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CWA e-Newsletter: Nov. 21, 2013

CWA e-Newsletter

CWA Town Hall Call TONIGHT

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On CWA's 30-minute town hall call tonight, AFSCME President Lee Saunders will join CWA President Larry Cohen for a candid discussion on the challenges that face workers and retirees and the future of the labor movement. They'll talk about what we have learned from our recent bargaining and other campaigns, and what we can do to take on these challenges. Thousands of AFSCME members will also be joining us on the call.

Don't forget, when you sign up for the final CWA town hall call this year, in December, you will be entered in a drawing for a personalized iPad Mini! The winner will be announced in the CWA News and e-newsletter.

Majority Leader Reid, Democratic Senators Vote to End Gridlock on Nominations

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Today, Senate Majority Leader Reid and nearly every Democratic Senator have acted to end Senate gridlock and obstruction on Presidential nominations.

Activists from CWA and other groups that make up the Democracy Initiative, a group representing 20 million members, mobilized and told their Democratic senators that "enough is enough, it's time to fix the Senate."

Click here to send a thank you to Leader Reid.

CWA commends Leader Reid for his leadership in ensuring that the President's executive and most judicial nominations get an up-or-down vote and said that the Senate action restores an important principle of our democracy. The Senate majority's procedural action means that President Obama's nominations will get confirmation votes.

"The Senate action re-enforces the intent of Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states that the Senate's obligation of advice and consent is based on majority support, not super majority support. This is a good first step toward restoring a Senate that functions as an integral part of our democracy," said CWA President Larry Cohen.

Contrary to Republican claims, the procedure used by Leader Reid isn't new and there's nothing "nuclear" or revolutionary about it. Instead, it is the Republicans' recent strategy of preventing up-or-down votes on qualified nominees without respect to their merits that has been a radical departure from Senate history.

Republicans have been blocking votes on qualified executive and judicial nominees as part of a larger strategy to undermine laws and agencies they disagree with, and to deny President Obama his constitutional authority to fill vacancies.

After months of Republican empty promises and broken agreements, Leader Reid had no other choice but to put forward the procedural motion. The Senate has changed application of the rules at least 18 times in the last 35 years, though not necessarily regarding nominations. In 1980, then Majority Leader Byrd used the exact same procedure to eliminate filibusters on a motion to proceed to nominations.

Most recently, the Republican minority has refused to move to an up-or-down vote on President Obama's nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; there are at least 100 nominations awaiting Senate action.

Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Judge Robert Wilkins have all received the highest possible rating from the non-partisan American Bar Association. They have broad bipartisan support, and no one has questioned their qualifications. Senate Republicans have blocked all three from getting a yes-or-no vote and have made no secret as to why: Senate Republicans don't want any appointments by President Obama to this court. They want a conservative leaning court that will keep issuing decisions like the Noel Canning case, which found that the president's recess appointments were not valid.

The same is true for Congressman Mel Watt, nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Administration, and critical of the effort to stop unfair foreclosures. This marks the first time that a sitting member of Congress has been blocked from getting an up-or-down vote on a nomination.

CWA President Larry Cohen Talks Senate Rules with Orlando Sentinel

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Orlando Sentinel: U.S. Senate Republicans, who hold 45 of 100 seats in the chamber, have increasingly taken advantage of filibuster rules that allow as few as 40 members to stop action on legislation or nominations. A left-leaning coalition, Fix the Senate Now, has been pushing for a package of rule changes that would make it much harder for the chamber's minority to block votes.

Larry Cohen, president of the 700,000 member Communications Workers of America, is one of the coalition's leaders. In an email interview with Sentinel Opinions Editor Paul Owens, Cohen argued that the changes are needed so that senators can "do their job."

Q: The current filibuster rules have been around for decades. Why does the coalition think they need to be changed now?

Cohen: The Senate rules are being abused. The rules have changed many times over the years, and today, a supermajority of 60 votes is required to move any Senate business forward. When Lyndon Johnson was majority leader, there was just one filibuster. During current majority leader Harry Reid's first term, there were 386. The so-called filibuster, though it doesn't require any lengthy speeches, or frankly any talking at all, now blocks nearly all debate and resolution.

As we've seen recently, one senator can block debate on a presidential nominee for some unrelated or undisclosed reason. It's fine to vote no on a nominee, but the president deserves a vote on his executive and judicial nominations.

Q: Defenders of the current rules say it's not supposed to be easy for the Senate to pass things. Do you disagree?

Cohen: The American people expect their senators to do their job. Today's Senate barely functions. Last year, at least 15 bills with majority support didn't get a minute's debate on the Senate floor.

Q: Defenders also say that the current filibuster rules preserve the rights of the Senate minority. Does the coalition not believe in those rights?

Cohen: Our coalition believes in democracy and the Constitution. The president has the responsibility to make executive and judicial nominations, and the Senate's obligation is to advise and consent on those nominations. Article II of the Constitution provides for Senate confirmation by majority vote. The Constitution also specifies that a supermajority (60 votes) is required for treaties. However, procedural delays used by the Senate minority mean a 60-vote supermajority is required for virtually every action.

Q: Both supporters and opponents have called changing the filibuster rules "the nuclear option." Aren't you afraid it would do serious damage to the Senate as an institution?

Cohen: The nuclear option gives the presiding officer authority to override Senate rules by making a ruling that is then upheld by a majority vote. Our coalition supports common-sense changes to the rules at the start of a new legislative session. We also support use of a procedural motion (used 18 times since 1978) that enables nominations to get an up-or-down vote. It's Senate gridlock that is doing serious damage to our democracy.

Q: If this is not a partisan exercise by the coalition, why aren't any Republicans supporting the call to change the rules?

Cohen: Republicans have said they will change the rules when they have the majority.

Q: Wouldn't a change now destroy any meaningful prospect of bipartisanship in the Senate, at least for the foreseeable future?

Cohen: Is there bipartisanship? Today's Senate is marked by party polarization and intentional gridlock. Our coalition of workers, environmentalists, civil-rights and good-government activists pushed for confirmation of nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Environmental Protection Agency and others. More than 2 million people were mobilized, and we succeeded.

Without real change to the Senate rules, gridlock will be the norm for many years.

Q: Couldn't a rule change come back to bite Democrats if they lose control in the Senate after the 2014 elections?

Cohen: We need to change the rules so that the Senate carries out its constitutional obligations and functions as it should in a 21st century democracy. Republicans have said they will change the rules.

Political Action Update

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Turning Texas Blue


CWA District 6 VP Claude Cummings with Wendy Davis, who is wearing CWA red to celebrate the endorsement by CWA Texas locals for governor.

CWA Locals in Texas have endorsed Wendy Davis for Governor. CWA has a long relationship with Davis and was the first organization to support her when she first ran for the state Senate in 2008. The conventional wisdom was she couldn't win but Davis, with CWAers' help, pulled off a big upset.

Recently, Wendy electrified Texas voters with her filibuster to block a Republican measure attacking women's health care rights.

LPAT Training in Iowa

Last week in Iowa, about 30 CWA Legislative and Political Action Team activists attended a comprehensive training on the legislative process and how to build our movement to achieve our goals.

Participants got valuable advice from congressional staff and political candidates on what works – and what doesn't – and how to get the attention of elected officials on CWA issues. Legislative grassroots tools, movement building and coalition work were a big part of the training.


CWA LPAT activists talk movement building.

Participants discussed CWA's Political Action Fund program and worked on skills needed to improve participation of CWAers in PAF.

Also joining the session was the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a key CWA partner, and participants discussed issues that both will work on together, particularly money in politics. Citizens Action and Alliance for Retired Americans also joined the training.

A session on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal ended in everyone writing letters to their representative and Senators calling on them to oppose fast track authorization for the deal.

Bargaining Update

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KOIN-TV in Portland, Ore.


CWA Secretary-Treasurer Annie Hill and CWA AT&T Mobility members rally for fair contracts for NABET-CWA members in Portland.

CWA AT&T Mobility activists took a break from their strategy sessions and marched to television station KOIN TV in Portland, Ore., to rally with NABET-CWA members and protest management demands to cuts jobs and compensation.

The 50 news photographers, technicians, graphic artists, web producers, assignment editors at the station, and until recently master control operators, are members of NABET-CWA Local 59051.

Joining CWAers were Portland Jobs with Justice activists and other union members. CWA Secretary-Treasurer Annie Hill rallied the crowd, among other speakers.

A positive bargaining relationship fell apart when Rhode Island-based LIN Media purchased the station in 2012. Bargaining for a new agreement is underway, however management has tried to discredit and undercut the union, and has refused to provide information for bargaining.

Verizon West

CWA members at Verizon West have ratified a new four-year contract.

The agreement, which covers 4,500 workers in California, increases wages 8.77 percent over four years, limits outsourcing of FiOS work and returns contracted out jobs to the CWA bargaining unit.

SuperShuttle Drivers at DIA

Support the SuperShuttle drivers at Denver International Airport who are in tough bargaining with management.

Like them on Facebook here.

CWA District 7/CenturyLink/Minnesota OSHA Lead Abatement Settlement Agreement

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Minnesota OSHA, CWA District 7 and CenturyLink are implementing a new landmark settlement agreement covering work with lead cable.

CenturyLink received nine citations for violations of the OSHA lead standard this year. As a result, CWA, Minnesota OSHA, and CenturyLink agreed to a landmark lead abatement program. It includes provisions for notification and training; coverage of safe and healthful work practices and procedures; appropriate engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment to prevent and control lead exposure; medical surveillance; and personal hygiene.

Also last month, CWA District 7, the union's Occupational Safety and Health Department, and CenturyLink negotiated an agreement to expand the Minnesota OSHA settlement agreement to include District 7-wide implementation of the company's lead abatement program, including notification, training, and medical surveillance for affected technicians. CWA's Occupational Safety and Health Department and CenturyLink have agreed that the program will cover all affected CenturyLink technicians throughout the country.

Lead is a carcinogen that can damage workers' brains, nerves, red blood cells, kidneys and reproductive systems. This new program will ensure CenturyLink technicians who work with lead-encased cable and other lead products are provided safe and healthful working conditions.

AT&T Mobility Leadership Conference Energizes Workers

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Conference attendees at a strategy session in Portland, Ore.

This week CWA's AT&T Mobility Leadership Conference brought together about 200 members from across the country to Portland, Ore.

During the general session, members heard from AT&T Mobility workers in New York City who helped organize the very first MetroPCS retail store. "Everyone needs a fair chance. Everyone deserves a voice on the job," said Tiffany Rosario of CWA Local 1101.

The entire conference gave Ellen Brackeen, a TU activist who was unfairly disciplined at work because of her union activity, a standing ovation. Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board announced that the U.S. government would prosecute T-Mobile US for violating U.S. labor law.

"There's power in numbers and there's power in people," she said.


Ellen Brackeen works at a T-Mobile call center in Wichita, Kan.

Brackeen told them, "We need your help. It says a lot when I can tell my coworkers that these aren't just union people out there, these aren't people completely unrelated to our cause. These are AT&T employees. These are people who do our job. These are people telling us that we can have better. These are competitors, but they're people in our industry who are trying to support us."

Attendees also went to workshops on movement building, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, online organizing and new member orientation. They pulled out their wallets and helped stamp big money out of politics by legally stamping that message on our nation's currency. And activists picketed outside of Portland's local broadcast station, KOIN TV, which has brought in union busters following the NABET-CWA contract expiration and sent good union jobs to right-to-work (for less) Indiana.

The Unity@Mobility campaign kicked off this past fall with a push to educate Mobility members, many of whom aren't familiar with unions or the benefits of having a union contract.