Communications Workers of America | E-Activist Newsletter

Keep the Heat on Your Senators

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Activists are keeping the heat on their senators to "Fix the Senate Now," with another Day of Action and phone calls to Capitol Hill underway today.

In fact, you can call right now.

But first, check out this video.

It's the story of why nothing gets done in Congress, and how an individual Senator can block discussion and debate on any measure.

Call Your Senators at 1-888-966-9836 and ask them to vote for meaningful rules reform, including a talking filibuster, when reforms are proposed on the first legislative day of the new Congress. Or text RULESREFORM to 69866, and you'll be patched through to your senators' offices.

Coalition organizations participating include: Sierra Club, CWA, MoveOn, UAW, Working Families Party, Common Cause, AFL-CIO, IBEW, Alliance for Justice, NAACP, Demos and many more.

Real reform should include:

  • Ending the filibuster on the motion to proceed. Right now, an individual Senator can block all discussion of any issue.
  • Requiring a "talking filibuster," so Senators actually have to hold the floor and speak to the measure.
  • Requiring that 41 Senators show they support the filibuster. Right now, the burden is on the majority to get 60 votes to stop a filibuster.
  • Streamlining the process for approving judicial nominations and executive branch appointments.

Our window of opportunity to change the rules opens today, when the new Senate convenes for business on its first legislative day, with Senate leaders likely to bring up a reform package in about two weeks. Changes to the rules can be made using the "constitutional option," which requires 51 votes to change the rules for the new session of the Senate.

 

Senate Works on Rules Reform

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Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid entered direct talks with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as momentum grows for substantive Senate rules reform.

There's broad public support for substantial rules reform, and the Fix the Senate Now coalition is building momentum for important changes, such as the "talking filibuster." Leading Senate reformer Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) called the talking filibuster proposal the "heart of the matter" and stated the provision "is still very much on the table."

Here's what CWA President Larry Cohen wrote in the Huffington Post:

No amount of handshakes or pledges is going to curb obstructionism in the Senate.

The weak package of reforms being offered by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is not acceptable. It would still provide multiple opportunities for obstructionists to block legislation without any debate and does little to solve the judicial and executive branch vacancy crisis. The silent filibuster would live on for two or more years.

If the Senate's history has taught us anything, we can't afford to go down this road again.

In 2005, the so-called Gang of 14 negotiated a handshake deal to avoid the Republicans' deployment of the "nuclear option," which would have changed the Senate rules mid-session. This bipartisan group of senators agreed to prevent filibusters of judicial nominees except under what they termed "extraordinary circumstances."

But when the balance of power shifted in 2008, Republican senators including several who were part of the Gang of 14 began blocking President Barack Obama's judicial nominees. Now-California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu and former New York Solicitor General Caitlin Halligan were both denied floor votes on their nominations. On average, it has taken 188 days to confirm a judicial nominee during the current Congress, creating 32 "judicial emergencies," as designated by the Office of U.S. Courts. Today there are more vacancies on the federal courts than when Obama first took office.

The Senate tried again to shake on reform at the start of the 112th Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to make the Senate "more deliberative and efficient" through "fewer filibusters and procedural delays and more opportunities for debate and amendments." McConnell agreed to limit filibustering on motions to proceed, while Reid promised to cut back on "filling the amendment tree."

This handshake produced no results, as failed cloture votes hit a new record and on the few items that did proceed to the floor, a new record was reached on amendments blocked by the majority leader filling the tree, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Over the past two years, we saw even more gridlock and even less productivity. The chamber passed a record-low 2.8 percent of bills introduced.

We need to overhaul the rules: Eliminate the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed. Force senators wishing to block legislation or nominations to take the floor and actually debate. Demand that those objectors produce 41 votes to sustain a filibuster. Streamline the confirmation process for all nominees.

The Levin-McCain filibuster proposal is without merit. It is not a bipartisan compromise, but an abdication of leadership at a time when meaningful reform is possible. This proposal bows to the entrenched power of the status quo, which has failed our democracy. Senate gridlock is no longer an option for America. Real change is required to restore our democracy, and we expect the Senate majority leader and a majority of senators to do this through the "constitutional option," which allows the senators to change the rules with a simple majority on the first day of a new session.

Jan. 3 begins the new Congress, and we need real change. We have the most expensive Senate money can buy with contested seats in this past election averaging $50 million each, yet there is little likelihood that the issues that divided the candidates will ever be voted on or even debated. Americans have been impatiently waiting for real discussion and debate on immigration, climate change and the economic stagnation that has destroyed the American dream. We're in desperate trouble. The nation's problems can't afford any more delays.

CWA Bargaining Update

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Tentative Contract with AT&T Southwest

CWA's District 6 bargaining team reached a tentative agreement with AT&T Southwest.

District 6 covers about 22,000 CWA members at AT&T operations in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri. Details of the tentative agreement are being provided to members and locals. A local presidents meeting will be held on Jan. 7, and the ratification vote is being scheduled.

Separate negotiations are continuing with AT&T West, covering 18,000 CWA members in California and Nevada, and with AT&T East in Connecticut, covering 3,000 members of CWA Local 1298.

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Alcatel Lucent Contract Extended

CWA's Telecommunications and Technologies office reached agreement with Alcatel Lucent to extend the existing 2004 contract to May 27, 2014, with improvements for active members and protection of retiree health care through the end of 2014.

New Jersey Childcare Workers Ratify First Contract

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Capital Child Care workers celebrate their new contract.

Below: CWA Local 1039 President Lionel Leach counts ballots.

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Workers at a New Jersey childcare center have unanimously ratified their first contract, 25-0.

Trenton-based Capital Child Care employees will see a pay increase, additional paid holidays, a grievance procedure and modest benefits.

Capital Child Care workers voted to join CWA Local 1039 just last March after suffering low wages, no health care and zero benefits. Management fudged time sheets to avoid paying overtime, and employees regularly suffered deductions from their paychecks for items Capital Child Care owners did not even provide. Workers, who care for about 150 infants and toddlers each day, had voiced serious concerns about working conditions and child safety.

During contract negotiations, those fears were confirmed when they discovered they were, in fact, being paid wages far below industry standard for the area.

"Our workers provide first-class care for children of hard-working families and they deserved to be treated justly," said Lionel Leach, president of CWA Local 1039.

Welcome Freshmen

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New lawmakers are being sworn in today as the 113th Congress takes its place in the Capitol.

For the first time, there are more women and minority members in the Democratic House caucus, outnumbering their white male counterparts. Asian Americans had a record high number of congressional candidates, producing five freshmen. The Congressional Black Caucus added five new members, while Hispanics welcomed nine freshmen.

In the Senate, there will be 20 women the most ever for the chamber.

Check Out Union Plus for Discounts and Benefits

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Here's something CWA members and their families need to know about:

Through the Union Privilege program, CWA members and their families are automatically eligible for discounts and benefits on 40 different products and services.

To learn more, go to www.cwa-union.org and click the tab across the top that reads "For Members." You can click on the link for the Union Privilege programs, or go to www.unionplus.org. You also can sign up for monthly email alerts from Union Plus on consumer tips, stories from other union members and the latest savings.

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