Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

IUE-CWA Reaches Tentative Agreement with General Electric

GE Workers

IUE-CWA members rally outside their GE plant in Salem, Va. IUE and other unions at GE reached a tentative contract with the company this week.

After four weeks of intense negotiations, IUE-CWA has reached tentative national agreements for about 16,000 workers at General Electric. Ratification votes are expected to be held next week.

The four-year packages, bargained jointly by the unions' Coordinated Bargaining Committee, include gains in wages and pensions, while holding increases in workers' share of health care costs to 2.5 percentage points.

IUE-CWA represents the majority of workers, with more than 8,000 members at GE. "I congratulate our negotiating committee on working hard to reach an agreement that addresses critical issues for both our union members and the company," IUE-CWA President Jim Clark said.

Describing the talks as "hard-fought negotiations," IUE-CWA GE Conference Board Chairman Bob Santamoor said, "We've made significant strides from where we started to reaching a deal that we can bring back to the members. The contract also offers a special early retirement window for long-service employees, a key issue for our union members."

Regarding health care, the agreements call for hourly GE workers to pay 24 percent of the cost of their coverage, up from the 21.5 percent they have been paying since 2007. Salaried GE workers began paying 35 percent of their health care costs last year.

If ratified, the new contract will give workers a $5,000 cash payment in July, followed by wage increases of 2.25 percent next June, 2.5 percent in 2013 and 3 percent in 2014. Workers would also receive eight cost-of-living increases worth $1.13 per hour over the life of the contract.

In addition to across-the-board pension improvements, Clark said the company is making an unprecedented commitment that it will not propose any pension plan freezes in the 2015 negotiations.

The contract also includes improvements in job security language, retiree health care, vacation, sick and personal time, vision and dental plans, and disability benefits.

The proposals are under review this week by each union's negotiating committee. The IUE-CWA committee voted Wednesday to send the agreement to members for ratification, which must be complete by June 30.

Members Rally From W. Va. To N.H. as Verizon East Bargaining Begins

Local 1104

CWA members at Verizon demonstrated up and down the East Coast on Wednesday as bargaining began. Pictured are members of CWA Local 1104 (top) in Garden City, N.Y., and members of Local 2201 in Richmond, Va.

Local 2201

Negotiations got underway Wednesday with Verizon Communications covering about 35,000 CWA members from Virginia to New England, and another 10,000 members of the IBEW. The current contract expires at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 7. Thousands of CWA members participated in mass pickets from Virginia to New Hampshire.

Bargaining is being led by CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton in the metro New York area and in Philadelphia by CWA Vice Presidents Ron Collins, District 2, and Ed Mooney, District 13. Key issues include quality jobs and health care.

As talks began, CWA members mobilized in locations up and down the East Coast. Click here for photos and mobilization updates.

Collins said union workers want a contract that will "protect good union jobs and give members the opportunity to grow along with the company. In recent years, this company has turned its back on its employees. This company that we built together has taken its profits and headed off in new directions, to new products and technologies, and left behind the very workers that are responsible for its success."

Mooney said, "Now is the time to put our differences aside and focus on what we have in common. We need to use our collective strength to benefit each other and not work against one another. Collectively, we are one company — voice, data, video and wireless. Only by working together as one company will we all be successful."

Shelton said Verizon "cannot keep claiming surplus after surplus while hiring more contractors every day. It is not fair to employees to tell them there are too many of them, but that you need contractors to do their work. It's not even good business."

N.J. Assembly Strips Public Employees of Health Care Bargaining Rights

NJ Workers Rally June 16

Through rallies, lobbying and testimony, thousands of CWA and other union members never stopped fighting the legislative attacks on their collective bargaining rights.

In a devastating blow to a half-million public workers in New Jersey, including 65,000 CWA members, the state Assembly on Thursday stripped them of their right to collectively bargain health care benefits and voted for steep increases in what workers pay for health care and pensions, while CWA is in contract negotiations with a June 30 expiration.

CWA and other union leaders and allies in the workers' struggle condemned the vote.

"This is a dark day for workers' rights as the race to the bottom continues," CWA President Larry Cohen said. "We thank those who stood up and voted 'no' despite the pressure. We will never forget them. We will also never forget those who moved New Jersey back 50 years, stripping bargaining rights from public workers and imposing health care cuts that will destroy living standards for hundreds of thousands of families."

At 1 p.m., as debate was scheduled to begin inside the statehouse, 10,000 CWAers and other union members filled the streets to defend workers' rights. They were joined by more than two dozen Assembly Democrats, who bucked party leaders and stood with us.

"There's one group of people who don't bear the responsibility for the system being broken...and that's everyone standing here today," Assemblyman and state Democratic Chair John Wisniewski told the thousands of workers, as quoted on NJ.com.

But other lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie have treated workers with nothing but contempt, even ignoring detailed bargaining proposals from CWA that showed how the state could save money without doing long-term harm to its employees. CWA and other public workers have made sacrifices for years, but have done so through negotiations. Now, with regard to health care benefits, they no longer have that right.

"This debate is not about money, it is about rights," CWA District 1 Legislative/Political Director Bob Master said, testifying before the Assembly Budget Committee on Monday. He described how CWA attempted to bargain early on with Gov. Chris Christie's representatives.

"CWA put on the table — on the first day of bargaining — a proposal that would save the state $200 million in health care costs when fully phased in," Master said. "We did this because we understand what is going on in New Jersey today. We understand that private sector workers are struggling, that they are losing their pensions and they are paying too much for health care, that property taxes continue to be excessive. We don't believe these problems will be solved simply by slashing our members' standard of living or by simply cutting government spending. That wouldn't work and it is not fair. But we are prepared to do our share."

CWA New Jersey State Director Hetty Rosenstein also testified Monday, as well as Local 1036 President Adam Liebtag and Steward Jack Greenberg, a 30-year state employee.

Every Assembly and Senate seat in the legislature is up for election in November. Workers are pledging to expose Republicans and Democrats who chose to stand with Christie and abandoned New Jersey workers.

Volunteers Gather Three Times the Signatures Needed for Ohio Vote

Petition Campaign Big Step Toward Repeal of Anti-Collective Bargaining Law

Ohio Stickers

Proudly wearing anti-Senate Bill 5 stickers, CWA volunteers in Ohio helped gather more than 714,000 signatures in the fight to restore public workers' collective bargaining rights.

When volunteers began circulating petitions two months ago, Ohio unions and their allies had an ambitious goal: A half-million signatures by June 30, more than twice the 231,000 valid signatures required to put a repeal of the state's anti-collective bargaining law on November's ballot.

The number collected so far is beyond their wildest dreams: 714,137 signatures as of last Friday, when there were still nearly two weeks to go before all petitions have to be submitted.

For CWA members and thousands of other volunteers working tirelessly to gather signatures, the tally is thrilling but not entirely surprising. "People were so excited. In restaurants, on the sidewalk, in the grocery store, they were coming up to me asking to sign the petition," said Barb Allen of IUE-CWA Local 84722, the same experience described by Local 4310's Diane Bailey.

As private-sector workers, Allen and Bailey aren't affected by the new law, which specifically targets the union rights of public workers. But they know if Kasich succeeds now, he won't stop until all workers have lost their collective bargaining rights and seen their paychecks and benefits shrink.

"I brought it home to people, made it personal," said Bailey, who is her local's secretary-treasurer. "Maybe it didn't affect them directly, but everyone knows someone who is affected. And that resonated with people. It didn't matter whether they were young or old, black or white, public or private sector, union or non-union, they don't approve of what Governor Kasich is doing. It's a moral issue for them."

Bailey and Allen were creative circulators. Bailey often posted her location on Facebook so people could find her and sign. Allen, treasurer of her local, said she kept petitions with her at all times and always wore her anti-SB 5 button, referring to the infamous bill number. That drew voters to her wherever she went.

Sometimes she'd approach people who'd refuse to sign, but she often persuaded uncertain voters. "I talked to a used car salesman and I told him, 'Who do you think is buying these cars? It's the union people in your area. The teachers, the firefighters, the police officers. You take away their income, and they're not going to be buying your cars.' He ended up signing," she said.

That's exactly the kind of connect-the-dots message that the CWA-founded "Stand Up for Ohio: Good Jobs and Strong Communities" coalition will be sending every day between now and November.

"Everyone is impressed and inspired by the record-breaking efforts of 10,000-plus volunteers across Ohio, including hundreds of CWA members, but our work isn't done," CWA District 4 Vice President Seth Rosen said. "We have to keep building the movement for good jobs and strong communities. That's the key to vetoing this attack on collective bargaining rights in November."

NLRB Rule Changes: A Modest First Step to Ending Unnecessary Delays

New proposals from the National Labor Relations Board regarding rules for union representation elections are a first, but modest, step toward ending some of the delays workers face when trying to organize, CWA President Larry Cohen said.

While the rules would streamline some aspects of what can be a difficult and drawn-out process, Cohen said they won't address the coercive and intimidating behavior that companies frequently use against workers who try to exercise their lawful organizing rights. "Workers at T-Mobile USA and nearly every other company know firsthand how U.S. corporations use delay to keep workers from making a fair choice about union representation," he said.

In late May, technicians at T-Mobile USA lawfully petitioned for a union election at three locations in New York and Connecticut. Management responded by stepping up its anti-union campaign with fear tactics and harassment — illegal activities that companies routinely get away with under existing election rules.

Three technicians — Chris Cozza, from Connecticut, and Elvis Alvira and Rick Stradone from Long Island — say management "has made it crystal clear that they will not be happy if we dare to even talk about forming a union."

T-Mobile is using video surveillance and security personnel to keep close tabs on workers who are simply trying to exercise their rights. And straight from the anti-union playbook, the company is requiring workers to attend captive-audience meetings and some managers have told workers the company will move if they vote for a union.

In Germany, T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, recognizes and respects its workers' right to form and join unions.

"The preamble to the National Labor Relations Act actually says [the law's] purpose is 'to promote collective bargaining,' but as workers at T-Mobile USA in New York and Connecticut can confirm, we've fallen a long way from that," Cohen said.

Fighting for Respect, Wal-Mart Workers Say, 'We Need Your Help'

OUR WALMART BENTONVILLE

Seeking respect and fairness, Wal-Mart workers took their "OUR Walmart" campaign directly to company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., last week.

As they struggle to exercise their rights at work and be treated with the respect they deserve, Wal-Mart workers are asking you to join their new "OUR Walmart" campaign and spread the word on social networks.

"We call ourselves OUR Walmart for short," workers say on the website for the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. "It's because we, the hourly associates, are the life-blood of our stores and of the company we work for, yet we are not treated with the respect we deserve. Here we are working to fix that, and we need your help."

OUR Walmart, profiled last week in the New York Times, had been quietly signing up members for months before going public June 16 with its website and Facebook page. Organizers told the Times that they have more than 50 members at some stores. The goal is to give workers a collective voice, even if they don't, for now, have a union.

Workers took their campaign directly to the company's headquarters in Arkansas last Thursday, a trip their website powerfully describes. "Because we spoke with one voice as OUR Walmart, a representative from corporate headquarters came out to hear our concerns and even pledged on camera there would be no retaliation against employees working for change," OUR Walmart said.

The campaign's launch came just days before the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to block a class-action lawsuit that charged Wal-Mart with pay and promotion discrimination against 1.5 million women.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which is helping workers build OUR Walmart, said the ruling illustrates why the campaign is so important. "Employers like Walmart have long attempted to isolate workers and prevent them from solving problems together," UFCW said. "This decision will not stop workers from joining together, through collective action, or prevent them from continuing to pursue their individual claims against Walmart."

To join the campaign, use the links in the story or go to http://ourwalmart.org. Be sure to follow the links to Facebook, Twitter and other websites to spread the word to family and friends.

Airport Screeners Finally Have New, Long-Sought Title: Union Members

After a decade fighting for a voice on the job, 44,000 TSA screeners at 450 airports have joined the American Federation of Government Employees in what was the largest union election ever for federal workers.

The Transportation Security Administration's four previous directors had refused to recognize the workers' bargaining rights. Veto threats from then-President Bush thwarted efforts by Democrats to recognize the workers' rights through legislation.

But under President Obama, TSA head John Pistole agreed to grant screeners collective bargaining rights, triggering an April election in which 85 percent of workers voted for union representation. In a close election this week, they chose AFGE over the National Treasury Employees Union.

"We are obviously thrilled with the election results, but more importantly are delighted that the transportation security officers now will have the full union representation they rightly deserve," AFGE President John Gage said.

Workers at AT&T Mobility, Marshall Space Flight Center Join CWA

Alltel workers who came into AT&T Mobility in 2009 are continuing to join CWA. The latest is a statewide retail sales unit of AT&T Mobility workers in South Dakota who organized with CWA last week through majority sign up. The 89 workers will be represented by Local 7500.

In Huntsville, Ala., workers at the Marshall Space Flight Center voted 6-1 to be represented by IUE-CWA, joining other workers at the center represented by the union. Sikorsky, the workers' employer at the center, also agreed to recognize five workers in the center's maintenance and control department.

Click Here: A Workers' Roundup of the Web's Best

Because too many people don't understand what collective bargaining is, how it works and why it's so important, the AFL-CIO has launched a lively new website that explains it all. You'll find amusing videos, graphics, workers' personal stories, links to helpful articles and more. Use the Facebook, Twitter and email links to share with friends and family. Click here.

Talk show host Ed Schultz, who spoke to CWA members on last week's virtual town hall phone call, is making good on his promise to keep hammering away about workers, workers' rights and the economy. Tuesday night, featuring a chart also published in the current CWA News, Schultz again put the lie to the Republican claim that more tax cuts for the rich will create jobs.

Wages are stagnant

The chart shows the vast and growing wealth gap between the top 1 percent of Americans and everyone else, with workers' income flat-lined for 30 years in spite of rising worker productivity.

"We are living still, unfortunately, in the greediest generation in the history of this country and these numbers right here prove it. Think about it, if the top 1 percent, if they were the job creators, based on what this is right here — hell, we ought to have record employment. Not record unemployment," Schultz said. Watch the segment here.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision blocking 1.5 million women from suing Wal-Mart for discrimination on the job, a University of California professor who often writes about labor issues takes an historic look at the retail giant's authoritarian culture. In the New York Times op-ed, Nelson Lichtenstein concludes that, "There used to be a remedy for this sort of managerial authoritarianism: it was called a union.' Click here to read the full column. (Note: The New York Times is now behind a pay wall, but you can access 20 articles a month for free.)

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