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CWA e-Newsletter: Sept. 11, 2014

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.

Cablevision CEO Dolan Intimidates Workers in Sham Vote

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CWA members have rejected as illegal and a sham a vote conducted by a contractor hired by Cablevision management in Brooklyn this week. Replete with voting irregularities and intimidation, this phony vote is just the latest step by CEO James Dolan to intimidate union members that has included illegal mass firings, bad-faith bargaining, and other actions intended to break workers' support for their union.

Apparently, this sham vote is intended to pressure techs, members of CWA Local 1109, into dropping their fight for a fair contract, but the workers remain united.

CWA President Larry Cohen said, "In my decades of organizing I have never seen such arrogant actions as those taken by billionaire CEO Jim Dolan. Dolan's Tuesday night captive audience meeting followed, within hours, by the "Honest Ballot Association" vote is a new low in the behavior of American management. It is up to the rest of us to stop him and use this case as an example of what America has become."

CWA District One Vice President Chris Shelton issued this statement:

"The only election that matters happened almost three years ago when Cablevision workers voted 180-86 to join CWA in an election supervised by the Federal government. In June of 2013, 174 workers reaffirmed their support for the union in an advertisement printed in The Daily News. And just two months ago, despite the fear campaign, 189 Cablevision workers sent Dolan individually-signed petitions stating 'we're sticking with the union' and they continue to fight for parity in pay and treatment with workers outside of Brooklyn."


BREAKING: Senate Republicans Block Final Vote on Constitutional Amendment

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The following is a statement by Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, on the failure of the Senate today to move to a final vote on the "Democracy for All" amendment:

It is distressing to see the polarization of the U.S. Supreme Court, and now the Senate, on the critical issue of getting big money out of our politics. Every Democrat in the Senate has stood up for the ability of Congress to set reasonable limits on money in politics. Every Republican has voted for no limits, even though many had previously supported reform, led by Senator John McCain.

This vote is a huge marker as to what America is becoming. We are on our way to control by the wealthy of nearly all aspects of public and economic policy. As workers, we see our rights trampled every day. This has only worsened over the past 40 years, as the Chamber of Commerce continues its relentless focus on wiping out any balance between the voice of working Americans and management.

Today's vote makes it clear that the Republican Senate is joined at the hip with the billionaires who increasingly dominate our lives and prevent fair elections and real debate on the critical issues of the day. We will continue to build the Democracy Initiative and work as broadly as possible with millions of Americans to change this, not only by amendment, but by adopting fair disclosure rules, public financing at the state level and many other measures that enable citizens to Stand Up and Fight Back.


Senate Action This Week on Historic Amendment to Get Money Out of Politics

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The historic fight to wrest control of American politics from the super rich began this week in the U.S. Senate with a vote to allow debate of a Constitutional Amendment that seeks to invalidate recent Supreme Court rulings that flooded our political system with money from corporations and the 1 percent.

After several days of debate, Senate Republicans blocked a final vote on the amendment this afternoon.

"Money isn't speech and corporations aren't people," CWA President Larry Cohen said, "but over the past few years, working and middle class Americans have seen the billions of dollars spent by corporations and the wealthy result in special access, special tax breaks and special treatment. That's not what democracy looks like."

Read Cohen's Huffington Post column on the Amendment here.

S.J. Resolution 19, sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), is a Constitutional Amendment to enable Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on political spending and get big money out of politics. It would repair the damage to our democracy caused by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United, McCutcheon and other rulings, which determined that contributions by corporations and the richest Americans were actually free speech and entitled to protections. Those decisions warped our political process, allowing virtually unlimited political spending and giving the richest one-tenth of 1 percent the ability to control our elections and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

Add the Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby decision on voting rights into the mix, and suddenly it's more difficult for ordinary Americans to vote but much easier for the super-rich to influence elections.

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Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), one of the co-sponsors of the amendment to get money out of politics, speaking at a rally before the Senate vote. In front of him were boxes containing 3.2 million petitions signed by ordinary Americans calling on senators to do the right thing.

The desire to overturn these decisions and their harmful effects on the political system has galvanized diverse groups of Americans.

CWA and other unions, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Common Cause, People for the American Way and others began gathering petitions, making phone calls and sending email messages to their Senators. This week, 3.2 million petitions from ordinary Americans calling on their Senators to pass the Amendment were delivered to the U.S. Senate.

Udall, speaking at a rally Monday afternoon before the vote and flanked by boxes containing the petitions, thanked allies and supporters for their extraordinary efforts in collecting the signatures.

"We are here today to take back our democracy from billionaires who exercise undue influence, from special interests and from large corporations," Udall said as he was joined by demonstrators at the U.S. Capitol carrying signs saying "Democracy is Not for Sale;" "3 Million Americans Calling to #GettheMoneyOut;" "Protect Our Democracy;" and "Restore the First Amendment."

"Our elections are not auctions up for the highest bidder. Now, recent Supreme Court rulings have taken us back a hundred years when robber barons and large corporations had tremendous influence and control. We will not let that happen again," Udall said.

Rallies continued through the week outside the U.S. Capitol and across the nation as Americans waited to see whether the Senate would actually vote on the amendment.

CWA commends Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for cutting through Republican obstruction to get the amendment before the full Senate and Sens. Udall and Bennet for their leadership in the fight to get big money out of politics.


Democracy Initiative Members on Getting Big Money Out of Politics

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Many Democracy Initiative partners are supporting the historic Democracy for All constitutional amendment, being debated this week in the Senate. See all the statements here.

From Miles Rapoport, Common Cause President:

"The amendment is crafted to restore the ability of Congress and our state legislatures to put reasonable limits on political spending after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to unlimited election spending from corporations and wealthy individuals in Citizens United. It stands for the proposition that big ideas, not big money, should rule in the public square. It preserves every American's right to speak and write as he or she pleases and protects against efforts by a privileged few to drown out that speech with a flood of negative advertising. The access and influence that money buys corrodes the integrity of our democracy."

From Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America (CWA) President:

"Money isn't speech and corporations aren't people. But over the past few years, working and middle class Americans have seen the billions of dollars spent by corporations and the wealthy result in special access, special tax breaks and special treatment. That's not what democracy looks like."

From Heather McGhee, Demos President:

"The promise of American democracy is that we are all afforded an equal say over the policies that shape our lives. Instead, today's campaign finance system allows wealthy donors and corporate interests to use million-dollar megaphones to influence government, drowning out the voices of the 99 percent of Americans who don't make large campaign donations. The Constitution should not tolerate our public debates descending into proxy fights between billionaires and CEOs."

From Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director:

"Today, the Senate begins debating an opportunity to reduce the influence of money in our politics. By passing the Udall Amendment, the Senate will send a signal that Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon don't represent the will of American citizens.

"So long as corporations and a handful of very wealthy donors are allowed to buy elections, it will be difficult to protect our most important resources. The Udall Amendment will help level the playing field and allow citizens to regain their voice in our political system. Then, we can win more victories in the struggle to ban fracking, label GMOs and protect our environment from bad trade deals."

From John Bonifaz, Co-Founder and President of Free Speech for People:

"The start of this Senate floor debate marks a huge milestone for the growing grassroots movement for the 28th Amendment. Across the political spectrum, Americans want a constitutional amendment which will reclaim our democracy. In just four years since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, millions of citizens across the country have propelled this movement to overturn the Supreme Court and to defend our Republic. Sixteen states have already gone on record calling for such an amendment, including the states of Montana and Colorado where 75% of the voters in the 2012 election supported ballot initiatives demanding an amendment. More than 550 cities and towns are also already on record, as are more than 100 Republican officials who have voted for legislative resolutions urging the U.S. Congress to pass an amendment bill and send it to the states for ratification.

"The pressing question before the nation today is whether it is 'we the people' or 'we the corporations and big money interests.' This not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is a deeply American issue. Whatever our political differences may be, we all share the common vision of government of, by, and for the people."

From Greenpeace USA:

"The Koch brothers and other dirty energy advocates are polluting both our environment and our politics, our air and our airwaves," said Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. "The Democracy for All Amendment will strengthen the chance for Americans to vote for candidates that care about our communities and environment, rather than those whose voices have been bought by big business. This is an essential step to ensuring a future free from catastrophic global warming."

"The Pentagon describes global warming as a top national security threat, yet the Koch brothers and their billionaires club have spent a fortune to help deny its existence," said Charlie Cray, co-author of a new Greenpeace report, The Kingpins of Carbon and Their War on Democracy. "Greenpeace wants to see the Democracy for All Amendment stop Koch Industries, Peabody, ExxonMobil and others from using their excessive profits to dominate our elections."

From Hillary O. Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau Director & Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy:

"The corrupting role of money in politics is no secret and sadly it is ever increasing, informing who stands for office, who wins, and, most critically, the eventual public policy Congress enacts. The U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2010, Citizens United v. FEC, and 2014, McCutcheon vs. FEC, will only exacerbate these problems. Big money is the main reason Congress is increasingly out of step with the interests of everyday Americans, particularly on issues of economic insecurity, and particularly with racial and ethnic minorities and low-income Americans. It is becoming increasingly clear that income and wealth inequality is rooted in political inequality. Until we break this dependence on big money special interests in our campaign system, the policy agenda for everyday Americans will be thwarted – whether it be improving Americans' economic security, fighting for workers' rights, improving stewardship of the environment, or improving our neighborhoods, you name it. The basic imperatives of a healthy democracy – the right to vote and the right to have your voice be heard – desperately need to be strengthened for individuals' votes to mean something."

From Mary Kusler, National Education Association (NEA) Director of Government Relations:

"Since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC four years ago, corporate money has flooded our political system, drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans. In McCutcheon v. FEC, issued earlier this year, the Court lifted the cap on the total amount a single individual can contribute to candidates, political parties, and political committees, further tipping the scales in favor of big money donors. In 2012 alone, "Super PACs" and 501(c)4 entities spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections.

"Congress and the states are helpless to prevent the resulting distortion of our democracy. In effect, the Supreme Court decisions cited above are denying regular people an equal say in determining the future of our country. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow Congress to turn down the volume on corporate speech and big money donors, so individual citizens could be heard as our nation's founders intended."

From Marge Baker, People for the American Way Executive Vice President:

"Today more money than ever is flooding our democracy. But something else is also happening: everyday Americans are fighting back. Americans are no longer willing to settle for elections auctioned to the highest bidders."

From Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley:

"Right now, the political playing field looks like a long, steep hill with working families at the bottom and big business and the wealthy at the top. If we don't level the playing field, corporations and the über rich will continue to rule America at the expense of everyone else."

From Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign President and CEO:

"In the simplest terms, this debate will let the American people know who is on the side of the many and who is on the side of the money. A successful vote on the Democracy for All amendment would set us on a course for change, permitting common sense limits on campaign spending and a way to stem the tide of special interest money in elections."

From Robert Weissman, Public Citizen President:

"Outside money – hundreds of millions in "dark money," from sources undisclosed – are determining the contours of elections across the country, often stealing control of campaign narratives from candidates themselves. Degrading and depressing negative ads fill the airwaves, heightening citizen cynicism and frustration. Meanwhile, candidates scramble to raise the millions they can from the narrow band of wealthy people who fund most campaigns.

"We need a fundamental fix, which is why it is so vital to enact the Democracy for All Amendment, which would overturn Citizens United and other decisions, and restore our democracy."

From Mike Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director:

"The fundamentally-flawed Citizens United decision opened up the floodgates for a tidal wave of toxic polluter money into our government, drowning out the voices of those who are fighting for the health of our communities. Enough is enough. With the vote on this amendment, each Senator goes on the record as to whether they want a government for the polluters or for the people."

From American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein:

"Since 2010, it's gotten harder for minorities, young people, senior citizens and working people to vote, but easier for the super-rich to buy elections. Corporate money is drowning out the voice of the people."


Political Action Update

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Primary Elections and Candidacies

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CWA Local 1109 members staffing phone banks on primary day in New York State.

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Pennsylvania Democratic candidate for Governor Tom Wolf meets with CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney, LPAT activists and Local 13000 leaders in Philadelphia.


A Texan Rising

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Texas Lieutenant Governor Candidate Leticia Van de Putte came to Washington this week for meetings, including with the Texas Congressional delegation, and CWA hosted a breakfast in her honor.

Van de Putte, herself a member of CWA Local 6186, the Texas State Employees Union, said workers all over the state, especially union members like CWAers, are putting her on the map in her race. She was joined on the trip by key supporter Jim Hightower, a syndicated columnist-political activist and former Commissioner of the Texas Dept. of Agriculture.

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Texas Lt. Governor Candidate Leticia Van de Putte at a CWA breakfast in her honor with Texas activist Jim Hightower and CWA President Larry Cohen.

"Folks would say that Texas is a red state. We really aren't. We're just a non-voting state," she said.

Van de Putte said she senses this time is going to be different because of the turnouts she is seeing around the state, like the 250 people who showed up for a cold, late spring campaign event in Amarillo. The difference this time, she added, is that she has been going to places and meeting people that for so long Texas Democrats have taken for granted. When she released her campaign advertisement recently, for instance, she put it in heavy rotation in Latino markets and followed that up with visits.

And Van de Putte said she has been seeing the results in her travels to places like Wichita Falls, Midland, Tyler and Nacogdoches. There have been outpourings of support from small business owners, from women, people of color, and, especially, union members.

"Everybody is really doing their part," she said. "Our problem is that we can't fit any more people into the rooms. There is no union hall big enough in San Antonio to hold all our supporters, people coming out to express support."


TPP UPDATE

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In a strongly worded letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week, a diverse coalition of more than 550 groups firmly rejected the fast-track model of trade promotion authority and called for more public scrutiny of trade deals.

The coalition told Wyden, who is Senate Finance Committee Chairman, that fast track is an outdated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations. It is "simply not appropriate" given the broad subjects covered by today's trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"By any name, the flawed 'fast track' approach still would enable negotiators to bypass Congress and put in place new and binding agreements that have real consequences for all of us. We need 21st-century trade authority that allows Congress to do its job and represent the interests of U.S. workers, consumers and communities." CWA President Larry Cohen said.

"A new model of trade authority is the only way to ensure that workers and communities have a voice in these trade decisions. We want to determine what kind of economy we have, not simply accept super-power status for multinational corporations and a snail's pace for the enforcement issues raised by the rest of us," he added.

Wyden is drafting a new trade authority bill, and the coalition stressed that a new model of trade authority is necessary, one that includes a Congressional role in selecting trade partners, a set of mandatory negotiating objectives, enhanced transparency, Congressional certification that negotiating objectives have been met before trade negotiations can conclude, and others.

The coalition includes CWA, the AFL-CIO and other unions, Democracy Initiative partners Sierra Club, Greenpeace and NAACP, Public Citizen, and other community and advocacy groups.


Republican Senators Ambush NLRB Nominee at Confirmation Hearing

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At a hearing this week on the nomination of Sharon Block to the National Labor Relations Board, Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee pushed Block to justify many of the board's decisions during her term as a recess appointee.

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) opened the hearing by praising Block's qualifications and calling for her speedy confirmation. Block would replace Nancy Schiffer who leaves the board in December.

"A little over a year ago, for the first time in over a decade, we were able to confirm a fully functional five-member NLRB," Harkin reminded his colleagues. "It is my hope that by promptly confirming Ms. Block's nomination to fill the looming vacancy, we can continue the progress that has been made and begin a new era where orderly transitions are the norm, not the exception."

But the hearing was contentious, with Republican members of the committee attacking Block.

Block served as a member of the Board from January 2012 until summer 2013, as a recess appointment made by President Obama. The Supreme Court's Noel Canning decision in June 2014 held that the president's recess appointments were invalid, despite the fact that they were necessary to counter the Senate Republicans' refusal to move forward on any presidential nominations.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is the ranking member of the committee and is in line to become chairman if Republicans take over the Senate in the fall elections, has announced that he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plan to introduce legislation soon "to restore the NLRB to its original purpose," which is to "act as an umpire instead of an advocate."

Alexander said Block already had "demonstrated a willingness to tilt the playing field in favor of organized labor" and questioned her ability to make impartial decisions, especially concerning cases from January 2012-June 2013 that may be reconsidered.

Block said she would take any request to recuse herself seriously and also consult with the agency's ethics department, but that didn't satisfy any of the Republican members.

Already, labor laws rarely work in the U.S. because Republicans like Alexander make crippling the NLRB their mission.


Risky Christie Investments Triggered Pension Shortfall

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It's no surprise, but Gov. Chris Christie isn't great with money.

A new report from the International Business Times illustrates how New Jersey officials "directed increasingly large slices of state pension money into riskier investments," often funds run by Christie's cronies. And in the years following, it underperformed the stock market, jeopardizing workers' retirements:

Since Gov. Chris Christie took office, he has nearly tripled the amount of retiree cash invested in alternative investment firms – many of whose employees have made financial contributions to political groups backing Christie's election campaigns. In that time, the gap between New Jersey's alternative portfolio and the broader market has rapidly expanded, costing taxpayers billions in unrealized returns and threatening the financial stability of the $78 billion pension system. The state's pension funding shortfalls – which have been exacerbated by Christie's market-trailing investment strategy – were one of the factors cited by Fitch Ratings in its decision last week to downgrade the state's bond rating for the second time.

The below-market results from the state's $20 billion alternative investment portfolio belie repeated assurances from New Jersey officials who said the investments would overperform the stock market. Instead, the results buttress arguments by investors like Warren Buffett and some local lawmakers, who assert that pension money should be invested in stock index funds rather than hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, real estate and other alternative investments.

Read the full story here.


Bargaining Update

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T-Mobile MetroPCS

Members of CWA Local Local 1101 unanimously ratified a three-year contract with T-Mobile that improves job security, ensures fair treatment on wages and benefits and includes improvements in scheduling and other working conditions.

Workers at the retail store in Harlem, New York, voted for CWA representation a year ago, organizing around their goal of improving their work environment. There are 10 workers at the store.

YP Holdings Bargaining in Texas

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CWA Local 6300 members defy the rain as they rallied behind the CWA YP bargaining committee meeting with management.

Despite the rain, members of CWA 6300 rallied behind the CWA YP bargaining committee meeting with management in St. Louis. Outside the bargaining session, CWAers wearing red made sure that management got the message: we want a fair contract.

The contract covers YP Holdings (formerly Yellow Pages) workers throughout D6. In August, CWA members did not ratify a tentative agreement; negotiations resumed this week.

FairPoint Communications

NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli wrote to the CEO of Angelo, Gordon & Co., which owns nearly 20 percent of FairPoint stock, alerting the investor to FairPoint's federal law violations in bargaining with workers represented by CWA and the IBEW.

He wrote: "We are concerned by publicly reported allegations that FairPoint has not acted in good faith and has violated federal law."

FairPoint imposed a contract on about 2,000 telecommunications workers in northern New England.


Organizing Update

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CWAers, Allies Give T-Mobile CEO John Legere the Business in San Francisco

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Members of CWA Locals 9410, 9415, 9412, 39521 and community allies greet T-Mobile US CEO John Legere during his promotional tour in San Francisco. SF is a union town!

Dozens of CWA members and allies confronted CEO John Legere at a company advertising event in San Francisco this week. T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom, fully recognizes workers' union and bargaining rights, but TMUS has spent millions fighting workers who want a union voice.

For more information on the union campaign go to www.TMobileWorkersUnited.org.


Our Climate, Our Economy and Our Democracy

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In a joint blog post on The Huffington Post, CWA President Larry Cohen and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune recognized the working Americans who are on the front lines, responding to and solving the climate crisis. They wrote:

We want to honor the first responders who stayed on the job for days and nights through and after Superstorm Sandy, even while their own homes and families were devastated: The health care workers who evacuated patients down darkened flights of stairs in hospitals that lost power; the transit workers who restored flooded subway and bus systems in record time; the utility workers who risked their lives to restore power; the public workers who helped families and communities hit hard by the storm.

We want to honor the 19 firefighters who lost their lives last summer battling a savage and unpredictable wildfire near Prescott, Arizona.

And we want to honor the workers who are building the burgeoning clean economy that is leading us toward healthier communities and a stable climate: The electricians and pipefitters who are building the solar, wind, and geothermal power that is meeting more and more of our energy needs; the laborers, insulators, and building service workers who are making our buildings more energy efficient; the transit workers who are moving us forward on public transport; the utility workers, pipefitters, and sheet metal workers who are repairing our aging power grid and water and urban gas distribution networks.

Read the full story here.

And join us as CWA partners with more than 1,000 organizations for the largest climate march in history.

What: People's Climate March
When: Sunday, Sept. 21 at 11:30 a.m.
Where: New York City


Movement Building Update

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CWAers Join Fast Food Workers

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Activists and leaders from Local 3204 and D3 joined the fast food rally in Atlanta, supporting workers who engaged in civil disobedience to win a raise and bargaining rights.


Next CWA Telephone Town Hall Call on Sept. 18

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Sign up now for the next CWA town hall call, on Thursday, Sept. 18, starting at 7:30 pm ET. The call will last half an hour.

Register at http://cwa-union.org/cwacall and pick up the phone when you get the call.

We'll hear from amazing activists from the American Airlines/US Airways campaign, and more. Don't miss it.