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CWA e-Newsletter: May 7, 2015

CWA e-Newsletter

Want to be in next week's CWA Newsletter? Send your stories and photos to blog@cwa-union.org or @CWANews. Follow the latest developments at www.resistancegrowing.org.

A Message from CWA President Larry Cohen

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My ten years as President ends on June 8. I am confident that CWA leadership will remain strong at all levels and that our members will continue to lead the way as we Stand Up and Fight Back.

I have been honored every day to serve as President of our union. I am proud of all of you and the work we have done together for decades.

I'd like to sum up where things stand in our union, and also to give interested CWAers the opportunity to stay connected to the work of building a movement for democracy and justice that I will continue. As I said in September when I announced that I would not run again, for me this is not about another job, but a way of continuing the work we are doing together in a different way.

Our collective bargaining work only intensifies in the weeks ahead, with negotiations at AT&T, State of New Jersey, United Airlines, American Airlines, GE and Verizon and many other employers covering more than 200,000 of our members. Our goal is to negotiate contracts that improve our standard of living as we unite under the banner of "It's Our Turn." Common sense economics teaches us that higher corporate profits without a rising standard of living do not work for the economy and certainly don't work for us! Our bargaining serves the common good much more than the unchecked management excesses of the global economy.

Our work against Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership should inspire us all for the years ahead. Thousands of our members are leading this campaign across the U.S. and Canada. From New York City to California, Florida to the Pacific Northwest, CWA leaders are mobilizing not only our union but their entire communities against the biggest trade threat ever to our jobs, our living standards and our environment that we have seen. This work is now at a critical point.

Staying Connected

I appreciate the support and solidarity of CWAers over my 10 years as president and throughout the years as an activist and leader.

To stay connected to me and our democracy work in the years ahead, click here to sign up for the monthly columns I will write, much as I have been doing over the past several years at Huffington Post.

I mostly will be writing about democracy campaigns and issues, since that will be a big focus of the work that I'll be doing. More than ever, I believe we must get the "money out and voters in" in our political system even if our only focus is the next contract. We start out with a rotten deal and then try to play the hand. For workers without a union it's even worse, largely the illusion of rights with little reality. How do we create a real path for workers' rights? How do we build a 21st century democracy?

We are not starting from scratch in any of our states or towns or cities or even nationally. The kinds of connections we are making will help us with the next contract fight and in building the movement we need. I will stay committed to that fight and hope we can stay connected as well.

One day longer, each day stronger!

Solidarity forever.


Chris Christie's Rough Week

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First, two indictments and a plea agreement were unsealed in the "Bridgegate" scandal.

Then, on Wednesday, New Jersey public workers' unions squared off against Gov. Chris Christie's administration before the state Supreme Court. At issue, a pension payment shortfall, in which Christie slashed $1.57 billion from a promised payment to public workers' pension system.

CWA and more than a dozen labor unions made the case that the governor has a constitutionally protected contractual obligation to increase payments into the pension system. In 2011, Christie and state lawmakers passed a law increasing workers' pension contributions, raising the retirement age and cutting cost-of-living adjustments. In return, the state pledged to start making larger payments each year into the pension system to make up for years of next-to-nothing payments. But while workers held up their end of the deal, Christie backed out.

Justice Barry Albin said the state's position is essentially, "the law that was passed, now that it doesn't seem to work to my advantage, I'd like to declare it unconstitutional."

Oral arguments lasted more than three hours.

Steven Weissman, a lawyer for CWA and the AFL-CIO, said, "Every single year (the state doesn't) pay it, the state, not (the law), the state of New Jersey, creates an obligation that has to be paid in the future."

This past March, a state judge ruled that Christie broke the law. But during his state budget address, Christie declared his intention to continue ignoring the 2011 law. The unions sued, and now it's up the state Supreme Court to cast a final decision.


Rep. Bera Admits Someone Pulling His Strings in Op-Ed Supporting Fast Track, TPP

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When Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA 7th District) mounted the Soapbox in last Sunday's Sacramento Bee to announce he would be voting in support of Fast Track for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the least his constituents could have hoped for was that he came by his conviction honestly. Especially, since he is going against their wishes.

Poor Bera.

Although he now says that he stands by what he said in the discredited op-ed column in his district's leading newspaper, he also admits that "widely used and disseminated statements made their way into the final draft." In other words, the Congressman plagiarized words and arguments used by people promoting the widely hated TPP and the shameful Fast Track process that the Business Roundtable and their ilk want to use to pull the wool over the eyes of members of Congress.

No sooner had Bera's column run in the Bee than it started to come apart at the seams. The website Buzzfeed analyzed the column and reported striking similarities between what he had published under his name and talking points from pro-trade business groups and conservative Democrats. The website found at least six instances of plagiarism.

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Activists, including members of CWA Local 9421, occupied Rep. Ami Bera's office all day on Tuesday to try to convince him to vote the wishes of his constituents on Fast Track, not the wishes of the Business Roundtable and free trade hustlers.

"Rep. Ami Bera appears to copy from the Business Roundtable, Third Way, and the White House in a rare instance of a Democrat offering President Obama full-throated support for fast-track trade authority," Buzzfeed said in their report.

The Bee, in a story on Tuesday, said Dan Morain, The Bee's editorial page editor, who immediately reached out to Bera to find out what happened, was none too pleased.

"It clearly is a work that borrowed way too heavily from other peoples' work," The Bee quoted Morain saying. "I would expect better of people who write op-eds."

And, predictably, Bera, in his mea culpa, blamed "staff" for the plagiarism, promising to deal with the person "internally."

The Democratic Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is almost unified in opposition against Fast Track and TPP, except for a few outliers like Bera. CWA and our coalition partners have not given up on changing Bera's mind about Fast Track, especially now that we know his convictions on the issue are borrowed and not deeply held.

On April 23, activists occupied his district office

Activists continue a round of events to convince the Congressman to vote the wishes of his constituents. A week ago, activists took the message about Bera door-to-door in his gated private lakefront community in Elk Grove, an upper-scale suburb of Sacramento, 243 households in total. On Tuesday, a couple of dozen activists, including members of CWA Local 9421, again occupied his district office in Sacramento, CA all day, which led to an hour-long meeting on Wednesday between the activists and Rep. Bera.


Rep. Polis Runs Away from Activists Bearing Chocolate Birthday Cake

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Members of Food & Water Watch, coalition partners with CWA in the campaign to stop Fast Track for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, attended a birthday celebration gala and fundraiser Tuesday night for Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO 2nd District) in Fort Collins, CO.

Although uninvited, the activists thoughtfully came bearing a union-made chocolate cake: "Rep. Polis: Don't Fast Track the TPP," the red icing on the chocolate cake said.

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Polis has been turning himself into a pretzel trying to have his cake and eat it too on Fast Track for the TPP. For instance, he organized a town hall meeting last month stacked with four supporters of TPP and one opponent, CWA Economist Ken Peres, who had the crowd behind him.

On Tuesday, the activists procured the cake from King Soopers, whose workers are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers. But Polis, on seeing the activists coming down the driveway, ran away from them and refused to accept the cake. Neither would his staff. So the activists spoke instead to donors and celebrants and they gladly accepted the cake and took it with them into the party.

"I hope he ate it and internalized the message," said Sam Schabacker, FWW's Western Region Director.

The activists made sure to spread the message to Polis' celebrants and donors and many of them were shocked Polis would even consider voting to authorize Fast Track for TPP.


Activists Say "Hell No" to Fast Track

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Fast Track is in hot water. More and more lawmakers are lining up against legislation that would speed NAFTA-style trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress.

And that has a lot to do with activists like you. CWA members around the country have been bombarding their senators and representatives with demonstrations, phone calls and handwritten letters. Their message, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, is, "Hell no!"

So far CWAers have generated 8,239 handwritten letters and 5,593 calls to targeted House members and Senators. Meanwhile, they continue their letter-writing, e-mailing and phone calls and visiting member of Congress offices as well as holding town hall meetings and rallies, including two Ohio events this week, one in Akron on Tuesday and another in Cincinnati today.

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05b_'Fast Track' Akron

Labor, environment and community coalition came together at a rally on Tuesday in Akron, OH, to continue their fight to Stop Fast Track and the TPP. Joining CWAers and the coalition to urge Congress to Say No to Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority and No to TPP were Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH 13th District), Frank Matthews of CWA District 4, Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga, Ohio State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-OH 33rd District), State Representative from the 75th District Kathleen Clyde, Regional Representative for Senator Sherrod Brown Leah Jones, and others.

ABC Cleveland covered the Akron push.

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05c_'Fast Track' NYC

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CWAers and other activists were on hand as New York joined a growing list of U.S. municipalities to reject bad trade policies. Anti-Fast Track and TPP-free resolutions have been passed by other cities including San Francisco; Los Angeles; Seattle; Pittsburgh; St. Paul, Minn.; Madison, Wis.; Berkeley, Calif.; Tompkins County, N.Y.; Fort Bragg, Calif.; Mahoning County, Ohio; Bellingham, Wash., Richmond, Calif.; Hollywood, Calif.; Oak Park Township, Ill.; Dane County, Wis.; and Guadalupe, Ariz.

The TPP, a massive trade agreement covering the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations, is a giant corporate power grab that has been negotiated in secrecy for five years. Executives of the country's biggest corporations and their lobbyists already have read the text and have had significant opportunities to shape the terms of this deal. The public, however, has been completely shut out.

Momentum is growing to stop this disastrous trade deal and negotiate an agreement that works for all, not just corporate interests.

The latest community to say No! is the City of Hallandale Beach in Broward County, FL, joining the Broward Democratic Party and the Broward AFL-CIO.

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05e_'Fast Track' Meeks

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U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY 5th District) is the only member of the New York State Congressional delegation supporting Fast Track and TPP and CWA activists have been letting him hear about it, like during this rally outside his office last week. More than 150 activists, including coalition partners such as Sierra Club, Trade Justice NY Metro, Health Global Access Project (HealthGAP), VOCAL-NY, NY Communities for Change and Working Families Party joined the protest outside Meeks' office.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joins northeast Ohio workers to stand up for American jobs and call for fair trade that puts American workers and businesses first.

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Union members, including CWA, Food & Water Watch and other community members met with Rep. David Price (NC 4th District) on Wednesday to ask him to vote No on Fast Track.

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Pacific Trade Deal is Bad for California

CWA District 9 Vice President Laura Reynolds and Dean Wallraff of Sierra Club wrote this opinion piece that appeared in the Sacramento Bee.

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AFA-CWA Calls on Senate to Deny Trading Status to Nations Involved in Human Trafficking

In a letter to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, Sara Nelson, AFA-CWA International President, called for "bipartisan leadership in support of stamping out modern day slavery around the world." Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced an amendment to the Senate Fast Track bill to deny expedited consideration of any trade agreement with a country on the State Department's list of Tier III human trafficking; that amendment was adopted by the Senate Finance Committee by a strong bi-partisan vote.

Click here to read the letter.


Experts Oppose ISDS Provision in TPP as Contrary to American Legal Traditions

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A group of legal heavyweights, including Harvard University's Laurence Tribe, are saying that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is contrary to American legal traditions.

The heavyweights – Yale University's Judith Resnik; Cruz Reynoso, a professor of law emeritus at University of California, Davis School of Law; the Honorable H. Lee Sarokin, Former United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; and economist Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University – made their views known in a letter last week to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), House Speaker John Boehner (OH 8th District) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th District). CWA's ally in the campaign to beat back Fast Track for TPP, Alliance for Justice, was instrumental in getting the experts to write the letter.

"We write because of our concern that what we know about ISDS does not match what courts can provide," they wrote in the letter. These experts sounded the warnings about ISDS:

Those advocating using this alternative in lieu of our court system bear the burden of demonstrating why such an exit is necessary, and how the alternate system will safeguard the ideals enshrined in our courts. Thus far, the proponents of ISDS have failed to meet that burden. Therefore, before any ISDS provisions are included in the TPP or any future agreements, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), their content should be disclosed and their purposes vetted in public so that debate can be had about whether and if such provisions should be part of proposed treaties...

Our legal system rests on the conviction that every individual, regardless of wealth or power, has an equal right to bring a case to court. To protect and uphold the rule of law, our ideals of fairness and justice must apply in all situations and equally to everyone. ISDS, in contrast, is a system built on differential access. ISDS provides a separate legal system available only to certain investors who are authorized to exit the American legal system. Only foreign investors may bring claims under ISDS provisions. This option is not offered to nations, domestic investors, or civil society groups alleging violations of treaty obligations. Under ISDS regimes, foreign investors alone are granted legal rights unavailable to others – freed from the rulings and procedures of domestic courts...

ISDS weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the legal system and using a system of adjudication with limited accountability and review. It is antithetical to the fair, public, and effective legal system that all Americans expect and deserve. Proponents of ISDS have failed to explain why our legal system is inadequate to the task. For the reasons cited above, we urge you to uphold the best ideals of our legal system and ensure ISDS is excluded from upcoming trade agreements.

This caught the attention of the news media, including The Washington Post, which ran a story about the letter and the widespread opposition to TPP, which is being negotiated by the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations.


CWA Local 7777 Builds Green Taxi Coop in Denver

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Since last September, more than 1,000 taxi drivers in Denver have joined CWA Local 7777 as part of Green Taxi, a cooperative organized by the CWA Local to support Uber and other drivers in Denver's tightly controlled taxi industry.

It's the third cooperative the local has organized; the others are Union Taxi, another coop for drivers, and P&L Printing, said Local 7777 President Lisa Bolton. In a worker-owned cooperative, the workers are the owners. They set their own wages and working conditions, but also make business decisions. Many of the drivers are immigrants from African nations.

"Like our union, the coop is based on the values of solidarity, justice, one-worker, one-vote," she said. "Members of the coop are independent contractors but they have a voice in setting their wages and working conditions, they have a grievance procedure, they have equal standing with management."

More than 700 of the drivers have made a $500 financial commitment to Green Taxi Coop to build and own their own company. Members will elect their first permanent board of directors this month.

Some of the drivers drive for Uber, the online service that lets customers hire a taxi using their smartphones. Others are drivers for other companies. "All of them need to feed their families" and have been hit hard by the unfair costs that drivers in the Denver market face.

At Denver's private taxi companies, which control most of the market, drivers' leasing fees can hit $3,500 a month. Many drivers struggle to cover just the leasing fee and gas for their taxis.

It took three years of protest and work by Local 7777 to have the Union Taxi cooperative allowed into the Denver market in 2009, but the state Public Utilities Commission continues to restrict the number of drivers who could join the coop. The state legislature also changed its rules, making it more difficult for drivers to enter the taxi industry.

Local 7777 activists have pushed hard for legislation to modify the rules determining who can operate in the taxi industry. That legislation overwhelmingly has passed the House and is awaiting Senate action. More than 200 drivers packed the hearing room to make their voices heard.


Trade Deficit Skyrockets

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March was an awful month. The U.S. Commerce Department reported that the trade deficit expanded by 43 percent over the previous month – the largest monthly surge since 1996.

The trade gap now stands at $51.4 billion. That includes a $6.3 billion trade deficit with Japan, a TPP partner country, which stands to benefit from TPP supporters' refusal to add strong sanctions against currency manipulation to the Fast Track bill.

"It's a fact that trade deficits cost American jobs, and fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership would just increase the trade deficit and cost even more jobs," said Michael Wessel, a Commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. "Worse yet, any gains in exports we make can be wiped out by currency manipulation, which the TPP completely ignores. The rules we're supposedly writing with the TPP are the ones we've followed for far too long: importing cheaper goods and exporting U.S. jobs."


Bargaining Update

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Washington Post Guild Fights for Fair Contract

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With rallies, news releases, three "Colleagues Speak Out" videos and a petition signed by nearly 500 Washington Post employees, the Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Guild, TNG-CWA Local 32035, is turning up the heat on owner Jeff Bezos and his management team as workers fight for a fair contract with wage increases and a secure pension.

Workers have signed petitions stressing that a fair contract should include "a reasonable wage increase" – better than the 1.5 percent a year the Post is offering in a two-year contract. A fair contract also includes, "a fair pension, one that covers everyone, young and old, newcomers and veterans, including future hires," one worker said. "We expect a contract that reflects The Post's good fortune in having an overfunded pension – not a contract that offers only freezes and feeble benefit formulas."

Go to the NewsGuild website for more coverage of their rally.

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AT&T Bargaining

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CWA activists wore red on May Day to raise awareness about ongoing bargaining with AT&T. Outside the AT&T store in Times Square, New York members chanted, "Negotiate, don't dictate." Here is a video of the rally.

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CWA Local 2222 members in Virginia handed out flyers on how the company took away workers' sick days.


Organizing Update

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Georgia ATTM retail workers join CWA

A majority of the AT&T Georgia Mobility (former Alltel) Retail workers – 86 out of 120 workers signed cards – have voted to join CWA, according to the American Arbitration Association which recently certified their cards. District 3 Organizing Coordinator Sheila Williams-Cain and Locals 3201, 3217 and 3220 helped the workers in their organizing efforts.


Movement Building Update

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'I Stand with Postal Workers'

With the contract covering more than 200,000 postal workers set to expire in about a month, APWU members and supporters are rallying at post offices throughout the country on May 14, calling for "Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract!" CWA is part of the Postal Workers' Union "Grand Alliance" to save the public postal service.

Click here to find an event in your community.

Click here to sign an online petition, "I Stand with Postal Workers," which will be mailed to Postmaster General Megan Brennan.

No Pay No Way Campaign

CWA Local 1103 in Westchester has formed a coalition with the Don Bosco Worker Center – a low wage and immigrant rights organization in Westchester fighting against wage theft – to launch the No Pay No Way campaign. It is a great example of CWA's movement and coalition building to tackle issues affecting immigrants and working people.

Learn more about the campaign here.


Next CWA Telephone Town Hall Call is May 21

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You won't want to miss the May telephone town hall call, Thursday, May 21, starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. The call will last half an hour. Sign up for the call at http://cwa-union.org/cwacall.