November 18, 2009

In This Issue:
  • CWA Speaks Out on Health Care: Cheers U.S. House, Opposes Senate Excise Tax funding
  • Family Medical Leave Finally Coming for Flight Attendants
  • Opposition Growing Across the U.S. to Verizon-Frontier Deal
  • German Telecom Delegation Visits D.C.
  • California Congresswoman Introduces Broadband Affordability Measure

CWA Speaks Out on Health Care: Cheers U.S. House, Carefully Watching Senate

Comprehensive health care reform that meets our principles and priorities has cleared the House. That's the good news. However, we need to mobilize to eliminate the "excise tax" and shape the health care reform legislation pending in the Senate.

We are mobilizing like never before to defeat a "excise tax" proposal in the Senate which would fund health care reform by taxing all health plans with family benefits exceeding a fixed threshold in 2013. Most CWA negotiated plans would be impacted. The result: employers would decrease benefits, drop dependent coverage in some cases and it would be even more difficult to negotiate fair benefits with management. In particular, the fact that some dependents would be dropped from coverage means the tax would disproportionately affect women and children.

Public opinion is on our side, but there is much work to be done. A recent Washington Post poll found that 61 percent of Americans oppose the idea of taxing health care plans. And just last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid floated the idea of revising the Medicare pay roll tax to either increase it for individuals making more than $250,000 a year or to expand it to cover non-wage income, such as interest and stock dividends.

USAction, an ally of CWA and co-founder of the progressive Health Care for America coalition, is leading a coalition of non-labor allies in the fight to defeat the excise tax. Meanwhile, CWA members have logged more than 40,000 phone calls into Congress opposing the idea.

"It's absurd to make those employers who already provide health care coverage pay even more," said CWA President Larry Cohen. "Instead, employers that don't cover their workers need to pay."

The better House financing measure would require most employers with an exemption for small business to share in the responsibility for financing health care coverage.

Family Medical Leave Finally Coming for Flight Attendants

Last week the Senate unanimously approved to extend Family and Medical Leave Act protections to airline workers.

The Senate approved the Airline Flight Crew Family and Medical Leave Act, S. 1422, closing a loophole in the law that has enabled airlines to deny airline workers FMLA benefits. The 1993 law provides workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave a year, but airline management has claimed that the law did not apply to flight crews because they did not work traditional 40-hour weeks.

"We look forward to an expedited process to finalize this very important bill and for President Obama to officially sign it into law this fall," said AFA-CWA President Patricia Friend. The House passed virtually identical legislation last year and is expected to adopt the Senate's version of the bill before the end of the year so that it can go to President's Obama for his signature.

Opposition Growing Across the U.S. to Verizon-Frontier Deal

CWAers will be lobbying in West Virginia today against the proposed $8.6 billion deal that would see Frontier Communications Corp. acquire 4.8 million land lines in 14 states. The West Virginia Public Service Commission's staff, the Consumer Advocate Division (CAD), the Communications Workers of America and several other telecommunications companies all submitted testimony earlier this week opposing the proposed deal.

Meanwhile, a number of states have also weighed in against the proposal. Earlier this month, regulatory staff in Oregon and Washington State challenged the proposed deal, saying there is lots of risk but very little upside. And that comes after the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and the Illinois Attorney General each said the deal should be rejected.

"We recommend that the Commission reject the Frontier purchase of Verizon's telephone lines in Illinois because of serious concerns about Frontier's ability to manage these assets," said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

In Ohio, Janine Migden-Ostrander, the state Consumers' Counsel believes that this merger is not in the public's interest. "We are concerned that Frontier will not be able to afford to maintain and improve residential customers' service," Midgen-Ostrander said.

In addition, leaders of the Vermont House and Senate have expressed opposition, saying a similar deal already executed in their state proved to be bad for consumers.

German Telecom Delegation Visits D.C.

Workers with the German telecom firm Deutsche Telekom are in Washington, D.C. this week, to learn more about the labor movement in the U.S. telecom industry and to express support for T-Mobile USA workers. T-Mobile is owned by Deutsche Telekom, which employs fair labor practices in Germany, but has allowed its U.S. subsidiary to run roughshod over the rights of workers. When Deutsche Telecom acquired the American company in 2000, expectations were that it would observe fair labor practices, but it has reneged on this promise in every way.

T-Mobile employees have no union representation, and the National Labor Relations Board has cited T-Mobile on multiple occasions for violating federal labor laws. Indeed, the anti-union culture at T-Mobile is so entrenched that management is supplied with written materials depicting how to resist a union, how to counter "the union game plan" and how to recognize "early signs of unionizing activity."

The German workers, in D.C. for a week, will engage in organizing and leafleting activities, meet with high-ranking Department of Labor officials, participate in a number of CWA activities, and squeeze in some sightseeing while they are here.

To read Lowering the Bar or Setting the Standard? Deutsche Telekom's U.S. Labor Practices, a brand new report about Deutsche Telecom's shameful treatment of T-Mobile employees, go here.

And to learn more about issues T-Mobile employees face, visit:

California Congresswoman Introduces Broadband Affordability Measure

The CWA has endorsed the Broadband Affordability Act of 2009, which was introduced earlier this fall by Rep.Doris O. Matsui, a Democrat who represents California's 5th District. The bill directs the Federal Communications Commission to establish a broadband program that provides low-income Americans living in rural and urban areas with assistance in subscribing to affordable broadband internet service.

In a letter of support, CWA informed legislators that "Universal, affordable access to high-speed communications networks is as essential today as is access to voice communications. Enactment of H.R. 3646 would help to ensure that every American has access to all the promises of the information age. This would reduce the digital divide that currently excludes low income persons, including many minorities, from having access to broadband service. This legislation is especially important in light of the current economic climate, in which many hard working Americans simply cannot afford to pay up to $60 a month to receive broadband service."

You can voice your support for this key legislation, which would create jobs, improve the economy and expand Internet access, by contacting members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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