Worker Power Update
Protecting the Right to Organize Act
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Senators and Members of Congress reintroduced the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which strengthens the right of workers to form a union and negotiate for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. The House bill was introduced by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), and in the Senate by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
During the announcement event at the U.S. Capitol, CWA Member Kirsten Civick, who formed a union with her co-workers at the Apple Penn Square store in Oklahoma City, Okla., discussed the conditions that fueled the workers’ organizing campaign and described Apple’s attempts to prevent them from forming a union.
“Weak labor laws allow companies like Apple to conduct union busting tactics in the hopes of scaring workers from organizing,” Civick said. “The PRO Act would put power back in the hands of workers to make our own decisions about forming a union without the risk of losing our jobs. The bill imposes real penalties for breaking the law because right now, it seems like companies can get away with pretty much anything with little to no consequence. It also bans the mandatory anti-union meetings that we faced.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler joined Sen. Sanders and Rep. Scott at the event, where they discussed the importance of unions for building a strong middle class and improving the lives of workers and families.
The House of Representatives passed the PRO Act in 2021 in a bipartisan vote, but the bill stalled in the Senate due to the outdated filibuster rule, which requires supermajority support to pass most legislation. Support remains strong for the PRO Act and enacting the bill is a top priority for CWA members.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (right) spoke at an event at the U.S. Capitol to reintroduce the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Other speakers in support of the bill included CWA Member Kirsten Civick (left), AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler, and Rep. Bobby Scott.
Colorado CWA Members Speak Out for Protection from Retaliation
On Tuesday, CWA Local 7799 university staff, healthcare workers, public defenders, and library employees joined teachers, firefighters, paramedics, and other public workers to speak out for the Public Employees’ Workplace Protection Act, state legislation that will provide public workers in Colorado with protections against retaliation.
Under current law, many Colorado public employers may discipline and even fire employees who raise concerns to supervisors or colleagues about workplace conditions such as insufficient resources and heavy caseloads. While this bill does not require public employers to collectively bargain with workers, it does provide basic protection against retaliation for workers who try to improve their workplace.
Jade Kelly, President of CWA Local 7799 and staff member at the University of Colorado-Boulder, spoke at the event and wrote in support of the bill, "Public workers are the backbone of Colorado and we are on the front lines of serving our communities. We need to protect our right to organize and collectively speak out if we are going to meaningfully address the issues impacting ourselves as well as our students, patients, clients, and all the people in our state. We need the Public Employees' Workplace Protection Act and so does our community.”
CWA Local 7799 President Jade Kelly spoke out in support of the Public Employees’ Workplace Protection Act, state legislation that will provide public workers in Colorado with protections against retaliation.
Engaging Legislators in North Carolina
Earlier this month, members of the CWA North Carolina Legislative and Political Action Team continued to build political power with other unions and community and coalition partners by attending the North Carolina AFL-CIO Legislative Conference in Raleigh, the state capital. They also met with state legislators to discuss key issues facing working people in North Carolina.
CWA District 3 Broadband Brigade Lead Keith Busby (pictured above) gave a presentation about the importance of using federal broadband funding to build high-quality fiber optic networks with union labor. CWA also provided information that was distributed to all 170 members of the state legislature on ways state and local governments can ensure that broadband funding recipients maintain high labor standards and build reliable networks.
In 2020, the Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that a hospital that was laying off workers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic could require them to sign non-disparagement agreements in order to receive severance pay.
Last month, the NLRB reversed that decision noting, correctly, that employers cannot force workers to waive their rights under federal law and that non-disparagement agreements interfere with workers’ ability to engage in collective action to improve working conditions.
This is just the latest in a series of decisions by the NLRB that are helping restore power to workers. Appointments to the NLRB are one of the most direct ways a president can impact the amount of power corporations have over our lives. President Biden’s appointees are working to restore the mandate of the National Labor Relations Act to encourage collective bargaining and protect workers’ freedom to join together for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment.
Building the Movement for Quality Broadband and Good Jobs
Last week, members of CWA’s Broadband Brigade hosted a virtual town hall with community allies to discuss our plan to make sure all Americans have access to reliable, affordable broadband built by a well-trained, well-compensated workforce.
CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens opened the event, celebrating the work CWA’s Broadband Brigade members have been doing across the country over the last two years to educate policymakers and community partners about broadband technology and the broadband labor market. “As a labor union, we at CWA believe in collective action and confronting corporate power,” Steffens said. “We're going to need to put plenty of that fighting spirit in as we push states to do the right thing by all people, rather than giving in to profit-driven corporate lobbying, especially from the wireless industry. We are in this for the long haul.”
Broadband Brigade leaders Marty Szeliga, Executive Vice President of CWA Local 4108, and Fernando Roman, Executive Vice President of CWA Local 7026, noted that as workers who have been installing and maintaining networks for decades, they have seen firsthand the impact of the digital divide. They explained why end-to-end fiber optic connections are the most reliable, environmentally sustainable, future-proof choice for broadband internet, and the importance of strong labor standards so that public funds aren’t wasted on poor quality work by low-road contracting companies.
Community allies from the AARP, NAACP, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Sierra Club discussed why high-quality broadband matters to members of their organizations and the importance of working together to advocate for expanded access and stronger networks.
Watch the video archive of this interesting and informative town hall here.
FCC Puts the Brakes on Hedge Fund Takeover of Local News Broadcaster
Last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission’s Media Bureau announced that it had sent hedge fund Standard General’s attempted takeover of local news broadcaster TEGNA to an administrative law judge to review. In its decision, the Media Bureau cited the negative impact on jobs and on local journalism as a result of those job cuts as a reason for the decision. The NewsGuild-CWA and NABET-CWA have been sounding the alarm about these issues since the takeover attempt was announced.
CWA members have been arguing for many years that the FCC should give strong consideration to the impact of mergers and acquisitions on workers instead of looking solely at the effect on consumers, and the FCC is finally listening. During the Trump Administration, the Commission approved the T-Mobile/Sprint merger despite clear evidence that the deal would result in significant job loss and that workers at the notoriously anti-union companies would have no ability to bargain to improve their working conditions.
“FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel clearly recognizes that protecting the public interest means assessing the impact of media industry transactions on workers and on the health of local news,” CWA President Chris Shelton said. “In line with the Biden Administration's focus on creating and preserving good, family-supporting jobs, Chairwoman Rosenworcel understands that it is not only appropriate, but essential, for the FCC to consider potential job loss as a result of mergers. CWA members appreciate her careful scrutiny of this deal and we thank the FCC staff for stepping in and standing with us at this critical point in our democracy’s history.”
The NewsGuild-CWA and NABET-CWA members plan to continue to fully engage in the review process and prevent more hedge fund and private equity ownership of local news. Read more here.
NABET-CWA members continued bargaining this week for a successor Master Agreement, exchanging proposals with the company in a number of areas including short turnaround, night shift differential, arbitrators, per diem, and travel pay. They also discussed overseas assignments, meal provisions, and streaming platforms, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
While progress is being made, management continues to insist on making changes to the vacation policy and undermining the seniority structure as it relates to involuntary layoffs, and company negotiators have been unresponsive to several proposals regarding reclassifications, upgrades, and benefits for daily hire employees.
The current Master Agreement is set to expire on March 31, 2023.
DirecTV Puerto Rico
After weeks of bargaining with the company, CWA members reached a tentative agreement at DirecTV in Puerto Rico. Highlights include general wage increases, preserving health care benefits, adding Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday, increased job security with a guarantee of call percentages, increases to severance pay and the annual Christmas Bonus, and more.
“We can’t express enough how important the support from each of you has been,” the bargaining committee wrote in a letter summarizing the agreement. “Your support gave us the strength to stand up to the company and demand a fair contract! Together, we can achieve so much!”
On February 23, CWA Local 1037 workers at Bergen’s Promise voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new three-year contract. The Bargaining Committee negotiated salary increases, higher on-call rates and longevity stipends, a pilot telework program, and more. Bergen’s Promise provides care management services for children with serious behavioral health, substance abuse, or developmental issues and their families.
“I think it’s a great contract. It’s going to help retention and continuity of services for the families we serve. I got a lot of good feedback from workers,” said Cole Campbelle, a Shop Steward and Care Manager at Bergen’s Promise. “I agree, this is going to help keep and recruit workers,” added Meghan Monroe, also a Shop Steward and Care Manager. “lt’s definitely one of the better contracts that recognizes and respects the difficult and important work that we do.”
Today, employees at The Trevor Project, an organization that works to end suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning young people, announced that an overwhelming majority of them have signed cards indicating their desire to form a union with CWA. Their union, Friends of Trevor United/CWA (FTU/CWA), is seeking voluntary recognition from management in order to begin bargaining a fair contract that will create a formal grievance structure and safeguards around layoffs, raise workers’ pay, and grant access to best-in-class healthcare including gender-affirming services.
In their letter demanding recognition, FTU/CWA supporters say they believe that joining together in a union and moving forward in a constructive relationship through collective bargaining is consistent with the organization’s values. Workers shared their personal reasons for supporting the union on the FTU/CWA website.
CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge against Activision Blizzard on Tuesday for illegally firing two Quality Assurance testers in Minnesota after they used strong language to express their outrage about the company’s plan to end remote work and require employees to return to the office in-person. Workers have been protesting the RTO plan, citing cost of living concerns and the impact it would have on their co-workers who might be forced out of their jobs.
Prior to 2020, the use of outbursts and strong language by employees engaged in collective action to improve their working conditions was protected by the National Labor Relations Board. Under the Trump administration, the NLRB systematically rolled back workers' rights, including modifying the standard for determining whether employees have been lawfully disciplined or discharged after making such statements, which limited free speech rights for employees.
“For far too long, Activision has gotten away with treating its employees, especially QA testers, like disposable work horses. Firing two employees for joining with their co-workers to express concern around hasty return to office policies is retaliation, point blank,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens. “When faced with unfair treatment by unscrupulous employers like Activision, workers should have the right to express themselves.”
Activision Blizzard workers at the company’s Raven Software and Blizzard Albany studios have joined CWA and are bargaining their first contracts. CWA has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges against Activision Blizzard to hold the company accountable for its illegal union-busting tactics.