CWA e-Newsletter: Nov. 19, 2015 | Communications Workers of America

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CWA e-Newsletter: Nov. 19, 2015

CWA e-Newsletter

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CWAers Call Out Windstream for Extreme Health Care Demands

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CWA members and supporters rallied outside Windstream Communications' corporate headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., this week, calling on the company to back off its outrageous demands for cuts in workers' health care. Windstream workers and leaders from CWA Locals 6171 and 7170 joined the protest. CWA members at Windstream nationwide are mobilizing against the company's extreme demands.

Windstream is forcing employees into a new plan that has extremely high deductibles. An employee with family coverage must pay $12,600 a year before any insurance coverage kicks in. A single employee must pay $6,300 before the deductible is met.

This company posted profits of $1.2 billion last year and paid its former top executive $10.4 million.

"Windstream is demanding that workers and their families pay more than $12,000 every year before their health care coverage takes effect. This is unacceptable, especially from a profitable company that pays its executives so well. Today, we've put Windstream on notice – stop your outrageous attack on our health care," said CWA Telecommunications and Technologies Vice President Lisa Bolton.

CWA District 6 Vice President Claude Cummings said, "We're standing together and standing strong against Windstream's attempt to cut our health care. This is corporate greed at its worst."


Lisa Bolton, CWA T&T Vice President, rallies members outside Windstream's Little Rock, Ark., headquarters.
Right: Bolton and CWA D6 VP Claude Cummings led the protest against Windstream's attack on workers' health care.


CWA Petitions Maryland Public Service Commission to Investigate Verizon Service Quality

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CWA is calling on the Maryland Public Service Commission to re-open investigation into the quality of service on Verizon's copper network, the primary network serving much of the state, including Baltimore.

In a letter that included photos of deteriorating telephone equipment that pose a serious threat to service quality, CWA contends the new evidence shows Verizon's systemic neglect of telephone infrastructure and leads to inadequate service quality and dangerous conditions.

This action comes on the heels of a September request for investigation after Verizon admitted in a letter to the FCC that it had only spent $200 million over the last 7 years to maintain its copper landline network in Maryland and ten other states and the District of Columbia.

"Verizon makes a profit of over $1.5 billion every month," CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney said. "And yet it refuses to expand its high-speed network to Baltimore and other communities in Maryland, while systematically letting the existing network deteriorate. Verizon needs to stop hoarding its cash and start investing in its customers and employees."


Deteriorated plastic covering on wires from the rear of 3506 Northway Drive, Baltimore. The exposed wires underneath the plastic are discolored, indicating the condition of this splice has existed for some time. The wires are susceptible to damage from weather and animals and allow for animal infestation. Damaged wires affect service.

In the course of representing its more than 3,300 Verizon workers throughout Maryland, CWA examined Verizon's equipment in areas of the state where the telecommunications giant has not built its new fiber network (or FiOS) and only offers service through traditional copper wiring. The investigation documented numerous locations that are so damaged they affect service quality. This includes poles that are damaged, unsecured and broken, damaged and exposed cable and splice terminals, by-passed damaged cable, and equipment that shows evidence of damage caused by animals.

CWA says in its filing that Verizon's systemic underinvestment in its traditional landline network violates the terms of the alternative form of regulation that the company now is following.

Maryland law sets out a standard that permits the PSC to adopt – and Verizon to operate under – an alternative form of regulation. Verizon is only allowed to operate under this alternative form of regulation if the Commission finds that it protects consumers by – at a minimum – producing affordable and reasonably priced basic service and by ensuring the quality, availability and reliability of telecommunications services throughout the State of Maryland. The lack of investment and deteriorating physical plant puts the quality, availability and reliability of service at risk.

Verizon's lack of investment is not limited to Maryland. The union filed a similar petition in Pennsylvania, where a lack of investment has led to dangerous conditions and service quality complaints.

Some news coverage of CWA's letter to the Maryland:

CWA files complaint about copper under-investment by Verizon
Telecompaper, 11.16.15

CWA says Verizon has neglected Maryland's copper network
Sean Buckley, Fierce Telecom, 11.16.15


A Year After Caseworker Stabbing, Leah's Law Moves Forward

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The fight to better protect New Jersey Department of Children and Families workers took a great leap forward on Monday when a state legislature committee unanimously approved "Leah's Law," a bill that would require police officers to be stationed inside state child welfare offices.

The legislation is named after CWA Local 1038 member and caseworker Leah Coleman, who was stabbed more than 20 times by a deranged client a year ago. Bravely recounting the attack on her life for the Assembly Human Services Committee, she said, "We are not trained to stop a mentally ill person from killing someone."


Leah Coleman, right, testifying this year in support of the bill, was joined by Human Services Police Officer John Fano and CWA's New Jersey State Director Hetty Rosenstein.

The attack came just a few days after the Christie administration removed police officers from child welfare offices to save money. Without security or metal detectors, the client was able to walk into the building with a knife.

Leah's Law would require more police officers to be assigned to Human Services and stationed at offices. Police would accompany workers on potentially dangerous home visits and also panic buttons would be installed in meeting rooms.

Leah's Law now heads to a Senate committee.

CWA's New Jersey State Director Hetty Rosenstein believes the bill will pass by Jan. 11, the end of the lame duck session, and garner the same bipartisan support demonstrated by the Assembly committee.

"These are some of the most dangerous jobs in the state," she said. "Right now, our members are out in the field and at worksites on their own. This bill will get them some protection, so they can concentrate on protecting children and families, instead of themselves."


NLRB Sees through El Vocero's Union-Busting Bankruptcy Scheme

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Like many other U.S. corporations, the owners of El Vocero newspaper in Puerto Rico were using bankruptcy to try to shed its obligations, including to its union employees. But the National Labor Relations Board has slammed on the brakes.

NLRB Regional Director Margaret Diaz agreed with UPAGRA, the NewsGuild's local in Puerto Rico, that El Vocero's 2013 bankruptcy and asset sale didn't create a new company. It simply reorganized the old one. Diaz ordered El Vocero management to appear at a Jan. 26 hearing in San Juan, unless the company offers UPAGRA an acceptable deal before then.


Members of UPAGRA, TNG-CWA Local 33225, protest the lack of good-faith bargaining by their employer.

"This is a huge victory for our members at El Vocero and should send a message to every CEO thinking about abusing the bankruptcy process," TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer said. "Corporations have been gaming the system for far too long, with workers paying the price for it. Now we've got an NLRB complaint that says, 'Enough!'"

Under previous ownership, El Vocero laid off more than 100 circulation employees in 2009. In late 2011, the NLRB ordered the workers to be rehired and compensated. The company dragged its feet, then declared bankruptcy. Ever since the bankruptcy and supposed "sale," the company has been refusing to bargain collectively, and in good faith," the complaint states.

Read more here .


CWA Charges Alcatel-Lucent with Illegally Raiding Retirees' Health Care Money

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CWA has filed for a temporary restraining order against Alcatel-Lucent to block its illegal plans to use money slated for retirees' health care to cover its own pension funding obligations. The motion was filed Nov. 18 in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

Alcatel-Lucent wants to move 20,000 retirees and an additional $1.2 billion from the Lucent Technologies Pension Plan (LTPP) – the plan covering only retirees and surviving spouses – into other company pension plans that aren't as well funded. In effect, Alcatel-Lucent wants to subsidize itself with the assets of the retired workers' plan.

In the court filing, CWA pointed out that the transfer would violate the current contract between Alcatel-Lucent and CWA. It also would violate a separate, standing agreement by Alcatel-Lucent, CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers over the use of excess pension funds to pay workers' post-retirement health benefits. That agreement is in effect through the end of 2019.

"This is a new low, even for Alcatel-Lucent," said CWA Vice President Lisa Bolton, who heads CWA's Telecommunications and Technologies sector representing Alcatel-Lucent employees. "We regret having to take this action while we are embarking on a new relationship with Nokia, but Alcatel-Lucent has left us no alternative."

"Clearly, Alcatel-Lucent has committed to the use of excess pension fund assets for retiree health care. However, the company's proposed transfer of $1.2 billion to other pension plans means that the fund will be stripped of the assets necessary to generate funds for retiree health care. Instead, Alcatel-Lucent plans to use the assets of the workers' pension plan to shore up another company plan. Instead of making its own contributions into the management plan, Alcatel-Lucent wants workers and retirees to make those contributions. It's the worst kind of corporate raiding," she said. "Alcatel-Lucent is putting the health care coverage of retirees and spouses at risk," she added.

CWA's filing pointed out that "[t]he transfers, if allowed to proceed, would result in a significant reduction of the amount of excess funding of the LTPP. The bargaining parties intended that those assets be used exclusively to pay, in part, the post-retirement health benefits of LTPP plan participants (current retires and surviving spouses.) The improper diversion of the excess LTPP assets jeopardizes the ability of the Company to continue subsidizing promised post-retirement health benefits. The likely reduction, or eventual loss, of retiree health subsidies from the LTPP will likely lead to precipitous increases in the cost of the Company sponsored retiree health program which retirees and eligible dependents must bear. Indeed, participants in the retiree health program may well find continued participation to be unaffordable."


CWAers Taking a Stand Today to Stop Verizon's Corporate Greed

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CWAers are taking action at rallies across the Verizon East footprint today to fight for fairness in the workplace and to stop corporate greed. It is simply time for Verizon and Verizon Wireless to negotiate fair and just contracts that ensure good jobs.

While Verizon rakes in almost $1.5 billion each month in profits and its CEO makes over 200 times as much as the average Verizon employee, it is proposing increased healthcare costs, cutting retirement and job security, and taking away benefits from employees who were injured on the job. Management is also refusing to offer a fair deal to Verizon Wireless workers.

Just yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) authorized a federal complaint against Verizon for violating federal labor laws when it fired Bianca Cunningham in an attempt to silence Brooklyn Verizon Wireless workers. Cunningham led the effort to organize 65 Brooklyn Verizon Wireless workers.

"We're not going to stand by while Verizon tries to destroy good jobs," CWA Local 1104 President Tom Benedetto said. "They just want more and more. They even illegally fire people like Bianca who stand up for basic rights. It's corporate greed at its worst."

CWA Local 2204 Secretary-Treasurer Jodie Moore said active Verizon employees and retirees will hold rallies at Verizon Wireless stores to let the public know that Verizon workers are still fighting for a fair contract.

"We have some wireless stores that are organized in Brooklyn but most Verizon Wireless workers are non-union. We feel they deserve what we have. We all work for the same company and we need to fight together," Moore said.

More information and rally locations are available at standuptoverizon.com/nov19/.


Young Manufacturing Workers in Mentorship Program Learn Union Activism, Leadership Ropes

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Continuing a year-long training program, 11 young IUE-CWA members visited Capitol Hill this week to lobby their members of Congress on a range of issues affecting union members and working Americans.

IUE-CWA President Jim Clark said the workers are in a mentorship program that he initiated to help younger manufacturing workers who are union members find their own roles as future activists and to help them see not just what's happening in their own locals but nationally in our movement and in our union.

He said the CWA Stewards Army training program is an inspiration. "The way I look at this is we are building our special forces," Clark said.

IUE-CWA General Counsel Lela Klein said these young members, earlier in the year, undertook steward training, learned about health and safety in the workplace and labor history. The Capitol Hill visit was the next phase. "We brought them to D.C. to train them on the political side of being in a union," Klein said.


Young manufacturing workers in a mentorship training program came to the U.S. Capitol this week to lobby Congress on a range of issues.

The workers include Jas Alexander of IUE-CWA Local 84809 in South Bend, IN, who visited the office of Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN); Jessica Moore, a chemical operator from IUE-CWA Local 81359 in Waterford, NY, who talked to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY); and Stephen Cassanio of IUE-CWA Local 755 in Dayton, OH, talked to the staff of Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).


Amber Brooks of CWA Local 81380 and Jessica Moore of IUE-CWA Local 81359 at the U.S. Capitol for a day of lobbying on a range of issues important to union members.

For the lobbying visit, the workers asked their members of Congress to reject the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal that was negotiated in secret by the U.S. Trade Representative. They also asked for support for the Export-Import Bank, a critical tool to ensure that American exporters have the financing that they need to compete on the open market, and they encouraged the members to co-sponsor the Workplace Democracy Act, an effort to ensure that workers will have their right to decide whether or not to join a union protected by law in a meaningful way.

"What has been good for me is the empowerment because, a lot of the time when you are dealing with these companies, they are large and you're small and you can't really do anything," Alexander said. "Being able to converse with people on the national level and regional level, you begin to realize that you are not as small as you think you are as an individual, that we can do some things in negotiations and dealing with our companies."

Moore said she never realized how involved CWA is in the political process and was anxious to get to Capitol Hill to begin to change minds and to get elected leaders to support legislation that workers care about.

And Christopher Cauchon, who is part of an IUE-CWA Local 89119 unit that does aircraft maintenance services for the U.S. Navy, said being part of the program introduced him to several different aspects of labor.

"I wasn't aware of the different ways of getting involved so it's been a year of processing and figuring out where I fit in best," he said.


For Sexual Harassment Victims, T-Mobile Has Horrible Service

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Local CWA members, workers' rights activists and community allies rallied outside T-Mobile's corporate headquarters on Wednesday to deliver 15,000-signature petitions urging the company to stop silencing women who speak out against sexual harassment.

After Angela Agganis, a former employee at T-Mobile's call center in Maine, reported unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from her supervisor, T-Mobile threatened to fire her if she discussed the situation with her coworkers and tried to pressure Angela into signing a nondisclosure agreement. Refusing to be silenced, she resigned and contacted her union, TU. Together they went to the National Labor Relations Board, and T-Mobile was found guilty of violating her rights.


Activists deliver petition signatures to T-Mobile's corporate headquarters in Bellevue, Wash.

T-Mobile only had to withdraw that illegal policy at Angela's call center. The rest of T-Mobile's 46,000 employees still don't know they have the right to speak to each other and seek assistance from others about workplace issues like sexual harassment.

"These gag order policies put workers at risk every day. And we know of many other workers who have been through the same ordeal and are too scared to speak out. This needs to stop!" said Jeanne Stewart, president of CWA Local 7803, delivering the petitions to T-Mobile offices in Bellevue, Wash. "Fifteen thousand petition signers agree with us: T-Mobile should do the right thing and let workers know in all its locations across the country that this policy is unlawful. The company needs to let all employees know they have the freedom to speak out, so that sexual harassment, discrimination and other kinds of harassment cannot be swept under the rug anymore."

Kimberly Anderson, an AT&T Mobility worker, also joined the delivery to show T-Mobile employees that even the competition has their back.

"We wireless workers have to stick together and fight back attempts to pit us against each other in a race to the bottom," she said. "Whatever happens at T-Mobile concerns everyone working in wireless. That's why I'm here today. I want T-Mobile and especially T-Mobile workers to know that we AT&T Mobility workers support our brothers and sisters at T-Mobile and together we're building a movement of wireless workers to lift up standards for everyone."

The company's failure to act has serious consequences, noted Becky Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project.

"Sexual harassment is a pernicious, endemic problem among low-wage women workers, and women come forward when they have support from co-workers who may be victims themselves. Gag orders like that at T-Mobile ensure that harassment and discrimination continue," Smith said.

The German Embassy also got an earful this week. At this week's Coalition of Labor Union Women's 18th Biennial Convention in Sacramento, CA, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler asked attendees to call the German government, which owns a stake in T-Mobile's parent company Deutsche Telekom, and demand that the company stop maintaining unlawful policies that silence people on the job.


Organizing Update

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110 Utility Locating Workers Join CWA

In an NLRB mail-in election, 110 employees of USIC have chosen to have a voice in the workplace by joining CWA Local 1101.

USIC – the contractor that does underground utility location work for Con Ed, Verizon, NYSEG and other employers – fought bitterly to keep the workers from exercising their right to form a union. The local did a great job building relationships with workers in this group as well as fending off the employer's anti-union campaign. Chief Stewards Keith Hogarty and Joseph O'Donnell worked on the campaign.

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Hoboken Cabbies Demand Mayor Subject Uber to Same Standards

Dozens of taxi and limousine owners and drivers marched from the cab stand outside the Hoboken Terminal to the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to demand that Mayor Dawn Zimmer hold Uber and other apps to a city ordinance requiring cars for hire to carry fire extinguishers, have commercial insurance and be inspected twice a year, and that their drivers have commercial licenses, undergo background checks, and submit to annual drug testing.

With the help of CWA, taxi drivers have been trying to organize themselves into a union.

"Nobody's afraid of competition, but it has to be on a level playing field," CWA Local 1039 President Lionel Leach told the Newark Star-Ledger after the march.


House Members Say TPP is Too Big to Pass

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Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) standing with the text of the more than 5,000-page Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

Four leading Members of Congress said yesterday the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is too complicated and big to get Congressional approval. Earlier this month the text of the TPP was released to Members of Congress and the public. The administration is expected to try to force a vote on the TPP as early as next spring.

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and Mark Pocan (D-WI) said at a U.S. Capitol news conference that the stepped-up schedule – fewer than three months – that the administration set for Congressional approval of the complex 5,000-page agreement is not going to work.


Invest in West Virginia Families

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CWA has joined a West Virginia coalition of 18 citizen and community organizations seeking to create a new state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers.

The credit would provide more than 141,000 low-income working families with an average refund of about $330, helping them make ends meet and afford necessities like childcare and transportation. Among those who would benefit are state's public employees.

"These people go to work; they go to work every day. They provide a service for us, and they don't make much money," Elaine Harris, a CWA staff representative, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Every penny these people can keep, they will put back into the economy."

Learn more how this initiative would help West Virginia reduce poverty, increase tax fairness and boost local economies at www.investinwvfamilies.org.


2016 CWA Joe Beirne Foundation Scholarship – Application Reminder

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Applications for the CWA Joe Beirne Foundation's annual scholarship offerings for the 2016-2017 school year are now being accepted through April 29, 2016.

The Foundation's Board of Directors has approved the awarding of fifteen (15) partial college scholarships of up to $3,000 each, and the winners also will receive second-year scholarships for the same amount, contingent upon satisfactory academic achievement. Eligible for the scholarships are CWA members, their spouses, children and grandchildren, including the dependents of retired, laid-off, or deceased members. Applicants must be high school graduates or high school students who will graduate during the year in which they apply. Undergraduate and graduate students returning to school may also apply.

Applications will be available solely online for completion and submission to the Foundation's website. The winners will be chosen by lottery drawing. Further information about the program can be found here

This valuable scholarship program is made possible by the funding of CWA locals. For those locals not yet participating in funding the Beirne scholarships, financial arrangements can be made to accommodate your local's needs.