Mar 27, 2014
In Virginia, CWAers prepare materials to be distributed to lawmakers during the Virginia AFL-CIO Legislative Conference in Richmond.
Virginia Relay Center has signed a one-year contract extension with AT&T to maintain telecommunication relay services for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, and speech-disabled. The Norton-based public service, which employs about 75 CWA members who are AT&T employees, will stay operational at least through July 2015.
Each day, 24 hours a day, the center processes about 1,000 traditional relay calls for people who cannot readily access the standard telephone network. The conversation is then relayed between two parties by specially-trained communications operators.
"People have been working at the center for 20 plus years," said CWA Local 2204 President Chuck Simpson. "They take pride in what they do, and they take pride in who they're helping. They have a personal relationship with their customers. Many customers will actually ask for operators by their Communication Assistant Operator identification number."
Since its founding in 1991, the center has been funded by provisions in the state's budget. But in January, CWA discovered that the outgoing Virginia governor had removed that budget language. That's when CWAers started lobbying to save these good-paying jobs in an area with higher than average unemployment. Activists were on the ground in Richmond, reaching out to senators and delegates every week. During the Virginia AFL-CIO's annual lobby day, 220 union members helped press the issue. And in late February, Virginia CWA state council leaders met with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney and Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones to request their help in restoring the funding and talking with AT&T about extending the state contract.
While the issue was foreign to many elected officials, CWAers found that many Capitol secretaries and aides had strong ties to the deaf community. "They were great advocates for us as well," said Simpson.
Announcing the contract extension, McAuliffe said it will provide more than $80 million in revenue to the local economy.
Ronald Lanier, the Director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing commented, "With perhaps the most dedicated and experienced relay operators in the nation, the contract extension will continue to provide full access to the standard telephone network for Virginia citizens with communication challenges. The quality of services provided by the Center's employees distinguishes them from others, and our customers can tell the difference."