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CWA e-Newsletter: Dec. 18, 2014

CWA e-Newsletter

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Sen. Harkin's Fond Farewell to Washington Contained a Warning on Income Inequality

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In 40 years of making laws in the nation's capital – 10 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 30 in the U.S. Senate, Tom Harkin (D-IA) has fought to give the little guy "a leg up on the economic ladder of success," with some failures but many, many successes, including leading the fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Harkin, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), spoke movingly about what drove him all these years.

In the speech, which was well received by his colleagues, Harkin adopted CWA's language and charts in linking the decline of collective bargaining with America's growing economic inequality, urging the Senate to tackle the problem in its next session because "[It] is destructive of lives, it slows our progress as a nation, and it will doom broad support for representative government."

"The answer to closing the inequality gap must include rebuilding labor unions and collective bargaining," he continued. "If you trace the line over the last 40 years of our growing economic inequality in America and also put that over another line showing the loss in the number of union workers, they are almost identical. I do not believe it is a stretch to say that organized labor, unions, built the middle class in America, and they are a part of the answer in strengthening and rebuilding our middle class."

CWA President Larry Cohen said, "Watching Tom Harkin's farewell speech to the U.S. Senate left me more committed than ever to building the movement for economic justice and democracy. For all of us in CWA this speech is well worth watching as Senator Harkin looks back on 40 years in the House and Senate and ahead to carrying on the fight."

Harkin spoke of his love of the Senate and the good it could do in our nation, but he also had warnings:

"When people at the bottom of the economic ladder feel the government is not helping them and in fact may be stacked against them, they will cease to vote, or they will turn to the siren song of extreme elements in our society. History proves this to be true.

"I don't have a cookie-cutter answer or solution, but it must include more fair tax laws and trade laws, more job training and retraining, rebuilding our physical infrastructure, and manufacturing. And I believe it must include some things, seemingly unrelated, like quality, free, early education for every child in America."

Watch the video here

Harkin also said this near the end of the speech:

"I came to the Senate 30 years ago as a proud progressive, determined to get things done. And as I depart the Senate, I can say in good conscience that I remained true to my progressive roots...You might say that my career in Congress is the story of a poor kid from Cumming, Iowa, trying his best to 'pay it forward', saying thank you for the opportunities I was given by leaving that ladder and ramp of opportunity stronger for those who follow."


Senate Rules Change Allows Confirmation of Record Number of Judicial Nominees

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In its final days, the United States Senate wrapped up a session marked by obstruction and gridlock by confirming scores of critical judicial and executive nominations.

A total of 89 district court and circuit court judges were confirmed this year, bringing the total for the Obama presidency to 305. That's ahead of the Bush, Clinton and Reagan records for the same period in their administrations. Read more here.

These confirmations could not have happened without the work of CWA, with partners Alliance for Justice, Sierra Club and other Fix the Senate Now coalition members who waged a two-year effort to push for sensible Senate rules reform to ensure that presidential and most judicial nominations would receive an up-or-down vote on their merits.

"If you go broad, and bring enough people and organizations on board, and go deep, by building huge grassroots support for change, you can accomplish things that no one would have believed," CWA President Larry Cohen said.

Before the rules change, there were 45 judges confirmed in 2013 and 49 judges in 2012. After the rules change, the number of confirmed judges doubled in just one year.

At the height of the campaign, 2 million members of Fix the Senate Now organizations mobilized for this critical rules reform that was finalized in November 2013.

The rules change also meant that nominees to key agencies like the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency and many others were confirmed, and that those agencies could continue operating.

Since Dec. 12, the Senate has confirmed 69 of President Obama's executive nominees, according to the Los Angeles Times. This total includes dozens of qualified nominees, including a nomination to the Election Assistance Commission who has been waiting since April 2010 for a vote. These were qualified nominees who were stuck in limbo simply because of the Republican strategy of obstruction.

The Senate rules reform enacted a year ago was a first step in the right direction. But there's a long road ahead to continue to improve the functioning of the Senate and, with it, the health of our democracy.

NLRB Reforms Will Limit Corporations' Stalling Tactics in Union Elections

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The National Labor Relations Board upheld some modest changes in the union representation election process; the changes had been proposed more than two years ago.

Listen to CWA President Larry Cohen talk on the Ed Schultz radio program about the effect of this decision. 

These new rules are intended to simplify the process and minimize delay. They involve common-sense changes, like allowing for electronic filings, getting voter lists to the parties sooner, and not letting frivolous appeals delay workers' elections or their results. CWA commends the NLRB for determining that workers should be able to have a fair vote in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, it is common practice for employers to delay the NLRB representation election process precisely so they can wage a campaign of intimidation against employees before they vote, if they are ever permitted to vote. These anti-worker, hostile campaigns are designed to increase strife and scare employees away from organizing efforts. While the election gets delayed, workers face a gauntlet of unfair labor practices, with employers intimidating or firing union supporters, making illegal changes to working conditions, or even shutting down workplaces altogether.

That even these modest changes have been challenged by anti-worker interests shows how hard it is for workers to get bargaining rights and a voice on the job. Workers who want to organize, at the overwhelming majority of employers, experience firsthand how management uses delay to keep workers from making a fair choice about union representation and gaining bargaining rights.

The preamble to the National Labor Relations Act actually says the law's purpose is "to promote collective bargaining." We still have a long way to go to reach that standard.

NLRB Decision on Email Protects Workers' Right to Organize in 21st Century Workplace

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The NLRB ruled that workers have the right to use their work email accounts during non-work hours to discuss workplace issues in a case involving TNG-CWA members, who are American Sign Language interpreters at Purple Communications.

"With this decision, the NLRB has taken a major step forward to make sure workers' rights to organize are protected in the 21st century workplace," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said.

The Board ruled that employees are presumptively entitled to use their work email outside of work to talk to each other about workplace issues, unless an employer can show special circumstances to justify restrictions on that use.

In its decision, the NLRB recognized that email has become a critical means of communication about working conditions and other issues. Email has become a "natural gathering place" for many workers, much in the same way the worksite cafeteria is or once was. The NLRB has taken seriously the need to "adapt the (National Labor Relations) Act to the changing patterns of industrial life," especially in light of the pervasiveness of email and the growing use of telework.

Not So Fast, Christie!

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn't getting away with his pension fund grab.

The latest objection comes from trustees of New Jersey's largest pension funds – the Public Employees' Retirement System, the Police and Fire Retirement System and the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund – who have sued the governor for slashing $2.4 billion in promised pension fund payments so that he can fill the gap in his troubled budget.

The trustees noted that Christie "has shamelessly broken his word by derailing the proper funding of the pension funds, while at the same time demanding participants endure benefit reductions and higher employee contributions."

So they're demanding that the governor pay up or throw out the entire 2011 pension reform as a "breached contract."

Three years ago, Christie and state legislators had pushed through massive cuts to public workers' pension benefits, pledging that the state would begin to make bigger payments each year to the pension system to compensate for the state's meager contributions over the past 17 years. Workers held up their end of the bargain, but Christie reneged, putting pensions at risk. Reversing that law means restoring cost-of-living adjustments for retirees and lowering workers' pension contributions.

Unions representing public workers, including CWA, filed their own lawsuit in June, saying that Christie's action violated the state and federal constitutions.

Christie's administration recently disclosed that the state's unfunded pension liabilities had more than doubled to $83 billion.

Groups Tell President Obama to Bring Fairness to the TPP Agreement

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The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that 11 nations hope to enter into with the United States would block access to affordable medicines, delay generic drug competition and undermine public health policies, the organizations told the president in a letter last week.

Representatives from the groups, which include the AFL-CIO; Generic Pharmaceutical Association (GPhA); the American Association of Retired Persons, Oxfam, and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Access Campaign (MSF), laid out their concerns at a news conference on Wednesday.

"First, the TPP fails to strike the right balance between fostering innovation and ensuring expedited access to more affordable medicines," GPhA CEO and President Ralph Neas said. "It does too much to extend already generous monopolies enjoyed by brand-name drugs, and too little to ensure that safe, low-cost generic versions are available to patients as soon as legally possible. This is a very serious concern for our industry and for global health."

The TPP, a massive job-killing proposal that would account for around 40 percent of global gross domestic product and one-third of all world trade, involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. The TPP, as currently constituted will destroys jobs, the environment, circumvent our laws, and shift scarce resources from workers to corporations and the wealthy.

Thea Lee, Deputy Chief of Staff for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, said the AFL-CIO supports protections for intellectual property, but there must be balance, especially when it comes to access to medications. Competition is needed in order to expand choice and hold down prices. TPP provisions, instead, "have gone too far in the wrong direction," she added.

In their letter to President Obama, the groups praised his commitment to expanding health coverage and preserve Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs. But, they warned, the TPP directly undermines the sustainability of U.S. health programs and block efforts to improve them in the future.

"With important unmet public health needs, pressure on public health care expenditures and a growing aging population in the U.S., protecting patients' access to affordable medicines is of paramount importance here as well as throughout the world," they wrote.

Read the full letter here.


Allies and activists join together for a panel to discuss the dangers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership when it comes to access and affordability of medicine.

Standing Strong Against FairPoint

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This week "Elves Union Local 1" from Ellsworth traveled to Bangor, Maine, to spread holiday cheer and help striking workers at FairPoint Communications in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

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Supporters are contributing to the IBEW-CWA Solidarity Fund to help workers continue to stand up to FairPoint's corporate greed.

CWA's Members' Relief Fund covers 215 striking members, but the 1,500 striking IBEW members have no strike fund.

CWA Local 1400 has compiled a wish list of gifts for children of the striking parents.

Fighting Back Against Predatory Lenders

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CWA Human Rights activists are joining with our Democracy Initiative partners to fight back against the predatory practices of the big banks, particularly payday lending schemes.

Payday lending is destructive and vicious, and virtually unregulated in too many states. Big banks and other financial institutions offer short term loans to people facing a devastating financial condition, at annual interest rates of 100 percent, or more.

It becomes impossible for borrowers to pay off their loans, and they incur even more debt, setting up an inescapable cycle of poverty. Low-paid workers who haven't had a wage increase in years are targeted by these lenders.

In her report for the CWA National Women's Committee, member Vicky Hurley explores the issue of payday lending and its impact on families and communities. Many of these lenders are companies owned by the big Wall Street banks – the same banks that caused the economy to come crashing down on working families in 2008 and were rewarded with taxpayer bailouts.

Read the report here.

Click here to become a CWA Human Rights activist.

Bargaining Update

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First Contract for Metro PCS/T-Mobile Retail Workers

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Members of CWA Local 1101 who work at the Metro PCS/T-Mobile retail store on Lexington Ave., in New York City ratified their first contract by a 10-0 vote.

Just over a year ago, workers organized and joined CWA to gain fair scheduling, job security, and respect from management, and their first contract makes real improvements in all these issues.

It provides for a grievance procedure and arbitration to dispute unfair treatment or discipline. The contract also requires changes in management scheduling and enables workers to switch shifts without management pre-approval.

Check out this video, and workers talking about what the contract means to them. 


Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants

Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants, members of AFA-CWA, ratified a new contract that provides significant improvements for the 3,400 Flight Attendants at Alaska Airlines, including some of the top pay in the industry, built-in protections on health care costs and improved job protections and work rules. The National Mediation Board provided mediation assistance.

"Today, Alaska Flight Attendants made a collective decision that will carry us through the next five years," said Jeffrey Peterson, AFA president at Alaska Airlines. "We are dedicated to advancing the Flight Attendant career for ourselves and future Flight Attendants to come."

Organizing Update

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Public Broadcast TV Workers Seek Union Representation

Technical and production workers at WXXI-TV petitioned the National Labor Relations Board last week seeking collective bargaining rights through representation by the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communication Workers of America (NABET-CWA).

The employees produce and broadcast programs at the Public Broadcast Service station in Rochester, NY. WXXI-TV management has hired Bond, Schoeneck, and King – a firm that touts "union avoidance" as one of its services – to represent them. The NLRB will step in and hold hearings if the two sides cannot come to agreement.

NABET-CWA represents thousands of television workers around the country, including workers at public broadcasting stations in Binghamton and Albany, NY. WXXI employees, NABET-CWA and the Rochester AFL-CIO are asking worker-friendly viewers, WXXI members, station underwriters, and area elected officials to monitor the outcome of these events closely.

CWA Telephone Town Hall Call TONIGHT!

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You won't want to miss tonight's town hall call, starting at 7:30 pm ET. The call will last half an hour.

We'll hear from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sierra Club President Michael Brune, Edward Miller of the New Zealand First Union, whose members are fighting back against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and CWA President Larry Cohen about what's next in the fight against fast track and the TPP.

If you haven't pre-registered for the call, you can listen online at