December 14, 2009

In This Issue:
  • All-Out Blitz Against Taxing Our Benefits
  • Cohen Attends White House Summit on Jobs
  • Flight Attendants Now Covered by FMLA
  • Firefighters Come Out Against Verizon-Frontier Deal
  • Overheard: NMB Rules, Financial Reform, Joint Strike Fighter

All-Out Blitz Against Taxing Our Benefits

With the end-game fast approaching in the epic struggle for quality, affordable health care reform, we have intensified our fight against the Senate proposal to tax the health care benefits of millions of working Americans.

Last week, CWA and union allies released two reports that show the proposed excise tax would hurt a large swath of middle class federal workers who have decent, but not excessive, health plans.

"This tax is the opposite of health care reform - it represents a benefits cut and a middle class tax increase," said CWA President Larry Cohen. "The Senate should look to the House version of the bill for alternative ways to fund health care reform."

For example: by the end of ten years, according to the reports, federal workers with family coverage in the federal Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard plan would be hit by taxes of $5,500 a year; those with an individual plan $3,500 a year. Like other employers, the federal government could pass on the tax to workers or cut benefits. Already, nearly two-third of employers said they would cut benefits if the tax is passed.

Also last week, Cohen joined U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown at a press conference where the two senators announced they would sponsor an amendment to strip the excise tax from the Senate bill and replace it with the more progressive House financing plan, which relies in part on a surtax on the country’s wealthiest individuals and families. (The Senate version of health care reform would raise $150 billion over ten years by assessing a 40 percent excise tax on the value of health care plans that exceed a certain level of spending. The House version would raise $460 billion over ten years by assessing the surtax.)

Adding to this flurry of activity: CWA has released a national poll showing Americans favor the surtax on the wealthiest Americans, but overwhelmingly oppose taxing health care benefits. Other developments in the fast-moving battle over health care reform:

Joy Edery, CWA Local 3122, left, and Mo Johnson, CWA Local 3108, flank U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida. The two came to Washington, D.C. as part of our final blitz to tell Congress not to tax our health care benefits and to pass quality, affordable health care reform that covers everyone.

  • Local CWA activists from Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Missouri and California participated last week in an AFL-CIO "fly-in," coming to D.C. for meetings Wednesday and Thursday with their senators and representatives.
  • A worksite phone-in campaign, which already has generated thousands of calls to the Senate, will continue. These calls provided important back-up for the "fly-in" activists by showing elected officials that lots of voters care about health reform that fixes the system and doesn't tax benefits. CWA members are asked to call 1-888-580-0792 to be connected with their senators.
  • CWA has launched an internet ad campaign, called "a pretty innovative advancement for a union" by the Web site FireDogLake. The ads feature CWA members talking about how they can't afford a tax on benefits.
  • CWA's stop-the-health-benefits tax effort launched its own Facebook page. That's in addition to the regular CWAHealthCare page on Facebook.

While we continue to oppose the excise tax in the Senate, our members are also turning our attention back to the House to ensure that our supporters there stay strong. Eventually, differences in the House and Senate bills will have to be worked out by the House and Senate leadership.

Cohen Attends White House Summit on Jobs

CWA President Larry Cohen earlier this month joined other labor, corporate and small business leaders at a White House Summit that focused on the critical connection between jobs and economic growth. Cohen was part of a discussion on “creating jobs though rebuilding America’s infrastructure,” which looked at both traditional infrastructure investment like roads and schools, and the necessary buildout of high-speed broadband that will help our country regain its standing as a leader in the Internet age and create quality jobs.

We are calling for a new policy initiative and new perspective on jobs that will help bring about real economic recovery. Right now, the nation is in a vicious cycle of corporate job cuts and contracting out that has frozen unemployment above 10 percent. Every employer that cuts jobs to preserve profits or improve its share value adds to the current recession.

Last week, Cohen met with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin to discuss the key aspects of our plan and a strategy for putting it into action.

For more information, please visit

Flight Attendants Now Covered by FMLA

After years of efforts, Congress finally has passed and forwarded to President Obama a bill that will allow flight attendants to qualify for Family Medical Leave benefits. The legislation was sponsored in the House by U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-NY, and in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA.

“We are very pleased at the passage of Congressman Bishop’s FMLA bill, which finally addresses loopholes in the current language that have denied many flight attendants from qualifying for coverage,” said Patricia Friend, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. “Every flight attendant in this country is so grateful to Tim Bishop for passing this legislation on such a strong bipartisan basis.”

Firefighters Come Out Against Verizon-Frontier Deal

911 emergency telephone service could be disrupted if the proposed $8.6 billion landline deal, which would allow Frontier Communications to acquire 4.8 million landlines in 14 states, is allowed to proceed, a group of firefighters from West Virginia and Vermont have warned state regulators.

At a West Virginia news conference last week, the firefighters compared the proposed pending deal to a similar transaction in New England three years ago. The firefighters said that a 911 center in Vermont had an equipment failure and couldn’t take calls in September 2008 – a year after Verizon sold its landlines in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to a company that has since gone bankrupt.

“You don’t want ‘Can you hear me now?’ to be the answer when you call 911,” Matt Vinci, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont, told the Charleston Gazette. “It put the public at risk. It put firefighters at risk.”

Once again last week, union leaders and members from CWA locals traveled to the West Virginia Capitol for the union's third Lobby Day. Thanks to their tireless efforts, 53 members of the West Virginia legislature have signed on to a letter opposing the Deal. The locals are planning to hold a rally in Charleston for January 10.

Earlier this month, a number of West Virginia groups came out against the proposed deal, including West Virginians for Affordable Care, the West Virginia Troopers Association and West Virginia Citizen Action Group, an affiliate of USAction. You can learn more about the deal at

Meanwhile, 21 members of the U.S. House, all from states that would be hurt by the landline acquisition, have sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, asking him to renew his effort to limit “Reverse Morris Trust” transactions. Reverse Morris Trust is the complicated corporate loophole that allows companies such as Verizon to avoid having to pay millions of dollars in taxes while harming consumers and workers through sales and acquisitions.

Among the members who are protesting the RMT is U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, who said she is concerned that companies like Verizon could try to use the loophole to make a profit on their phone lines by selling them to small companies that are unable to maintain and run the lines.

"This tax avoidance loophole does nothing to help people in rural communities who rely on traditional landlines for their phone service," Slaughter said. "If these transactions are allowed to go forward, Verizon may drop landlines in 14 different states, a development that would mean a loss of jobs for workers and poor quality phone service for millions of Americans."


NMB Rules: More than a dozen U.S. House members are asking the National Mediation Board to change the rules under which workers in the aviation and rail industries can unionize. An archaic rule requires that in order for workers to form unions, an absolute majority of eligible voters must vote to organize, as opposed to a simple majority of those voting. The members note that no other election process in this country requires an absolute majority of all eligible voters – and, in fact, if it did thousands of federal, state and local officials would never hold public office.

Financial Reform: CWA has joined Americans for Financial Reform, a sweeping coalition of more than 200 national, state and local consumer, labor, business, retiree, investor, community and civil rights organizations that have come together to spearhead a campaign for real reform in our banking and financial system. The coalition is supporting the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009.

Joint Strike Fighter. More than 1,000 good IUE-CWA jobs will be saved at the GE Engine plant in Lynn, Massachusetts after legislators last week reached agreement on providing $500 million for the F-35 alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.

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