Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

CWAers Take a Stand for Walmart Workers

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CWA members from several California locals were outside Walmart stores on Black Friday, supporting Walmart workers’ fight for fair wages, hours and treatment. Members of UPTE Local 9119 joined the crowd at the Richmond store, along with Rep. George Miller, ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee and part of the House Democratic leadership.

Below: CWAers were part of a huge action in Milwaukee that hit three Walmart stores. Activists gathered outside the stores, then marched inside to show their support for Walmart workers.

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CWA members were out in force on Black Friday, standing strong with Walmart employees who are fighting against the company's mistreatment of workers. Walmart routinely cuts workers' hours so that they're not eligible for health care; many Walmart employees earn so little that they are eligible for food stamps to make ends meet.

CWA members joined UFCW activists and other progressive allies at prayer vigils and store demonstrations from New York to Colorado to California. At many demonstrations, the groups delivered letters to management calling on Walmart to stop its mistreatment of workers.

In Milwaukee, members of CWA Local 4603 were part of an awesome labor action at several stores. Dru Zellmer, assistant chief steward at the Local, reported: "We started off at the Capital Court store. The police were out in force and restricted us to the sidewalk. The hundreds in attendance chanted and walked the line. We all piled into buses and moved to the next store. We arrived at the E. Capital store to a police greeting. We surged up the front of the store chanting 'WE SUPPORT THE WALMART WORKERS!' Looking around, we got lots of smiles from the associates on duty. We made our point at that store and headed for the last stop, the 27th Street store. We arrived again to a police greeting. This time there were four cars and two wagons. The officers pulled out their batons and threatened the group as we entered the parking lot. They grabbed a couple of us in front. We pushed by and into the store. We walked around every aisle in the store chanting and waving to all of the associates. One of the women working actually was moved to tears; just seeing that people would stand up for her and her family got to her. It makes it all worth it to provide hope and let these workers know there is a support system out there."

In Reno, Judy Jensen, a member of the CWA Local 9414, told the News Review, "I'm out here to support the workers, not just in Reno, but nationally."

Jensen said, "There's a lot of intimidation going on. I think Walmart can do a much better job of paying their people...You know, they say they give them health care, but there have been at least three studies that show that their workers — because of the wages — are having to live on public assistance."

TNG, Allies to FCC: Listen First, Act Later on Media Ownership Rules

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TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer was among featured speakers, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, on a press call Wednesday to demand that the FCC hold public hearings before rushing into another damaging rollback of media ownership rules.

"People need more time to talk about what kind of media they want and what kind of policy affects that," Lunzer said, stressing that everyone has a stake in diverse news coverage, diversity in hiring and diverse ownership of media companies. Currently, women own less than 7 percent of all broadcast outlets and people of color own just 3.6 percent of all TV stations and only 8 percent of radio stations. Much of the rest are controlled by media monopolies.

The lack of diversity would get even worse under the new rules, which would allow a single company to own a daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in a single market. The company could also be a community's Internet provider.

"Our democracy is supposed to be bottom up, not top down," Jackson said. "When too few people own too much media, it is not healthy."

For more information about what's being proposed and what's at stake, go to www.FreePress.net.

To listen to the news conference, click here.

CWA, Progressive Allies Relaunch Filibuster Reform Coalition

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CWA and its progressive allies are reuniting an advocacy coalition to build support for substantive Senate rules reforms at the start of the 113th Congress.

CWA, Alliance for Justice, Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Sierra Club, and United Auto Workers will continue the work begun in 2010 when Democratic Sens. Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley and Tom Harkin led an effort to overhaul the filibuster:

 

Facing unparalleled challenges — a languid economic recovery, crushing debt, and threats at home and abroad — the country cannot afford another two years of inaction fostered by outmoded and broken legislative institutions.

In recent decades, Senate conventions have devolved to remove incentives for bipartisan comity, collegiality, and compromise. Whereas Senators once resorted to filibustering only in rare and exceptional instances of intense opposition, rampant obstruction has now transformed standard operating procedure. Today, majority rule in the Senate is the exception, not the rule.

We believe that common sense reforms will end routine and reflexive obstruction and will ensure that the Senate will once again be able to address the critical issues facing our country.

After the announcement, CWA President Larry Cohen told MSNBC.com that Reid's reforms won't immediately allow the labor movement to pass priorities like the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). In 2009, the GOP used a filibuster to prevented EFCA from being debated on the Senate floor despite majority support. But that doesn't mean the reforms wouldn't do some good, he said. MSNBC.com explained:

 

Merely forcing the Senate to debate bills, rather than being able to filibuster up front, would be in the public interest.

"It's not so much about what are we going to enact," Cohen said, noting that Republicans control the House anyway. "It's about, is the Senate going to discuss anything?"

Forcing Republicans to talk while filibustering would focus attention on their opposition to popular measures, like the DREAM Act. "They'd actually have to say: 'For the first time ever in this country, there's no American Dream for immigrants,'" Cohen said.

Cohen portrayed the prospective changes as part of a longer-term strategy — along with other good government measures like campaign finance reform — to fix what many progressives see as a broken democratic process. Only when that's done, they argue, will it be possible to enact a genuine, far-reaching progressive agenda.

"This is a linchpin in terms of how do we start to get a democracy in this country again," Cohen said. "It's got nothing to do with labor issues per se."

"The lowest hanging fruit on that tree are the Senate rules," he added. "So it's a starting point."

Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell spent a number of days this week in a heated debate over Reid's plan to prohibit filibusters for "motions to proceed" to a bill, which allows debate on the floor to start.

"To the average American, these reforms are just common sense," Reid said. "Americans believe Congress is broken. The only ones who disagree are Mitch McConnell and Republicans in Congress."

To learn more, check out www.FixTheSenateNow.org.

How Raising the Retirement Age Hurts Workers

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Raising the Social Security retirement age is a lousy idea.

Sure, this proposal to "fix" Social Security seems to have gained momentum. But look closer and you'll see it's mostly among columnists, CEOs, politicians and policymakers — people who get paid way more than average Americans, love their jobs and probably aren't counting down the days until they get to stop working. These certainly aren't blue-collar workers with physically demanding jobs.

 

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The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes:

 

That's what's galling about this easy argument. The people who make it, the pundits and the senators and the CEOs, they'll never feel it. They don't want to retire at age 65, and they don't have short life expectancies, and they're not mainly relying on Social Security for their retirement income. They're bravely advocating a cut they'll never feel.

Just take a look at this graph (right).

Since 1977, the life expectancy of male workers retiring at age 65 has risen six years in the top half of earners. But the bottom half of the income distribution saw their life expectancy grow just barely a year.

So raising the retirement age is neither simple nor fair.

In the words of Nobel laureate economist and Social Security expert Peter Diamond:

 

What do we know about the people who retire at 62? On average, shorter life expectancy and lower earnings than people retiring at later ages. If anyone stood up and said, "Instead of doing uniform across the board cuts, let's make them a little worse for people who have shorter life expectancies and lower earnings," they'd be laughed at.

 

American Airlines Fails to Block Agents' Right to Vote

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The CWA Executive Board applauds Rosemary Capasso, a passenger service agent at Dallas Ft. Worth Airport.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — one of the most "business friendly" justices — has cleared the way for nearly 9,700 American Airlines passenger service agents to vote on union representation. Denying the airline's last-ditch plea for an appeal, the high court finally put an end to attacks on workers' democratic right to an election.

Sample instructions were sent to CWA and American Airlines management this week, and on Dec. 4, voting instructions will be sent to agents, with voting conducted by telephone or Internet. The National Mediation Board will tally votes at 2 pm on Jan. 15.

This was just the latest legal challenge to employees' struggle for a union voice. For more than a year, American Airlines has been battling workers and CWA over agents' democratic right to vote, ignoring declarations by leading members of Congress that agents were entitled to vote, two decisions by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and previous directives from the NMB setting an election date.

The stakes for agents are high. American Airlines has been cutting and outsourcing jobs, completely closing operations in at least seven stations and cutting agents' wages and benefits, all with more than $5 billion in the bank. Ken Merker, a 20-year airport agent in Miami, says agents have fought long and hard for their right to vote. "When we start voting on Dec. 4, it will have been a year since we filed for this election — and what a terrible year it has been. American in bankruptcy, our pensions frozen, our retiree medical gone, our medical costs skyrocketing,"

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied the airline's request for a hearing without comment. But American Airlines hasn't stopped trying to interfere with workers' rights.

"American is trying to disenfranchise agents' right to vote, by seeking to exclude from the voting lists agents who just lost their jobs and have recall rights, as well as those still working for American Airlines during the voting process but who have plans to retire. And it's trying to pad the voting lists by adding nearly 900 workers. American Airlines has had a year to make its claims about changes to the lists, but doing it now, on the eve of the election, makes its true motive clear. American Airlines wants to throw another monkey wrench into the process, but agents are ready," said Sandy Rusher, CWA organizing director.

Stamp Out Money in Politics

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Here's an easy and fun way to take a stand against money in politics.

The website www.StampStampede.org is part of the movement to amend the Constitution to get money out of politics and to make it clear that corporations are not people and money isn't speech. It was started by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's ice cream fame, and has lots of supporters, including CWA allies Public Citizen and People for the American Way.

And it's 100 percent guaranteed that others will get the message. How?

StampStampede sells stamps (at cost, about $8) with several messages, including "Stamp Money Out of Politics" and "Corporations are not people, money is not free speech." When you stamp a dollar bill — which is completely legal — it will be seen by 875 people over the next 2.5 years, he estimates. Ben Cohen calls it "a petition on steroids."

Several thousand stamps already have been sold, Ben Cohen says, with ordinary Americans taking a stand against money in politics and joining the fight to return our democracy to the people.

Check out www.StampStampede.org.

Hurricanes Can Also Cause Chemical Disasters

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CWA President Larry Cohen and Greenpeace USA Executive Director Philip D. Radford wrote the following op-ed in The Huffington Post:

Even in good weather a major threat looms over many of our largest cities. The threat is in the form of poison gases stored at thousands of U.S.-based chemical plants. In the event of an accident, terrorist attack or another climate disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, millions of lives could be put in jeopardy. Although a worse case chemical disaster didn't happen this time, it easily could have. For example, it was widely reported that Sandy knocked over a 22-car freight train adjacent to the New Jersey Turnpike in one of the most densely populated areas of the U.S. If just one of those rail cars was carrying a poison gas such as chlorine and it had ruptured, over a million people would be at risk of immediate injury or death. Trains routinely service major chemical plants. There are 38 high-risk chemical plants in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania that each put 100,000 or more workers and residents at risk of a poison gas catastrophe. When these plants suddenly lose power, they can become even more dangerous. Last year a sudden power failure triggered a "shelter-in-place" warning to Texas City communities surrounding BP, Valero and Marathon refineries.

Hurricanes and human error aren't the only threats to chemical facilities. On October 11th, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued a chilling warning saying that these same chemical plants and other sectors are vulnerable to cyber attacks, "The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor."

In the wake of the horrific September 11th attacks, the nation's chemical facilities commanded the attention of both political parties. Leaders such as Governor Christine Whitman (R-NJ) gave voice to this problem from inside the Environmental Protection Agency. Chemical facilities near the nation's capitol transitioned from deadly chemicals to safer alternatives. Bills were drafted in Congress to ensure that the millions of Americans who live in the shadow of a chemical plant would never be exposed to harm.

But the oil and chemical lobby and their allies in Congress (including Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Representative Paul Ryan) and the Bush White House opposed promising legislation (H.R. 2868) and even helped scuttle Whitman's plan to use the Clean Air Act's "Bhopal amendment" to prevent chemical disasters at high-risk chemical plants. Now, over a decade later, these plants still pose a threat to us, in major cities and small towns, every single day.

One in three Americans lives in the shadow of one of these facilities, spread out across the country. In fact, the danger zones of these plants often extend so far that you might not even know you live or work in it. Due to the volume of chemicals stored at these facilities, an accident or an attack could release a cloud of poison gas that could endanger people 14 miles down wind. Many of these facilities are more vulnerable to storms because they are located in ports along our coasts. They are both environmental and security risks — the U.S. Army Surgeon General estimated that an attack on just one U.S. chemical plant could kill or injure up to 2.4 million people.

Fortunately, there are proven affordable solutions. Since 2009, The Clorox Company converted all of their plants to safer processes. Yet the industry as a whole has demonstrated a gross failure to act.

If Hurricane Sandy had also triggered a chemical disaster, it would have exponentially increased the already historic impact it has already wrought. It's time to get serious about these hazards. President Obama and the EPA can use the Clean Air Act to safeguard people working and living downwind of our nation's highest risk chemical plants. Environmental and labor organizations stand behind this common sense proposal. It's also smart politics, and it would have the support of anyone who's concerned about protecting the safety and security of their city, their job and the environment.

225 Sign Language Interpreters Join TNG

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Antionia Peel and Laurie Rivard celebrate election results at Purple Communications in Oakland, Calif.

More than 225 eligible certified American Sign Language interpreters at Purple Communications, the second largest video relay service provider in the country, voted to join The Newspaper Guild yesterday in California, Arizona and Colorado.

Purple Communications call centers are the first video relay service providers in the country to unionize. Workers who led organizing at their sites said the votes marked the beginning of a new set of professional work standards for video interpreters and new opportunities to advocate for the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

"Everyone at CWA has given us our Capitol 'V' in Voice. History has been set. We only have the stars to shoot for! Let's show everyone what we can do. United we stand!" said Antonia Peel of Oakland, Calif.

The interpreters will become part of TNG-CWA Local 39521, the San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild, which also includes the 900-member California Federation of Interpreters.

Next up: Interpreters at Purple Communications in Chicago are scheduled to vote on Dec. 14th.

We Want to Hear From You!

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CWA locals and members are known for their community support and generous spirit, not just during the holidays but year-round. Tell us how your local has reached out to your community in just a few sentences and photos, if possible. Send your info to news@cwa-union.org.

Here are a few examples to get the ball rolling:

 

  • CWA Local 1040, the statewide New Jersey local, collected supplies for the Mercer Street Friends food bank for Hurricane Sandy victims, and members now are participating in the Coats for Kids project.
  • CWA Local 4100 in Detroit works with a local church to help the homeless, and members and stewards are geared up for the annual Adopt-a-Family program that makes sure needy families will have holiday toys and gifts.
  • In New York City, CWA Local 1180's annual toy drive is underway, with shop stewards and members collecting toys at every work site. The unwrapped toys will be donated to children from the Black Veterans for Social Justice.

Let us know what your local has been doing this year! Send your photos and a few sentences to news@cwa-union.org.

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