Initiatives to advance our democracy by getting big money out of politics are on the ballot in many locations next week. Campaigns to boost voter registration are underway, too.
Maine: A Vote for Fair Elections
Citizens in Maine have the opportunity to counter some of the harm done by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and strengthen the state's existing Clean Election Act next Tuesday, by supporting Question 1.
The initiative requires transparency in the political process by requiring outside groups that are spending big money in support of or in opposition to state candidates to disclose their top three donors on all political ads.
It will toughen fines and penalties for those who break Maine's election laws, making candidates accountable to the people. It will strengthen the state's Clean Elections system, weakened by Citizens United, by again enabling candidates who are being outspent by "big bucks" candidates to quality for small-dollar public financing.
CWA has been working with good government and democracy allies to get Question 1 on the ballot and to get out the vote to help Maine residents "reclaim a government of, by and for the people, not a government bought and paid for by ultra-wealthy special interests."
Seattle: Getting Big Money Out of Politics
Seattle voters – in a mail ballot – are voting on whether to establish voluntary public campaign financing for city elections. The initiative would issue four $25 vouchers to registered voters in any given year that can be donated to any candidate who qualifies to participate. Candidates who choose to participate must collect a minimum number of small donations to qualify, then can exchange the vouchers they collect and receive city funds to finance their campaigns.
Other requirements include: caps on spending, limits on private contributions, a ban on fundraising on behalf of any independent groups, and mandatory participation in at least three public debates.
Alaska: Voter Registration
A broad coalition of organizations and activists is gathering signatures for a state ballot initiative to automatically register Alaska citizens to vote as they sign up for the Permanent Fund Dividend. The PFD is paid annually to Alaska citizens, based on the state's oil revenue dividends.
Participating in the effort are AFA-CWA Flight Attendants from Alaska Airlines, members of AFA-CWA Council 30.
In Anchorage, Flight Attendants Thresia Raynor, Jan Batani-Strait and Drew Lemish collect signatures from Alaskan residents supporting "auto" registration.
Flight Attendants meet in crew rooms and break rooms to talk about the benefits of auto voter registration to airline workers, and are excited about their work. Thresia Raynor, who heads the council's government affairs group, said she has yet to come across anyone signing up for payments from the Alaska Permanent Fund who did not also want to be automatically signed up to vote.
Flight Attendant Drew Lemish said, "Change starts at the local level, and the only place to go from here is up." Jan Batini-Strait, another Alaska Flight Attendant, said "By giving those residents in our state the ability to vote, it could definitely change the makeup of the political face in Alaska." Also participating in the effort are environmentalists, civic advocates, Native Alaskan groups and other union members.
California and Oregon already have laws that automatically register people to vote when they get or renew a driver's license or state identification card. Another 15 states and the District of Columbia are considering "automatic" sign up measures for voter registration.
Sanders Joins CWAers in New York Protest against Verizon
CWAers turned up at a Midtown Manhattan Verizon Wireless store this week to protest the firing of Bianca Cunningham who helped organize Verizon Wireless workers in Brooklyn.
Joining the protesters was Sen. Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor said it is not unusual to find Sanders on a picket line, election or no election.
"Last year, we were in a battle with FairPoint Communications and there was one elected official who joined us on the picket line time after time and that elected official was Bernie Sanders," Trainor said.
"All over this country, Verizon is a metaphor," Sanders told the protesters. "You've got corporate America making huge profits. Their CEOs get huge compensation packages and then with all of their money, what they do is they hire lawyers in order to make it harder for workers to survive in this country...What these companies do is use their power to cut wages, to cut healthcare benefits, to cut pensions."
Sen. Bernie Sanders joined CWAers as they protested Verizon's demands to cut job security and retirement benefits for 39,000 members of CWA and IBEW, and the firing of Bianca Cunningham who helped organize Verizon Wireless workers in Brooklyn. Bottom photo, from left: Bianca Cunningham, Sen. Bernie Sanders, CWA District 1 VP Dennis Trainor, and former CWA President Larry Cohen.
In a historic vote last year, 63 retail store workers at six Verizon Wireless stores in Brooklyn, N.Y., joined CWA Local 1109, Tony Spina, the local's president, said. Cunningham, a retail Verizon Wireless worker, led that organizing effort. At this week's protest, Trainor brought Cunningham out to huge applause and chants of "Bring Bianca Back! Bring Bianca Back!"
"Our chief bargainer, Bianca Cunningham, was caring for our members, doing her job as steward and this company fired her," Trainor said.
Cunningham said all she was trying to do, beside leading the fight to organize Verizon Wireless workers in Brooklyn, was to hold the company accountable.
"Verizon claims they cannot give you a raise and protect your pensions because landline is a dying business. Meanwhile, at the Verizon Wireless bargaining table, they are refusing to make movement on wages, they are refusing to make any movement on anything and we're all making them millions of dollars. So, we ask the question, which is it, Verizon?" Cunningham said.
Cunningham said she hopes her Brooklyn Verizon Wireless coworkers learn to replace the fear with hope and the understanding that "the only way to fight corporate greed is through organizing."
CWA has not endorsed any candidate in the presidential primary elections and is currently conducting an online poll of members to determine whether to endorse a candidate.
Bargaining Continues for Contracts Covering 39,000 at Verizon
Negotiations continued this week with Verizon, although the company continues to press for givebacks.
Missouri Public Workers
CWA Local 6355's negotiating committee reached a tentative three-year labor agreement with the Missouri Department of Social Services and Department of Health and Senior Services last week. Pending ratification, the agreement will cover more than 6,000 social and public health service workers.
CWA Local 6355 President Bradley Harmon, left, shakes hands with Guy Krause, director of personnel at the Missouri Office of Administration.
"We achieved important gains in protection from discrimination and work rules concerning leave and schedules that will help Missouri state workers achieve a more reasonable work-life balance and I'm proud of that," said Natashia Pickens, CWA Local 6355's negotiating co-chair, who works as a family services eligibility specialist in St. Louis County. "CWA members will have to continue to organize our coworkers, though, before we are able to achieve the improvements in our pay and staffing levels that Missouri's citizens need in order to get the quality of social services they deserve."
At the same time, an anti-worker majority in the Missouri General Assembly has relentlessly attacked CWA state workers in recent years. Gov. Jay Nixon has been forced to veto so-called "paycheck protection" and "right to work" legislation passed over bipartisan objections in 2014 and again this year.
Camden Public Workers Rally for Fair Contracts
CWA Local 1014 and Local 1084 members held two rallies calling attention to their fights for fair contracts. Clad in CWA red, the workers held the rallies during their lunch breaks in front of the Camden City Hall.
A contract for the 450 workers at the Camden County Board of Social Services, represented by CWA Local 1084, expired two years ago. In addition to calling for a new contract, the local is speaking out about the degradation of services being provided to the needy in the community.
CWA Local 1014, which represents a number of bargaining units throughout Camden County, is highlighting the plight of about 311 City of Camden employees. These members' quality of life has been drastically eroded in the last few years because of layoffs, furlough days, increased cost of living, zero percent raises, and the increased cost of health insurance and pension contributions, due to changes enacted by the Christie administation.
CWAers in Camden, N.J., stand together for good jobs.
AFA-CWA and United Airlines Continue Contract Mediation
The AFA-CWA Joint Negotiating Committee completed its first mediation session with United Airlines management last week. The negotiations cover 24,000 Flight Attendants from United, Continental and Continental Micronesia Airlines.
Mediation will resume in Chicago on November 3, 2015.
Envoy Airport Agents Begin Voting for a Union This Week
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, thousands of Envoy agents began voting at airports around the country on whether to join CWA.
Voting will continue until Nov. 24. Agents have fought long and hard for this election and the opportunity to bargain their own wages and set workplace rules.
Envoy agents at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport remind coworkers to be on the lookout for mail with their ballots to vote for joining CWA.
"I want organized, fair working conditions," said Ana Whittemore, who works at Miami International Airport.
Adam Scott, who works at Tucson International Airport, said, "I'm voting for the union because I hate to see my co-workers leave. Together we are stronger."
Adam Webster, an agent at Portland International Airport, said, "The union will help everyone that works here."
Beaver Creek Ski Instructors Launch Organizing Drive
In Colorado, CWA is helping Beaver Creek ski instructors organize what could be the nation's first ski instructors' union.
"This business is inherently dangerous," CWA Organizer Al Kogler told The Aspen Times. "They put their lives on hold for months to provide a great and safe guest experience."
The goal of Beaver Creek Instructors United is to bring equity and dignity to the job. Kogler said, "These are not just surfer dudes who disappear at the end of every ski season. Some of these instructors have been at this for 40 years."
CWA currently represents ski patrollers in four resorts: Steamboat Springs, CO; Crested Butte, CO; Canyons, UT; and Telluride, CO. A fifth group in Taos, NM, will vote on CWA representation in November.
CWA President Chris Shelton has been named to The Hill's annual list of top grassroots lobbyists.
The political newspaper writes, "Shelton, who was elected president of the union this summer, leads a group that is willing to spar with telecom giants over their treatment of workers."
The Hill uses the term "lobbyist" broadly to "encompass a larger picture of Washington's influence industry," and those recognized "all have demonstrated a knack for making things happen."
Has Verizon been promising consumers faster Internet speed than it's been delivering?
That is what the New York State Attorney General's Office wants to find out in a far reaching probe of Internet service providers in the state announced by Tim Wu, a senior enforcement counsel in the AG's office, this week.
"This office is concerned that, for reasons substantially within Verizon's control, consumers may not be experiencing the speeds advertised," Wu said, contending that Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are misleading customers with slower-than-advertised speeds.
In a still ongoing investigation, the Federal Communications Commission is also questioning the companies for their download speeds.
"New Yorkers deserve the internet speeds they pay for. But, it turns out, many of us may be paying for one thing, and getting another," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "Families pay a huge cost already for Internet access in New York, so I will not tolerate a situation in which they aren't getting what they have been promised."
Investigators are particularly concerned whether customers who pay for premium Internet packages are receiving the speeds that are advertised. Wu asked the companies to respond to several questions about their policies by Nov. 8.
CWA President Chris Shelton commented on news reports that revealed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will give big banks yet another way to challenge needed regulation of Wall Street:
"At this point, I'm not surprised that the TPP includes additional legal protections for big banks that will allow them to challenge or undermine financial rules adopted by the U.S. Congress.
While we haven't yet seen this 'secret' deal yet, because U.S. negotiators refuse to make it public, news reports are confirming that under the TPP, banks will be able to use the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process to challenge financial rules that they claim are 'arbitrary.' In fact, if the reports are accurate, the TPP will give banks a broader right to use the ISDS process than they have ever been given by any previous U.S. Free Trade Agreement, because it will allow them to file suits charging that they haven't been provided a loosely defined 'minimum standard of treatment.' As we've seen industry after industry challenge all sorts of public interest laws under this broken ISDS system, it makes no sense to make it easier for banks to launch ISDS challenges than it's ever been in any other FTA.
As Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others have pointed out, banks will likely use this language to raise challenges to common sense banking requirements. That means a panel of three lawyer-arbitrators will determine what regulations should govern the big banks, not U.S. lawmakers and regulators.
This is just one of many bad provisions in the TPP. Working families still are recovering from the Great Recession that caused millions to suffer from lost jobs and slashed wages. The bankers who caused this economic meltdown got bailouts and bonuses, yet they're being rewarded yet again with the ability to challenge the kind of common sense reforms of the financial industry that our nation needs. We need real financial reform, including a tax on speculative financial transactions and an end to banks being able to co-mingle depositor dollars and Wall Street money, not more 'Wall Street Gone Wild.'
CWA and our allies in our broad coalition of environmental, good government, faith, consumer, immigration and other groups are calling on Congress to reject this bad trade deal, and negotiate a trade agreement that works for working families and communities."
CWA's poll for members to make their voices heard on whether or not CWA should endorse a candidate for president is continuing at the union's political website, www.cwavotes.org.
This is where members will find information about all the declared candidates. The poll will stay open into early December and will help determine if CWA endorses and whether a single candidate has overwhelming support from the membership. It is important that this poll reflect the views of as many members as possible, so make sure your co-workers know about the site.
At the District 4 meeting in Madison, Wisc., CWA members take advantage of kiosk voting machines at registration to cast their vote on whether and who CWA should endorse for the Presidential election.
U.S. airlines should be competing with other airlines, not the treasuries of wealthy nations, AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson writes in a recent op-ed in The Hill.
Nelson points out that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have poured more than $42 billion in subsidies into their state-owned airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways. As a result, they threaten to "choke out the U.S. aviation industry" by undercutting competitors' prices – a direct violation of the Open Skies agreements that keep governments from interfering with carriers' routes, capacity, and pricing.
"The U.S. has 117 Open Skies agreements and the UAE and Qatar are the only countries breaking the rules. These agreements only work when both sides abide by them, which is not the case with the Gulf carriers.
These Gulf carriers have expanded rapidly without creating any meaningful new demand; instead, they are flooding the U.S. with new subsidized flights in an effort to dominate global aviation. Since the beginning of the year, the three Gulf carriers have announced they are expanding service to the U.S. by a whopping 25 percent. This is threatening American jobs, routes and service for travelers. Leading economists and industry experts estimate that every international roundtrip flight lost by a U.S. carrier results in the elimination of more than 800 American jobs.
Following Emirates' subsidized entry into four key markets, bookings on U.S. carriers and their joint venture partners dropped an average of 10.8 percent in Boston, 7.6 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth, 21.4 percent in Seattle and 14.3 percent in Washington, D.C. The harm inflicted by the decline in bookings over time will result in cuts in service to these and other American cities by the U.S. carriers, who cannot rely on a blank government checkbook to keep those flights operating."
AFA-CWA urges the Obama administration take action to ensure all airlines are competing on a level playing field. Read the full op-ed here.
The AFL-CIO is launching the National Survey of Working Women to understand better the challenges that working women face, whether it's on the job, balancing work and family, or leading in our communities.
To participate, click here and complete the survey to say what stands between you and prosperity, and what rule changes are needed to create a better life for all workers. Responses to the survey questions, which will be anonymous, should take about 15 minutes to complete.
It's no secret that women face unique obstacles balancing family and work. But the truth is that women are not some special interest group. Women want the same things all Americans want: fair pay and an economy that works for everyone.
It's time for working women to use their own voices to tell America their story. The AFL-CIO will use the anonymous responses to publish a report, bringing the voices of real working women to the table. Spend just a few minutes of your time, and share the survey with your co-workers and friends so their voices can be heard, too.
Workers must be as proactive as possible to minimize their exposure to hazardous working conditions, according to Dave LeGrande, CWA's occupational safety and health director.
The reason? While chemical companies say, "trust us," their numerous environmental and workplace safety violations clearly demonstrate that self-regulation doesn't work.
"We need to identify occupational and environmental safety and health as a top priority in the union's collective bargaining efforts; in our occupational safety and health training and action efforts; and in our political and legislative efforts to ensure adequate funding for national and state OSHAs, as well as other key agencies such as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and EPA," LeGrande said. "With support from CWA headquarters, these efforts need to include all CWA districts, sectors, and local unions."
CWA activists gathered in Pittsburgh this week to participate in the CWA/USW occupational safety and health train-the-trainer program. With help from an NIEHS grant, workers learned and practiced how to develop a union approach to identifying and resolving occupational safety and health hazards and issues. In turn, local union participants will conduct safety and health training with other union activists throughout the country.
And earlier this month, CWA joined the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters in sending a letter to President Obama, warning him that his August 2013 executive order directing EPA and other agencies to modernize their regulations has yet to yield new safety regulations. The coalition highlighted a new poll that shows that strong majorities across gender, age, race, partisanship, and region support new requirements to use safer chemicals and processes. Check out the full results here.
Big money in our politics is a huge part of why we don't have better regulation and laws to keep more workers safe from chemical accidents. Between 2012 and 2014, the chemical industry spent at least $182 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies. And 70 percent of the registered lobbyists at the American Chemistry Council, the chemical companies' major trade association, previously held jobs in Congress or the executive branch.
CWA is not accepting the status quo. Our fight for democracy means getting big money out of our politics, protecting the environment and safeguarding workplace health and safety. These issues are all interconnected.
Why do we need to be so vigilant?
A new Center for Effective Government report found that too few chemicals have been tested for safety and too few chemical manufacturing facilities are inspected. As EPA, OSHA, NIEHS and NIOSH deal with smaller and smaller budgets, the resources of our state and local enforcement agencies are also being reduced. And even when we identify serious violations, the penalties are way too minor, making them a small cost of doing business for massive multinational corporations. Check out the rest of the study's findings here.
Jobs to Move America, a partner with IUE-CWA in helping to create opportunity for good manufacturing jobs, needs CWAers' help.
The group has applied for a grant to help fund its "Modern Rosies Project," to increase recruitment, training, hiring, and support for women in manufacturing, especially in the Los Angeles area transit manufacturing industry.
Your online vote for the "Modern Rosies Project" could help move this project forward. The $100,000 grant would enable Jobs to Move America to partner with educational institutions and create more manufacturing job opportunities for women.
The grants are being awarded by LA2050, an organization of Los Angeles citizens, groups, stakeholders, and policymakers – and backed by the Goldhirsch Foundation – working together to make Los Angeles a better place to "learn, create, play, connect and live," for all residents.
To vote for the "Modern Rosies Project," click here. You can review the video application submitted for the Modern Rosies Project, then click vote. Votes will be accepted until 3pm EST/noon PST on Nov. 3, 2015.