2023 Workers Memorial Day: Organize for Safe Jobs
Tomorrow, April 28, is Workers Memorial Day, when we remember workers killed or injured on the job and renew our commitment to fight for strong safety and health protections.
Workers are increasingly taking collective action and forming unions. Ensuring safe working conditions has been one of the centerpieces driving this movement. Workers in some of the most dangerous occupations, like tower climbers, who are organizing for a voice on the job with CWA, are taking advantage of this momentum and fighting for permanent safety measures that will ensure the safety of workers for generations to come. As part of this broader campaign, members of the Tower Climbers Union/CWA have launched a public petition to raise awareness and hold companies accountable.
This year’s theme is "Organize! Safe Jobs Now." The AFL-CIO has posted resources, including flyers, artwork, and its yearly "Death on the Job: the Toll of Neglect" report that you can use as you raise awareness and commemorate the day, at: https://aflcio.org/about-us/conferences-and-events/workers-memorial-day.
This Workers Memorial Day, we honor the memories of these members and others whose deaths over the past year were work-related:
Robert Combs, 51, a member of CWA Local 4320 who worked as an Engineer/Operator for Guernsey County in Ohio, died as a result of a vehicle accident while traveling in a dump truck that was hauling large pieces of wood. Combs was pronounced dead at the scene.
Courtney Edwards, 34, a member of CWA Local 3645 and a Passenger Service Agent at Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama, was working the ramp on New Year’s Eve. An Embraer ERJ 170 airplane was parked at the gate, but one of the engines was still on because of an inoperable Auxiliary Power Unit. As the number one engine was spooling down, Courtney Edwards walked past the engine ingestion zone and was pulled into the engine. The results of the OSHA investigation have not been issued yet. CWA’s investigation has revealed that none of the members at the station have ever received detailed training from Piedmont Airlines about the hazards of engine ingestion and jet blast zones.
Farid Ait Hamza, 31, a member of IUE-CWA Local 81463 who was a trainee at Lamart Corporation in Clifton, N.J., died after being crushed by a moving machine he was working on during the second shift in the evening.
Christian Helger, 29, a member of CWA Local 7781 and a Ski Patroller at Park City Ski Resort in Park City, Utah, was on a ski lift when a dead tree broke and hit the lift line causing him to fall to his death. The Company was cited by Utah Occupational Health and Safety Administration for a General Duty Clause violation. There had been another tree incident near the lift line the day before and the trees were not properly cleared to prevent the kind of accident that caused Christian Helger’s death.
Donnie Knights, 41, a member of IUE-CWA Local 84911 who worked as a mill stocker at Lock Joint Tube in South Bend, Ind., was in the process of separating large steel coils to take to the production floor on a forklift. When he cut the bands on the coils of steel, one of the 7,600 lb. coils fell over, pinning him underneath it. After the paramedics arrived, he was transported to the hospital. He underwent surgery but was removed from life support two days later and died at the hospital.
John C. Molnar, 47, a member of CWA Local 1075 who worked for the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority, in Belford, N.J., died in a manhole he had entered to replace a drain plug. He was overcome by inert gas and collapsed to the bottom of the manhole, which contained water, causing him to drown. According to the state agency that conducted the investigation, there were serious violations which included the employer’s failure to identify respiratory hazards, exposed wires and hazardous chemicals leaking from a pump station, and a facility-wide lack of personal protective equipment.
Todd Pierce, 57, a member of NABET-CWA Local 51016 who worked at ABC-Disney in New York City, died of a 9/11-related cancer due to his exposure to the toxins in the disaster zone while he responded to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center. He photographed and filmed the events of 9/11 and his footage has been seen around the world.
Joshua Schulze, 35, a member of CWA Local 6171 who worked as a technician at Frontier Communications in Brownwood, Texas, was electrocuted while working in a bucket truck repairing a digital communications line.
Israel Soto, 58, a member of CWA Local 3603 in Charlotte, N.C., was a new hire at AT&T who was attending climbing school and passed away after he became unconscious while climbing a pole on his third day of training.
Nolan Suttles, 44, a member of CWA Local 3215 and an Outside Plant Technician at Bellsouth Communications (AT&T) in Ellenwood, Ga., was working in a placing truck and stowing the bucket when the boom came in contact with a powerline and the truck immediately burst into flames. Emergency rescue personnel could not approach the truck to assist until the power company arrived to disconnect the power. The truck was completely destroyed. CWA’s investigation revealed that employees had not received training about the approach distances to electric lines on joint use poles.
Communities across the country, including CWA members, are continuing to grapple with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we may finally be putting the pandemic behind us, it has changed aspects of our lives forever. In the memory of those we have lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sacrifices our members have made to provide essential services to our communities, we must continue to fight to protect all workers from hazardous working conditions.
Forming a union remains the most effective way for workers to get the appropriate protections they need and a voice on the job. As we grieve those we have lost, we must do everything we can to pass critical legislation like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, so workers can freely form a union and collectively bargain, and the Protecting America’s Workers Act to provide OSHA protection to the millions of workers without it.
Workers at YouTube’s Music Content Operations in Austin, Texas, unanimously voted to join CWA this week. The workers, who are members of Alphabet Workers Union (AWU-CWA), are employed by Cognizant Technology Solutions, a subcontractor of Alphabet. This is a major milestone in the fight to prevent companies from avoiding responsibility by subcontracting work. In March, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that both Alphabet and Cognizant must negotiate with the YouTube Music workers on any collective bargaining agreement because Alphabet exercises direct and indirect control over their work.
Since forming their union in October 2022, the workers have been faced with aggressive union busting from their employer, including a retaliatory Return-To-Office (RTO) mandate which would have forced dozens of workers to “voluntarily terminate” from their jobs. The workers have been fighting back by building solidarity and support for their union and holding workplace actions, including the first known strike at Alphabet, which also owns Google. For months, they stood out on the picket line, held major rallies, engaged their communities, and garnered support from other workers, union members, and elected officials.
“No one working for a multi-billion dollar platform should have to juggle three jobs to make ends meet, and no one should have to give up their livelihoods due to a retaliatory Return-To-Office mandate,” said Maxwell Longfield, a YouTube Music worker and member of AWU-CWA. “We have shown our power as workers on the picket line, and now in our union election.”
SEGA of America
On Monday, workers at video game company SEGA’s U.S. headquarters announced that they have formed a union, Allied Employees Guild Improving SEGA (AEGIS), with CWA Local 9510. They are seeking voluntary recognition from the company and have filed for a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board.
The union, which consists of approximately 150 workers in the quality assurance, localization, live service, marketing, and product development departments, is demanding higher base pay, improved benefits, opportunities for advancement, balanced workloads, and adequate staffing. Read more here.
Over 300 graduate student workers at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, members of Fordham Graduate Student Workers Union (CWA Local 1104), began a three-day walkout this Monday to demand a fair contract. The workers, who have been bargaining for almost a year to reach a first collective bargaining agreement, held rallies and picketed at multiple campus locations to call on the university to bargain in good faith.
The union’s bargaining team has made proposals to raise workers’ pay, establish protections for international students, secure adequate resources and benefits for student workers, cut burdensome student fees, establish just cause protections, prohibit the use of harmful non-disclosure agreements in harassment and discrimination cases, create a formal grievance structure, and much more.
Instead of working to address these challenges and meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable groups of the student population, the university’s leadership has chosen to belittle and dismiss the student workers’ concerns. Fordham graduate workers play an essential role in keeping the university functioning by performing critical tasks and they are committed to keep fighting for a fair contract that reflects the value they bring to the institution. During their public demonstrations, the workers were joined by supporters and allies, including elected officials such as Brad Lander, New York City Comptroller; Erik Bottcher, New York City Council Member; Jumaane D. Williams, Public Advocate for the City of New York; and Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President.
Graduate student workers at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, members of Fordham Graduate Student Workers Union (CWA Local 1104), held a three-day strike and public demonstrations to demand a fair contract after almost a year of difficult negotiations.
AFA-CWA Flight Attendants at Spirit Airlines voted to ratify a new contract earlier this month. The deal increases base wages 10-27% immediately for 6,000 Flight Attendants, with most receiving a pay increase of 40% or more within two years. In addition, the contract includes improved scheduling protections for the Flight Attendants.
“This contract will make an immediate difference in Spirit Flight Attendants’ lives,” said Jason Kachenmeister, AFA-CWA Spirit President. “While we navigate the proposed merger, Spirit Flight Attendants have locked in three raises, additional pay factor improvements, and better rest on layovers, all while maintaining our healthcare insurance with no premium increases. We also achieved significant scheduling protections and additional pay when irregular operations cause cancellations or delays.”
CWA Wireless Workers Build Power at Annual Conference
Close to 250 CWA members from across the union gathered for the CWA Wireless Workers Conference, held in person last week for the first time in four years in Providence, R.I. They participated in workshops and plenary sessions, shared ideas and strategized for the future, held solidarity actions, and heard from CWA leaders, elected officials, and other guest speakers.
Speaking to participants about the need for our union to adapt to the ever-changing industry, CWA President Chris Shelton said, ”Since the early days of wireless, we have been at the forefront of organizing, representing, and fighting for workers to build a stronger, more powerful union.” He referenced the growing group of workers in the wireless industry who are taking collective action and joining CWA, including tower climbers, who for the first time ever participated in the conference. “By forming a union with CWA, tower climbers are beating the odds, just like they beat the odds each time they go out on a job and return home safely,” said Shelton. He also emphasized the need to consistently mobilize to win strong contracts that improve standards for all workers.
“We have incredible momentum to make some real change for workers in the coming year, and I couldn't be more proud of the amazing effort put in by our members to make it happen,” said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor. Trainor kicked off the conference and highlighted the various victories CWAers have had in recent years and the possibility for more in the future.
CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens encouraged members to make the most of this period of increased worker organizing and support for unions. “There is a lot of work before us. None of it is easy, but all of it is worthy of our full-hearted efforts. This is a year where every day matters. Every day is full of promise for our CWA members and our labor movement,”
Attendees marched alongside CWA Local 1101 members at IGT, a company that services slot machines, who are fighting for a fair contract. Throughout the conference, members recorded short videos to tell their stories about building power in their workplaces.
Conference participants also heard from CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt, CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney, CWA District 4 Vice President Linda L. Hinton, CWA District 6 Vice President Claude Cummings Jr., CWA District 7 Vice President Susie McAllister, and other guest speakers.
CWAers Attend the 2023 CWA/USW Health, Safety, and Environment Conference in Record Numbers
Over 100 CWAers gathered at the 2023 CWA/United Steel Workers Health, Safety, and Environment Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., last week. The record number of CWA attendees, many of them first-time participants in the conference, came from every CWA District and multiple sectors. The group included the most diverse range of occupations ever represented by CWA members at this conference, with workers from airlines, healthcare, public sector, manufacturing, and telecommunications.
There were over 130 unique workshops offered throughout the week and multiple plenary sessions with the goal of developing strategies to fight for and improve everyday working conditions. CWA health and safety leads facilitated and co-facilitated workshops focused on improving workplace safety. CWAers also showcased our union’s successful efforts in New York to win safe staffing for healthcare workers.
In addition, there was a strong show of support for striking CWA members at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, including a CWA table, with materials and information about the strike, staffed by strikers. The CWA delegation heard from a striking Newsguild-CWA member and participated in a nighttime picket line at the Post-Gazette distribution center.
The attendees who took part in the picket witnessed firsthand the potential risks of such workplace actions when local police came to break up the picket. “We were walking the line and the police came and broke our line and assaulted us, pushed me around, knocked me down on the ground,” said Kristen Affrime, CWA Local 1038, who was on the picket line and spoke to Channel 11 news. Affrime also appeared on “Today in Pittsburgh Labor,” a radio show launched by striking CWA workers at the Post-Gazette, and spoke more about her experience. You can listen to her interview here.