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CWA President Chris Shelton's Speech at the T&T Conference

The following is the transcript for the speech delivered by CWA President Chris Shelton at the T&T Conference on January 23, 2017.

Thank you, Lisa.

We are so fortunate to have Lisa leading T&T. In the last year under Lisa's leadership, her office has negotiated, and the members have ratified two contracts in a tough environment.

I am particularly proud that Lisa stood firm during the NIC negotiations and made sure that by the end of the contract all current members will make at least $15 an hour. From successful contract negotiations, arbitration wins, to organizing and legislative activities, Lisa's leadership is making a difference for the members.

Lisa, like the rest of our Board, gets it. They know what has to be done. They aren't afraid of a fight. And they're ready to do whatever it takes to secure our union and the welfare of our members.

I'd like to recognize the other VPs who are here: Dennis Trainor, Richard Honeycutt, Linda Hinton, Claude Cummings, Brenda Roberts, Tom Runnion, Brooks Sunkett, Frank Arce, Anetra Session, and Vera Mikell.

At our last convention I talked about standing together, a union where every member has every other member's back. Today, that solidarity is more important than ever. You are the foundation of that solidarity and as I look around the room, I'm glad to be here with you.

2017 will be one of the most dangerous years in CWA's history. Trump has succeeded in branding himself as the one who could "make America great again," and who would "drain the swamp." I get why some of you voted for him, but you didn't vote for the people he's putting in the Cabinet.

Donald Trump's cabinet nominees clearly show the direction in which he will take our country. This corporate cabinet is a collection of Wall Street vultures, foreclosure kings, repo artists, and union busters. They have a net worth of some $15 billion. They want to destroy us. But we won't go softly into the night.

Let's start with Trump's nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, or as I refer to him "the puty." He is a billionaire who owns the fast food empire of Hardees and Carl's Jr. He does not believe in the minimum wage. He does not believe in overtime. Think of the irony a Secretary of Labor who says he likes machines better than workers.

As Secretary of Labor, he will set out to destroy worker protections. None of our members who voted for Trump voted to gut overtime or health and safety regulations, but that's what we will get.

Trump's Secretary of Health & Human Service wants to completely gut Medicare, privatizing it so his friends in the insurance industry get a big payoff. Like the rest of the Republican party, he doesn't have a proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, to keep the provisions that working families want, like preventing insurance companies from refusing to provide coverage based on pre-existing health conditions, or stopping reimbursement for treatment because a person reached their lifetime cap.

Trump righteously railed against Goldman Sachs' control of our economy…but he has placed six Goldman Sachs former executives in charge of the economy. His nominee for Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin...I call him Munchkin…was the king of foreclosures, making hundreds of millions on the misery of Americans with underwater mortgages.

He even moved to evict a 90 year old woman who was less than a dollar short on her mortgage payment.

CWA is fighting back against these nominees and the policies they want to implement, and we need you to stand up and fight back.

When Trump said drain the swamp, no one thought he meant drain the swamp and then fill it with alligators, billionaires, and the 1% bullies who want to expand their fortunes at our expense.

It will get even worse when we get to the alphabet soup of agencies that right now are in charge of looking out for workers and consumers. Nominees to the NLRB will roll back organizing rules and overturn findings of corporate abuse and guilt. Nominees to the NMB will make it impossible to organize in the airline and transportation industries. The consumer agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Board will be gutted even as it has saved American families billions of dollars from predatory lending practices and unfair credit card scams. OSHA charged with protecting health and safety will look the other way and accept voluntary compliance programs.

While Trump will be our president, not one of the members who supported him voted against the minimum wage, voted to eliminate overtime pay for overtime work, voted for less health and safety, voted for cuts to Medicare or voted to keep the excise tax to cap our negotiated health care benefits.

While Donald Trump pushes his "Make America Great Again" brand, he also has stirred the fires of racism and division. Hate crimes are up, swastikas are tagged on churches and synagogues. Muslim women are attacked on university campuses. It's no coincidence. The Trump campaign and some of his presidential appointees have given license to the ugly beliefs and behaviors that our nation has been trying to move beyond.

Racism is still very much a problem in America. We can no longer afford to put this discussion on the back burner. It allows the worst among us to believe that it's okay to act or say something that's racist, sexist or homophobic. It is NOT OKAY.

Some of you may have heard me tell the story that CWA Vice President Linda Hinton told me about a recent experience at the CVS drug store, where she was standing in a line with another African American woman. A white man cut the line, then dumped his basket on the counter after the cashier told him, politely, that there was a line and he needed to join it. He stomped out of the store, pausing to angrily stare at Linda and the other customer, and say, "this shit is going to stop."

Vice President Cummings has similar stories to tell.

I know you agree with me: this shit is going to stop, but the shit is racism in America. There is no place for it in our society or our union.

Our job is to create a union for all members, a safe place where we come together as working people; a place where we come together and fight for all workers and a better future for our children.

Discrimination, intimidation and the abuse of power and privilege are cancers in our society. We're fighting back by building a movement to restore democracy, decency and a strong, vibrant working class. We are pushing Human Rights and Community Activism out into the districts, states, and cities where our members work and live because that old saying has never been more true and necessary as it is today…"It not who is in the White House, but who is in the streets that makes change happen."

And just last Saturday, CWA women were in the streets. Volunteers mobilized 10 bus loads of CWAers and countless others who came to Washington to stand for the kind of America that respects all citizens and rejects dehumanizing women.

Our work is cut out for us, but we are up to it. We are CWA STRONG.

We have major bargaining going on right now in District 9 and more coming up in Mobility and District 6. We have Century Link and airline bargaining also. We have to, all of us, stand up alongside these folks and join the fight because their fight is our fight and their negotiations are our negotiations.

I've been thinking about a slogan for 2017 and am starting with CWA STRONG. Our president wants to make America Great Again and part of doing that is to make CWA STRONG.

CWA STRONG starts with an S for Self-Reliance. CWA must rely on its own power. No politician will lead for us. We must lead and they will follow. Our power flows from our members and serves the needs of those members. That leaves us with ourselves, brothers and sisters. CWA has to be the answer and we must rely on ourselves to build a better future.

The T in CWA STRONG stands for Tough. And in 2016, we demonstrated our toughness in countless rounds of bargaining and the Verizon strike. At Verizon, 39,000 members stood up, took on Verizon and won a seven week strike.

We learned a lot during our strike. We learned that the bedrock of our power is an educated, militant and united rank and file. We learned that tens of millions of Americans are furious about inequality and the disappearance of good jobs and are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the fight against corporate greed. We learned that workers cannot win without the solidarity of our allies in the labor movement and in the community.

We bargain TOUGH and, in many of the contracts, we have won life changing wage increases and benefit gains. We won a solid contract at Lucent where we're standing up for our pensions and retiree health care. Under Lisa's leadership, we challenged employers who wrongly terminated our members, and we won. At American Airlines we gained a first contract for agents who had been fighting for a union voice for nearly 20 years. None of this was easy, but CWA is TOUGH.

The R in CWA STRONG can stand for Resilient or Reliable or Resist. Today I'm going to try out Resilient. Throughout our history, CWA has been willing to look at our problems and change. We will need to rely on this resilience to fend off the attacks by the anti-union forces surrounding Trump. We've built a union based on membership engagement.

We must get ready for National Right-to-Work.

For any Local not engaged with all its members, both those with whom they agree and disagree, this could be a devastating blow. But if we jump in front of it and renew our internal organizing programs, we can weather this storm. We must bring everyone who works and benefits under our contracts into our union, first as a member and then as an engaged member. Nothing starts until free riders are members.

When faced with the Friedrichs threat last year, we mobilized to focus on internal organizing and Locals who engaged in the program raised membership levels to historic percentages. I've asked Judy Graves, who runs the organizing program in District 6, to coordinate this nationally. I've made it a top priority for every vice president and they, in turn, will ask every staff member to engage in this program. We know internal organizing works, because across the South, we have demonstrated that we can build our union in a right-to-work environment.

Those of you here from right-to-work states, stand up. Now those of you with membership levels under 75 percent please sit down. Seventy-five percent is where we must build from. We will be providing the tools and support to every Local in CWA to make it to this level. Those of you with membership above 85 percent must become leaders and share your experience with the rest of us. You are living proof that we can achieve this goal.

I want to see every Local step up its internal organizing, turning non-members to members; represented or agency fee payers to members. This is the foundation of our union. It will take our time, energy, and organization, but above all, it's built on regular contact with the workers we represent.

Are you with me?

In CWA STRONG, the O is for Organizing. In 2016, we had great success bringing in 20,000 new members to CWA. We helped new members organize and brought under CWA contracts 8,000 Direct TV workers, 1,200 Cricket Wireless workers, and 4,500 Envoy airline workers. The seeds for some of these campaigns were planted years ago in our multi-year fight with AT&T over neutrality.

Where we haven't won neutrality, we support workers who are fighting to improve their work lives. For example, our T-Mobile workers changed scheduling and workplace quotas and metrics through organizing. The CWA-supported bank workers campaign eliminated quotas and metrics for Wells Fargo bank sales workers and exposed Wall Street greed and corruption.

That's the definition of a Tough, Organizing Union. We must expand on those efforts and grow our membership.

As a top national priority, we will take on Verizon Wireless to make the new Wireless Communications industry a union industry. That is the way we will raise wages and see even greater workplace improvements at AT&T Mobility. Yes, we will be tough bargainers in the Orange contract negotiations, but it is through organizing and building our power that we expand what is possible.

I'm having a little trouble with the N in STRONG, because my mind flashes to Number One. CWA is the best union in the nation. We are Number One at representing members. Number One at Winning Contracts; Number One in Organizing; and Number One in Political Action.

In 2016, we stopped the TPP. Take a minute and celebrate it. We at CWA led that movement. You and our members did that.

To win, we built an amazing coalition.

We made stopping the TPP our top priority and we educated, mobilized, and built a coalition strong enough to stand up against the lords of Wall Street and corporate America. Workers mobilized to keep good jobs in the U.S., fighting back against plans to send more jobs overseas where workers are paid $1 an hour or less.

We all saw the damage to inner cities as U.S. manufacturing abandoned communities, devastated the tax base and public services, and stomped out hope for good jobs with good wages.

Environmentalists objected as multinational corporations tried to force taxpayers to pay the bill for the "loss of expected profits" when communities passed laws and regulations to protect our air, water and welfare.

The LGBTQ community refused to accept a U.S. partnership with TPP countries that sanctioned stoning to death gay citizens.

We stood together, against Wall Street greed. We stood together and we won.

And this is the coalition we will have to grow in the Trump era to win better wages and benefits.

For that is what the G in CWA STRONG stands for: GROWTH.

In 2017, we will grow our membership. We will grow our Locals. We will grow our coalition. We will grow our movement.

To be CWA STRONG, I need each and every one of you to commit to a 2017 program: of Self-reliance, Toughness, Resilience, Organizing, and Growth to make CWA Number ONE in all we do.

Without you, there is no Union. There is no CWA.

Labor has faced many challenges.  I believe the current political climate attack will be among our toughest. But we are resilient. We are strong. We are right.  

Stand up, brothers and sisters, if you will stand for your communities.

Stand up if you will stand up for all our children.

Stand up if you will stand up for every union brother and sister, and every retiree.

Stand up if you will fight back against racism and sexism.

Stand up if you want to make CWA STRONG, stronger every day, stronger than we've ever been. Brothers and sisters, we will survive and we will beat back those who would destroy us because CWA is STRONG.