Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

GOP Medicare Scheme Backfires as NY Dem Wins Race for Congress

CWA Phone Banks, Labor Walks Vital to Victory in Buffalo-Area District

Local 1122

At Local 1122's 50th anniversary celebration May 19, CWA President Larry Cohen, left, praised Buffalo-area members for working hard to elect a pro-worker candidate to Congress. Democrat Kathy Hochul won the seat in a special election Tuesday. Pictured with Cohen are Local 1122 Area Vice President (North) Lisa Dobson and her father, Earl Frampton, former president of CWA Local 1115.

Below: Cohen and District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton with Local 1168 members at the May 19 event, which drew about 300 CWA activists.

The Republican agenda to kill Medicare, trample workers' rights and cut millionaires' taxes at the expense of everyone else took a well-earned beating in upstate New York on Tuesday, as a Democrat comfortably won the special election for a U.S. House seat the GOP has held for generations.

CWA members in Buffalo and surrounding Erie County made phone calls and knocked on doors for winner Kathy Hochul, helping voters understand what was at stake. Local 1122 President Jim Wagner said that by Tuesday night, "We were feeling pretty confident."

"Our local, all of CWA in western New York and the rest of the labor community stepped up big time," Wagner said. "We had volunteers in here many nights working the phone bank, we did a labor walk last Saturday, and last week, on the 50th anniversary of our local, we had President Cohen here firing everyone up about the race and how important it was."

Speaking to 300 CWA activists in Buffalo at the May 19 celebration, President Larry Cohen and District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton thanked the volunteers, telling them their hard work was already paying off: Polls showed the election closer than anyone had expected early on, and the national media were paying attention.

"The message is clear," Shelton said. "America's middle-class voters reject Republican and extremist plans to dismantle the programs and policies that working families and retirees count on. The question for candidates is simple: Whose side are you on?"

The special election was held to replace Republican Rep. Chris Lee, a married congressman who resigned earlier this year in a scandal over his shirtless photo and personal inquiries on an Internet dating site.

Republican Jane Corwin was widely expected to win the seat until she joined other members of her party in embracing a scheme to privatize Medicare. As proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), seniors would get a government voucher and attempt to buy health insurance on the open market, instead of Medicare.

The issue turned politics upside down in what has been one of the country's most steadfast GOP congressional districts. It has nearly 30,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, was one of only four New York districts to vote for John McCain in 2008, and one of six that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. When Lee won his seat in 2010, he received 74 percent of the vote.

But after U.S. House Republicans voted in favor of Ryan's Medicare-killing budget, polls shifted. In Erie County, one poll showed that Medicare was the single most important issue for 21 percent of voters. Among that group, 80 percent said they were voting for Hochul.

"We had the issues on our side," Hochul said after her victory. "We can balance the budget the right way and not on the backs of our seniors."

Workers Press for Share of GE's Success as Bargaining Begins

IUE-CWA to GE: You Can't Brag to Investors and Cry Poverty to Workers

GE Negotiations

Hundreds of IUE-CWA members and community supporters in Lynn, Mass., turned out to rally along Western Avenue on Monday as national bargaining began with GE in New York City. U.S. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) joined workers in their call for a fair contract.

As nationwide bargaining began this week for a new GE contract, IUE-CWA members and their negotiating team put management on notice that they expect employees to share in the company's increased profitability and performance.

GE's earnings and stock performance are the best in years thanks to its workers' efforts, said IUE-CWA President Jim Clark, chairman of the Coordinated Bargaining Committee of unions taking part in the negotiations in New York City.

Clark warned GE not to use tough economic times as an excuse for a bad contract. "You can't boast to investors that your portfolio of companies and earnings outlook is the best it's been in the last decade, and then come to the bargaining table crying poor," he said. "The numbers tell the story: GE stock outperformed the S&P 500 last year and so far this year."

IUE-CWA and other union-represented workers at GE have worked with management to achieve savings and increased productivity over the years, significantly contributing to the company's improved profits. The talks underway affect 16,000 union members, more than half of them represented by IUE-CWA.

Health care and pensions are major issues. IUE-CWA Conference Board Chairman Bob Santamoor slammed a GE proposal that fails to address illnesses and injuries that workers have developed over a lifetime at the company, including exposure to toxic chemicals.

At the opening round of bargaining, CWA President Larry Cohen called the company's health care proposal "bad medicine" and said GE's unions are united behind their negotiating team. "We will resist the health care proposal with all the resolve we have," he said, noting that GE was asked to help craft national health care reform. The company refused and now is paying the price, he said.

GE workers across the country marked the start of negotiations in a show of unity and strength. At the company's Lynn, Mass., plant a crowd of nearly 600 workers and supporters in the community rallied, showing support for their bargaining committee.

Cohen Meets with Lawmakers on AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

On Capitol Hill this week, CWA President Larry Cohen met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and Democratic members of the California delegation on how the AT&T/T-Mobile merger will benefit workers and consumers.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined Cohen for the California presentation. She also thanked CWA for its work in the special election in upstate New York that resulted in the election of Democrat Kathy Hochul.

For CWA members at AT&T, the merger will improve AT&T quality. The commitment to build-out will expand AT&T coverage and our members' jobs.

At both meetings, Cohen outlined why the AT&T/T-Mobile merger means good jobs and economic development:

  • T-Mobile was going to be sold to either AT&T or Sprint. AT&T is the only union wireless company. Sprint is anti-union and has a record of denying workers' their right to a union voice here at home.
  • Sprint shut down La Conexion Familiar, a call center in California, when the 230 predominantly Hispanic women workers were voting for a CWA voice. Sprint outsources its frontline engineering and tech work and has sent as much as 70 percent of call center jobs overseas.
  • AT&T has committed to spending an additional $8 billion to build out high-speed wireless broadband to 97 percent of the nation. This means that rural communities that now have little or no access to high-speed broadband will be able to move into the Internet Age. Schools, hospitals and other critical institutions finally will be wired, and economic development and quality jobs will be supported.
  • Sprint doesn't have comparable resources for build-out and its bonds are not investment grade. Its spectrum and operating systems are incompatible with T-Mobile. Sprint hasn't yet finished integrating its 2005 purchase of Nextel. AT&T and T-Mobile use the same spectrum and operating systems; this will provide immediate benefits for workers and consumers of both companies.

Ohio Petition Campaign Well On Its Way to Goal for Referendum

Poll Shows Majority Would Vote to Repeal Anti-Collective Bargaining Law

Stand Up Ohio

A May 5 statehouse rally is one of many events that have propelled the campaign to repeal Ohio's new anti-union law. More than 214,000 people have signed petitions so far for a November referendum, including Republican state Sen. Bill Seitz (below), who voted against the bill.

Sen. Bill Seitz

In their high-energy campaign to overturn Ohio's new law stripping collective bargaining rights from public workers, broad coalitions of union members and diverse allies have gathered more than 214,000 petition signatures in just a month.

CWAers, community, faith and civil rights activists, environmentalists and even self-described Republicans fed up with Gov. John Kasich's power grab are continuing to circulate petitions, aiming for as many as 500,000 signatures by the end of June.

The state requires 231,149 valid signatures in order to put a referendum on the November ballot that will let voters decide the fate of the anti-union law.

"CWA activists have been volunteering across Ohio not only to circulate petitions but also to help do data entry and other critical tasks," said CWA District 4 Vice President Seth Rosen, who helped create the Stand Up for Ohio coalition earlier this year. "I am certain we will get more than enough signatures to put this on the November ballot.

According to a recent poll, 54 percent of Ohioans believe the law should be repealed, with only 36 percent wanting to keep it. The majority of respondents also said that Kasich's budget proposals are unfair, with schools, social services, public safety and other essentials on the chopping block while corporations and millionaires get more tax breaks.

"To give a sense of how families are struggling, a record four out of every 10 school kids in Ohio now qualifies for subsidized lunch," said Amy Hanauer of Policy Matters Ohio, speaking at Stand Up for Ohio's "Good Jobs and Strong Communities" rally the day the GOP-controlled House passed the budget.

The nonpartisan fact-checking service, PolitiFact, wondered if she was right. Their investigation of Department of Education and USDA records showed she was "spot on." In fact, PolitiFact said, the actual figure is 44 percent, slightly higher than the four-in-10 number Hanauer cited.

Stay informed about the campaign at Stand Up for Ohio's Facebook page.

Dues Deduction Case: Albany Guild Wins Round Two in Federal Court

NY Local Chalks Up String of Victories Against Times Union Newspaper

Adding to an impressive series of legal victories for TNG-CWA members at the Times Union in Albany, N.Y., a federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's decision regarding the newspaper's abrupt end to payroll deduction of union dues.

The Times Union, owned by Hearst Corp., stopped deducting dues and remitting them to the Albany Newspaper Guild at the end of a contract extension in April 2009. The Guild filed a grievance, but the company refused to arbitrate.

The Guild, which represents about 250 workers at the newspaper, sued the Times Union in federal court and won. In effect, the lower court ruled that the contract's expiration didn't affect the agreement between employees and employer for dues deduction.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals not only upheld the decision, but said the conclusion was "entirely consistent" with a ruling in a similar case involving the Guild and the Providence Journal in Rhode Island.

The Albany Guild also triumphed when the National Labor Relations Board prosecuted the Times Union for laying off 11 workers in 2009 and declaring an impasse in negotiations. An administrative law judge ruled both actions illegal, ordering management to reinstate the employees with back pay and to resume negotiations.

Instead, the Times Union filed an appeal to the full NLRB, "a delaying tactic with virtually no chance of victory," Albany Guild President Tim O'Brien said, adding that the newspaper's "liability in the case now exceeds $500,000 and grows every day."

"The time has come for the Times Union to stop waging its losing legal war against its workers," O'Brien said. "We have continued to offer flexibility at the bargaining table. If the company put half the effort into reaching a settlement that the union has, we'd be done by now."

National TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said the Albany local's strong leadership and the "excellent, creative counsel" of Guild attorney Barbara Camens made the legal victories possible.

"We hope this latest victory will open the door to a good negotiated settlement for our members," Lunzer said. "Ultimately, it is their strength, their commitment to fight for a fair contract, that is most important. Legal action is a remedy that we will seek whenever and wherever we have to, but it's not a substitute for a motivated, mobilized membership."

NABET Reaches Out to Stars, Advertisers as ABC, NBC Hype Fall Shows

ABC Rally

Fighting for fair contracts at ABC and NBC, NABET-CWA members rallied in New York City last week at the networks' fall TV presentations for advertisers.

Despite heavy rain, NABET-CWA members in New York City rallied with enthusiasm last week outside star-studded NBC and ABC presentations that gave advertisers their first look at the networks' fall TV shows.

NABET members at both networks are fighting for new contracts. Bargaining began earlier this year with ABC, where the union contract expired March 31. The NBC contract expired more than two years ago.

As advertisers and celebrities made their way inside the events, members from Local 51011 (NBC) and Local 51016 (ABC) handed out flyers and tried to talk to them about workers' issues at the networks.

"At NBC's gala at the New York Hilton, our members approached such stars as Chevy Chase, Debra Messing and Christina Aguilera," NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce said. "We also drew the attention of high-level NBC management as they emerged from their limousines."

For another three hours, NABET members and allies from the Writers Guild and other unions handed flyers to passersby, marched outside the midtown hotel's entrance and blew whistles to draw attention to the contract dispute.

The next day, May 17, NABET members gathered across the street from Lincoln Center, where ABC was making its presentation. "Almost every person walking into the event or strolling by on the sidewalk was presented with a flyer outlining Disney/ABC's attempts to reduce the terms and conditions for thousands of workers across the country," Joyce said.

The union got an extra boost of support from dozens of soap opera fans, angry at ABC for its planned cancellations of "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."

The most recent bargaining sessions with both ABC and NBC were held this month. "All of the open items were discussed in both sets of talks, but no overall deal has been reached yet at either network," Joyce said.

To stay up to date, visit the sector's website at www.nabetcwa.org.

Organizing Roundup

Networking on Facebook Helps Rural Virginia Telecom Workers Join CWA

Seeking better pay, benefits and working conditions, 40 AT&T Mobility workers in southern Virginia became members of CWA Local 2204 last week through majority sign-up.

The former Alltel workers in the communities of Norton, Danville and South Hill used Facebook to communicate with one another and with local organizer Leabern Kennedy. "We're glad to have these workers aboard," Local 2204 President Chuck Simpson said.

CWA represents about 43,000 AT&T Mobility workers. Alltel employees joined the company as part of the AT&T/Alltel/Zodiac acquisition. In other organizing news:

  • In Piscataway, N.J., six AT&T technicians at the company's Internet Data Center organized with CWA Local 1150 through majority sign-up.
  • In Maryland and Virginia, 68 Verizon Enterprise Workers joined CWA through voluntary recognition and were brought under the existing agreement.
  • In Springfield, Va., five drivers at Big Apple Limousine became members of with Local 2336 through voluntary recognition.

IUE-CWA Members at Logan's Budget Rent-A-Car Ratify First Contract

Budget Rent-A-Car First Contract

Two years after first organizing their union, Budget Rent-A-Car workers at Boston's Logan Airport have a first contract. Pictured, from left, are IUE-CWA Local 81201 Organizer Sheila McGillicuddy and Budget employees Mukhtar Abdul, Manny Chery and Kamau Hashim.

Budget Rent-A-Car workers at Boston's Logan Airport, members of IUE-CWA Local 81201, have ratified a hard-won first contract that improves wages and benefits and sets up a grievance procedure with arbitration.

The contract also spells out the right of workers to picket their employer in the event that Budget attempts to outsource jobs at Logan, as it has done at airports in Rhode Island and Maine.

Local 81201 Executive Board Member Bill Rounseville, who served on the bargaining team, said while the provision doesn't bar outsourcing, it will discourage it because pickets are bad for business. "This helps keep the playing field as level as possible," he said.

The 50-plus Budget employees, who include sales agents, service agents who clean vehicles, shuttle bus drivers and others, first organized their unit in October 2009.

For a full year, the company stalled bargaining, leading to an attempt to decertify the unit. But the workers' strong rank-and-file campaign prevailed last fall and ultimately "broke the logjam" in negotiations, Rounseville said.

AFA, FAA Partner on Airline Safety Practices as Travel Season Begins

AFA Safety

At a news conference at CWA headquarters, AFA President Veda Shook and FAA Administrator Randall Babbitt display an FAA-approved child restraint seat. Shook says it is safer for parents to put babies in the seats rather than hold children 2 and younger on their laps.

AFA-CWA and the Federal Aviation Administration kicked off the summer travel season with a media event at CWA headquarters to educate airline passengers about making air travel as safe as possible.

With major TV networks on hand, AFA-CWA President Veda Shook and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt drew on their years of experience to help passengers stay safe.

Shook, an Alaskan Air Flight Attendant, discussed the proper use of cell phones and explained how they can interfere with aircraft instruments and distract passengers. She also urged travelers to limit the number of carry-on bags, which cause thousands of injuries every year to passengers and cabin crews.

Babbitt and Shook stressed the importance of parents using FAA-approved child safety seats for children 2 years of age and younger. Although holding babies on laps is common practice, the experts said it's unsafe and has led to deaths and injuries in crashes and even in turbulence.

Babbitt, a former pilot, urged passengers "to listen to their Flight Attendants' safety briefing prior to takeoff," saying the safety message is critical even for veteran travelers. Shook summarized safe airline travel with three simple steps: "Turn it off, buckle up, and listen up."

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