "They said, 'It was a long day, a hard day, but we can't wait to go back.'"

Michigan GOP's Attack on Workers Shifts to Unemployed

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill this week reducing unemployment benefits, making his the only state that provides just 20 rather than 26 weeks of benefits when workers lose their jobs.

With a 10.4 percent jobless rate, Michigan is one of the recession's hardest-hit states. With so many workers needing help, Snyder claimed he had to cut benefits because Michigan's unemployment fund is in the red.

Outraged, Democratic lawmakers decried the cuts and the sneaky way the Republican-led legislature quietly inserted the change into a bill that was designed to preserve jobless benefits.

Republicans in other states are also targeting the unemployed. In Florida, the House has voted to reduce jobless benefits to 20 weeks and to deny benefits to workers found guilty of "misconduct" outside the workplace, or who fail to take a job that pays the minimum wage.

In Missouri, Republican lawmakers are blocking legislation to accept $81 million in federal unemployment benefits for workers who have been out of work for more than 79 weeks.

Maine Governor Strips Labor Department of Workers' Rights History

Labor Mural

One of 11 panels of the labor history mural that Gov. LePage ordered removed.

By ordering the removal of a mural depicting the state's labor history, Maine Gov. Paul LePage has jumped head first into the competition among Republican governors to determine who's the most anti-union of them all.

The 36-foot mural had graced the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor with illustrations that include a 1937 shoe mill strike, the iconic "Rosie the Riveter," who in real life worked at Maine's Bath Iron Works, and a panel showing Francis Perkins, the first woman to serve as U.S. labor secretary. She is buried in Newcastle, Maine.

LePage also ordered that conference rooms named for Perkins and other past American labor leaders be renamed. The governor's spokesman said the mural and the conference-room names were "not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals."

Sinking even lower, LePage said he was influenced in his decision to remove the mural by someone who suggested it was akin to North Korean propaganda. That was especially insulting to the daughter of the mural's artist, a decorated Korean War veteran.

Judy Taylor told The New York Times that she is heartbroken by LePage's action. "Perhaps we should hang my father's Bronze Star for his service in Korea in the now empty reception area of the Maine Department of Labor until the mural is returned, as a symbol of the importance of remembering our history, and not shuttering it away," she said.

Meanwhile, LePage has shown great concern for one state worker, his 22-year-old daughter. According to news reports, he got her an entry-level job in the governor’s office paying $41,000, about $10,000 more than starting salaries for Maine's teachers and police officers.

Transportation and Cemetery Workers Join CWA in Seattle and Omaha

Attacks on labor haven't stopped workers at even the smallest employers from wanting union representation, as evidenced by successful organizing drives at MV Transportation in Seattle and Westlawn Cemetery in Omaha, Neb.

At MV Transportation, concerns about wages and working conditions led administrative support employees to vote 5-2 to join CWA Local 7800, which already represents 375 drivers, dispatchers, utility and payroll workers at the company. Now nearly 100 percent of the workforce is CWA. The local organized its first 30 workers at the company six years ago, when MV Transportation was the shuttle service for Microsoft employees.

Low pay, safety and arbitrary work rules were the reasons that groundskeepers and equipment operators decided to organize with CWA Local 7290 at Westlawn Cemetery in Omaha. All six workers signed a union petition and remained united despite the company's all-out effort to stop them. Westlawn stalled the election, then brought in managers and executives from other locations to pressure workers not to organize. The final vote was 5-1.

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