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CWA e-Newsletter: June 5, 2014

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A Democracy Movement to Shake the Country

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CWA President Larry Cohen this week called for a new democracy movement in America to reclaim for workers and the general public power that has been taken from them in poorly negotiated trade deals.

Cohen made his remarks as the featured speaker at a conference called by the Economic Policy Institute to find solutions to jumpstart Americans' stagnant wages. He also introduced U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, who gave the keynote speech at the program, which was attended by EPI economists and activists working to raise wages for workers nationwide.

"It is not going to matter one bit what our policy ideas are if we don't build a democracy movement in this country," he said. "We've got a great policy agenda. We have no power to enact it. It isn't just that working people cannot organize on the job, it is that this democracy is literally in the trash can. But we keep pretending that it is not, that the next election is going to reinvent it."

EPI issued a report showing wage growth for most American workers has been stagnant for the past three-and-half decades.

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Cohen zeroed in on the continuing erosion of bargaining rights for U.S. workers – even as workers in some places such as Brazil have made great strides – as the main reason for the stagnation and proposed attacking the problem by changing the political culture in the country.

Workers in many European nations, he said, have universal collective bargaining rights. Telecommunications workers in Germany, for instance, have bargained contracts that increased wages to 3% above inflation. And that's not counting that U.S. workers have to pay for health care. German workers don't.

He pointed out that $7 billion was spent in the campaign for federal offices in 2012, a 500% increase in 12 years; and that in the United States Senate, it takes at least 60 votes to get anything done. And there's the erosion in voting rights, which he says is worse than when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Meanwhile, 20 million immigrants, half of whom have Green Cards, are denied a path to citizenship and could not participate fully in our nation's economic life. Moneyed interests have undue sway over U.S. trade policies, negotiating deals that favor multinational corporations and strip power from workers.

CWA is one of the founding organizations of the Democracy Initiative that is determined to overcome the barriers to democracy by organizing around these three goals: getting big money out of politics, voting rights and reforming the broken Senate rules.

"So, it's not hopeless," Cohen says. "It's just the hardest it's ever been."

Multinational corporations won't raise wages and won't keep jobs in America, no matter how much profit they make, if they don't have to, he said.

"The CEO of one of these companies said to me, 'it's like gravity. We are taking the job to the lowest cost place we can produce it unless there's policy to stop us,'" Cohen said. "We are not going to have policy to stop it, whether it's trade policy or labor policy, unless we have a mass movement with a political dimension and take the money out of politics so we don't have the most expensive and the worst elections in the world."

After World War II, 10 million Americans belonged to unions. That number would grow to three times that size as America created a middle class that was the envy of the world. And the reasons for the growth, Cohen said, weren't just workers organizing or just political change or unprecedented levels of community organizing.

"We so often get confused between the policy that's in our head – why didn't somebody come up with this idea? – and the democracy movement that we need to get adopted."


TPP Update

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Democratic Caucus Standing Tough

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On the Ed show, President Cohen and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) discussed how Democratic House members are standing together to oppose fast track approval for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to push for a trade agreement that gives labor, environmental and other standards that affect workers and communities the same force of law that investor and intellectual property rights provisions have. Watch here.

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New CWA App Builds Crowd for Iowa TPP Teach-In

CWAers built a great crowd for a TPP "teach-in" in Des Moines, Iowa, using the new CWA app. About 65 people joined the discussion that focused on how to get the word out about just how bad TPP is for workers, jobs and communities.

Steve Abbott, president of the CWA Iowa Council, said that participants committed to contacting their members of Congress and writing letters to the editor to their local newspapers, to spread the word.

Abbott and other Iowa CWAers will hold more TPP teach-ins and events at the Iowa AFL-CIO convention and in other locations.

Also joining the event were community partners from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and other allies; following the teach-in they talked strategy for building the broad coalition of grassroots activists needed to win social change.


Workers, Allies Take Their Fight to T-Mobile Annual Meeting

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CWAers, joined by student activists from United Students Against Sweatshops and AFL-CIO union supporters, leafleted outside the T-Mobile US annual meeting in Bellevue, Wash. The goal: show shareholders and the public that T-Mobile, despite the advertising dollars spent branding itself as the "cool wireless company," is really just like Walmart, another documented labor law violator.

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Inside the meeting, Amber Diaz, a TU member and former T-Mobile employee from Albuquerque, N.M., called on Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges to justify the $29 million salary paid last year to T-Mobile US CEO John Legere, while thousands of T-Mobile workers are paid wages that are so low that they qualify for government assistance, including food stamps and other aid. DT is the parent company of T-Mobile US.

Diaz was fired for her union activities by T-Mobile, despite having worked for eight years as a top producer. A National Labor Relations Board hearing about her illegal firing and other illegal actions by T-Mobile will begin in September.

"Mr. Höttges, is 'reasonable remuneration' a wage so low a worker needs government assistance? Ultimately, taxpayers are subsidizing the company, and that fact can hurt T-Mobile's image. Will you commit to ending poverty wages at T-Mobile? We at T-Mobile would love to see a contract. Mr. Legere has a contract. Shouldn't workers also have contracts," she asked.

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CWA and TU activists, students and other supporters leaflet T-Mobile shareholders outside the company's annual meeting in Bellevue, Wash.

Shareholders also voted on a proposal urging the T-Mobile Board of Directors to disclose how it assesses human rights risks in its operations and supply chain. The proposal was presented by The Marco Consulting Group, a Chicago-based registered investment adviser, and the AFL-CIO's Office on Investment. It had the support of Institutional Shareholder Services, the leading proxy advisory firm.

The proposal was based on the United Nations' Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which are endorsed by T-Mobile parent DT, but DT, which owns 67 percent of T-Mobile US, refused to support the proposal.

The proposal calls on T-Mobile to report on human rights risks in its own operations and in its supply chain. That would include the recent consolidation of complaints by the NLRB general counsel that T-Mobile violated workers' rights under federal labor law. Walmart is the only other U.S. employer to have faced a consolidated complaint for its federal labor law violations.


NABET-CWAers Use CWA App to Stand Up, Fight Back

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NABET-CWA activists from 24 locals, from Boston to Denver, met in Syracuse, N.Y. last weekend for two days of training, movement building and mobilization.

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NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce walks through the new CWA App's functions at conference in Syracuse. Right is Bill Wachenschwanz, NABET-CWA Local 51211.

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Above and below: About 100 activists turn out for support members of NABET-CWA Local 51211 in their fair contract fight.

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And following some hands-on training provided by NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce, activists used the new CWA app to build turnout at a rally supporting members of NABET-CWA Local 51211 at WSYR-TV in Syracuse who are fighting for a fair contract.

Joyce said, "These members engaged in two extensive Movement Building discussions led by me and CWA Civil Rights Director Chris Kennedy. They learned the importance of building coalition partnerships across labor groups, environmental groups, social justice groups, and democracy reform groups."

Joyce added, "Our activists put the movement building lessons to work immediately by utilizing our great new tool, the CWA App. Each attendee downloaded the app to promote our rally on Saturday in support of NABET-CWA members working at WSYR-TV in Syracuse. They learned how to use this tool to promote our issues and to maximize turnout, as well as how to upload pictures of this event after they 'checked in.'"

About 100 supporters from NABET-CWA, CWA Locals, IBEW, SEIU, local firehouses and the Central New York Area Labor Federation joined the rally and informational picketing.

WSYR is owned by Nexstar Broadcasting. While company profits are soaring, management opened bargaining with 60 proposals all demanding cuts.

Activists now are looking to use the CWA App for future events and rallies, possibly at the New York State Fair, where WSYR-TV is a big sponsor.

Watch a video from the action here.


AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson Joins CWA Executive Board

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New AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson was sworn in June 2 as the newest member of the CWA Executive Board.

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AFA International President Sara Nelson is sworn in as a member of CWA's Executive Board by President Cohen.

Nelson, previously the union's international vice president, was elected president at the AFA-CWA's Board of Directors meeting in April, replacing Veda Shook. Nelson's husband and son Jack were on hand as CWA President Larry Cohen swore her in as a board member. Also present were AFA-CWA International Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Creighan, now serving a third full term, and Debora Sutor who was elected International Vice President.

Nelson said AFA-CWA was committed to "moving AFA forward, mobilizing Flight Attendants for better pay, better working conditions, and better careers. For the past 68 years, we have maintained a laser-focus on Flight Attendants that has made a real difference at the bargaining table and in the legislative/regulatory arena. With our union we have an expert voice at work and we continue to beat back discrimination wherever it exists. It is an honor to carry on that tradition as International President as we bring that same focus to raising industry standards for Flight Attendant across the board."


Bus Tour Spotlights Agenda to Strengthen Women Workers, Families

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CWAers in Columbus, Cleveland and other Ohio cities turned out for the "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds" bus tour.

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In Columbus, Ohio, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, left, and leading women members of Congress push for legislation to support working women and families.

Below: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi meets with CWAers Christal Harris, Local 4501 Legislative-Political Action Team activist; Rich Murray, president Local 4501, and Dianne Bailey, vice president of Local 4310.

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Organized by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic women members of Congress, the bus tour was kicked off in Seneca Falls, N.Y., on June 1. Seneca Falls is the site of the nation's first women's rights convention in 1848. From there, the campaign rolled into Albany, N.Y., Boston and other Massachusetts communities before heading for Ohio.

The campaign is focused on an economic agenda to strengthen working families and build the power of working women across the country. Key issues include equal pay legislation, guaranteed paid family and sick leave, quality jobs, a higher minimum wage and more affordable child care.

Leaders and activists from CWA Locals 4310 and 4501 rallied outside the statehouse and met with Pelosi and other elected women leaders. 

Check out photos and reports from the campaign blog.


Privatization Triggers Race to the Bottom

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Taxpayers are inadvertently funding the erosion of the middle class and their local community services, as more state and local governments privatize important public functions, according to a new report from In the Public Interest.

The study, "Race to the Bottom: How Outsourcing Public Services Rewards Corporations and Punishes the Middle Class," found that outsourcing public services to for-profit and other private companies often resulted in lower wages and reduced benefits that ultimately hurt the local economy. It analyzed case studies from around the country:

  • In New Jersey, after public schools outsourced food service jobs, companies like Aramark, Sodexo and Compass cut workers' wages by $4 to $6 an hour and wiped out many of their health insurance benefits. Food service companies have among the highest levels of employees and their children enrolled in the New Jersey FamilyCare program, the state's Medicaid program – driving up poverty and likely costing taxpayers far more than any savings realized from privatization.
  • In Michigan, a state-run veterans home outsourced nursing assistant positions, which resulted in wages dropping from a range of $15 to $20 an hour with health benefits to $8.50 an hour without benefits. Studies show the cuts resulted in higher turnover among the outsourced nursing assistants and, ultimately, lower levels of reliability and quality of care for veterans.
  • In Milwaukee, the county outsourced nearly 90 custodial jobs to MidAmerican Building Services, a for-profit company that slashed compensation to levels so low that many county workers with families could no longer afford to work there. One custodian skipped doctor visits to save money and had to dip into her son's college fund to pay for daily necessities. Another custodian was forced to cut back on treatments needed by his disabled son due to the loss of income.

"It is important research that connects how privatization has far-reaching, negative effects in the community well beyond the contract itself," said Brooks Sunkett, vice president of CWA's Public, Health Care, and Education Workers Sector.

The report also includes several policy recommendations for reversing this dangerous trend, including requiring contractors to pay a living wage and mandating that governments conduct a social and economic impact analysis before outsourcing.

CWA helped support the research and shape the contents of the report. Read it here.


Bargaining Update

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Dish Workers Defeat Decertification

Workers at Dish Network in Texas, members of CWA Local 6171, beat back a decertification campaign and voted to keep their CWA representation. CWA members at two Dish locations in Texas, with D6, have been fighting for a first contract for four years.

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Alcatel Lucent Contract Expires

The contract covering about 1,000 Alcatel Lucent CWA members expires Saturday night, June 7, and workers are sending another strong message to the company that "we want our place in the future" at another demonstration at the test center in Dublin, Ohio. Workers voted overwhelmingly – with a 94 percent vote – to support a strike if a fair contract can't be reached. Job security remains a big bargaining issue.

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Frontier Negotiations Continue

The contract covering 1,600 CWA members at Frontier Communications in West Virginia has been extended until June 28 as negotiations continue.


Movement Building

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CWAers Recognized for Focus on Job Safety and Health

The New Jersey based Work Environment Council is honoring Adam Liebtag, president of CWA Local 1036, for the local's work on safety and health.

The Work Environment Council is a membership alliance of labor, environmental, and community organizations working for safe, secure jobs and a healthy, sustainable environment. WEC links workers, communities, and environmentalists through training, technical assistance, grassroots organizing and public policy campaigns to promote dialogue, collaboration, and joint action.

In Oakland, Calif., WORKSAFE is honoring CWA District 9 for its work on protecting people and the environment from toxic hazards. D9 especially is being recognized for its work in winning worker protections in California's first "green chemistry" regulations (following a major campaign to address hazards at the University of California system), and supporting the development of an innovative online toolkit on alternatives to toxic chemicals.

In coalition with unions, workers, scientists, and community, environmental and legal groups, WORKSAFE is dedicated to the elimination of all types of workplace hazards and works for protective worker health and safety laws and effective remedies for injured workers.

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This week, CWAers and other activists showed their support for Walmart workers by protesting the company's poor wages and working conditions nationwide in advance of the Walmart annual meeting.

CWA members from Dallas to New York to southern California joined rallies and demonstrations to protest the low wages, poor working conditions and retaliation for supporting a union voice at Walmart. Walmart workers went on strike at some 20 locations.

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Members of CWA Locals 1101, 1102 and 1180 show their support for Walmart strikers at an action in New York City.

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In Dallas, members of CWA Local 6201 and American Airlines activists join Walmart workers in demanding fair wages.

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In southern California, CWAers are in the house, joining Walmart protesters.

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At the Pride Parade in Albuquerque, LGBTQ activists and students stood with T-Mobile workers who are fighting for fairness at the company. T-Mobile was a sponsor of the parade, but that made activists even more determined to focus public attention on T-Mobile's attack on workers' rights.

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In Albuquerque, CWAers and LGBTQ activists call for workers' rights at T-Mobile.

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Keke, the son of fired T-Mobile worker and TU activist Amber Diaz, looks for fairness for his mother.


BlueGreen Alliance Proposed EPA Limits are Starting Point on Climate Change, Keeping Good Jobs

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This week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. It's a step forward, enabling states to develop their own plans for compliance that take into account both cleaner energy and good jobs. The EPA plan calls for a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 levels by 2030; states will have until June 2018 to submit a plan.

The goal is to make sure the U.S. is ready for the impact of climate change on jobs, communities and our infrastructure.

Members of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of unions and environmental groups working for good, sustainable jobs along with a clean and green economy and environment, applauded the EPA proposal.

"Climate disruption is the greatest challenge facing our generation," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, and along with CWA President Larry Cohen, a founding member of the Democracy Initiative. "Today, the president made good on his promise to American families that his administration would tackle the climate crisis, and clean up and modernize the way we power our country."

"This action by the Obama administration is a starting point in a much-needed effort to address both climate change and the need to keep and create good jobs in our communities. Because we have a U.S. Senate that doesn't function, many opportunities for positive change in our nation, whether in restoring workers' rights or supporting clean energy initiatives, have been lost. As we build a movement of progressive activists who are committed to real change on these and other critical issues, we appreciate the President's action to limit carbon pollution while encouraging more efficient energy sources," Cohen said.

BlueGreen Alliance partners support the proposed rule as a means to address the impact of climate change, to increase economic opportunity for workers and communities, and to better protect and improve public health. They also called for a final standard that responsibly reduces carbon pollution from key sources, upgrades infrastructure, expands clean energy and energy-efficient technologies, and creates the sustainable, middle-class jobs necessary.

Read more at bluegreenalliance.org.