CWA President Chris Shelton Remarks to District 9 Leadership Conference

Thank you for that terrific introduction, Tom.  But let me thank you for something more; and that’s your leadership in seeing to it that this incredible union of ours remains what we’ve always been – a powerful voice for working class Californians, Nevadans and Hawaiians.   Let’s give Tom a round of applause!

But there are some other people who deserve a hand – they’re more important than me or Tom or anyone else sitting up here: and that’s all of you!  There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in awe of your commitment, inspired by your militancy, and humbled that you chose me as our union’s president!

Sisters and brothers, you are the heart and the soul of the Communications Workers of America!  Stand up and give yourselves a hand. God knows you’ve earned it!

Today, we’re building our union at a time when working people and their unions are under attack as never before. Right to Work, the assault on public sector bargaining, legislation, litigation – they’re throwing the kitchen sink at us!

Well, today I want to send them a message: it’s that CWA is here to stay.  Sisters and brothers, we’re standing up, we’re fighting back, and -- as always -- when CWA fights, we fight to win!  We are union and we’re proud of it!

All of us here today understand that the American labor movement is the foundation of the middle class. There’s only one reason we’re able to afford good homes.  Or make sure our families can see good doctors.  There’s only one reason we’re able to save a few bucks to help send our kids to college.  And it’s not because any employer wanted it, or because the law required it.  No.  It’s because you organized for it.  It’s because you mobilized for it.  It’s because you stood up, pushed back, and fought for it!   

Strong! United! All of us together!

That’s what it means to be union! And that strength – that union pride – has never been more important than it is today.

We never get everything every member deserves.  But we fight for it.  And, when it’s all said and done, we’ve bargained the best possible deal for our members.  Sure, we have some disappointments. But, you know something? If we don’t aim high, we won’t achieve anything.

Just look at how hard our members had to work to win new contracts last year with the UC system, at ABC, Verizon West, and other employers – public sector and private sector – big and small – in every corner of this region.  At Comcast we’re fighting off our umpteenth decert.

And, of course, we’re still in negotiations with Verizon as it transitions to Frontier.   Make no mistake: we’re in some hard bargaining. 

That’s why I want to give a big shout to our Verizon Locals:

9003, 9400, 9408, 9510, 9575, 9586 and 9588 that has mobilized and has been leading the fight to protect our members’ rights during the sale to Frontier. I especially want to recognize Jeanette LiVolsi-McKovich of 9400 who coordinated this work statewide. 

But in these tough times, we also have to focus on growing our movement.  Sisters and brothers, we cannot survive as an island in a non-union sea!  The labor movement has a sacred obligation to organize the unorganized and that’s what we’ve been doing!

Over the past year, we’ve had some terrific successes to celebrate.  Look at how we’ve organized:

Public safety officers in Nevada, electronic warfare techs at the Naval Air Station in El Centro, and the Miramar Marine Station right here in San Diego, and in Las Vegas, where we organized workers at that insane asylum masquerading as a TV network – Fox broadcasting.   Those are just some of the victories. 

Let’s just take a moment to salute each of these locals for their commitment to bringing new members into our family.  

Please stand with your District’s Organizing Coordinator, John Dugan and be recognized:

The ATT locals who are organizing our sisters and brothers at DirecTV:

9003, 9400, 9408, 9413, 9414, 9415, 9416, 9417, 9419, 9421, 9423, 9504, 9505, 9509, 9510. And I want to give special acknowledgement to 9421, 9003, and 9413 who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to build our campaign.  And it doesn’t stop there.

TNG 39521 -- stand up and be recognized for organizing language workers, including the ESL teachers at St. Giles up in San Francisco.

Locals 9413, 9333, 9408, 9509 and 9511 --- stand up and be recognized for organizing the new Cricket stores in Nevada and California under our card check agreement.

Join me in thanking these sisters and brothers for building our union.

And, on behalf of our entire International union, I want to thank District Nine for the vital role you played in two of our most important victories ever in the airline industry.

One was at American Airlines, where your work won union representation for the passenger service agents. They’re now part of the Teamsters, but both of our unions are going to be speaking with one voice when it comes to guaranteeing that American Airlines respects the rights and the dignity of all of its employees.   And, of course, there was our victory at Envoy Air, where we won an election for 4,200 passenger service and ramp agents, bringing in approximately 400 new members to District Nine.

Sisters and brothers, last year you proved again that, when it comes to organizing, there are a lot of unions that talk the talk, but in CWA, we always walk the walk!

This year we’re facing another kind of challenge.  Next month we’ll be kicking off bargaining at one of our largest employers, ATT.  Does ATT have enough money for a fair settlement?   You be the judge.

Over the past five years, they’ve paid their corporate officers and directors over $300 million dollars.  But even more outrageous is the amount of money Wall Street squeezed out of the company:  more than $76 billion in dividend payments and stock buy-backs that are used to boost their stock prices.

Our fight at ATT has one objective: preserving and improving the best jobs in the communications industry.   This bargaining will be a struggle.   And, as always, it’s the members and their unity that will make a difference. Our solidarity in the ranks!  Our unity in the leadership!   And an absolute commitment to mobilize, to fight, and win our fair share! And, I want to tell you today that every ATT unit – and our entire union – is going to stand with you every step of the way!

Mobilization and unity.  That’s not only key to winning at ATT, but fundamental to stopping the advances corporate America is making in their one-sided class war on working families.

The billionaire class has never been better organized.  Just look at the TPP – their new Bill of Rights for corporate exploitation.  It’s a plan that would pit American workers against some of the most exploited men, women – and children – in the world.  Children: boys and girls who, as we speak, are slaving away in the sweatshops of Vietnam and Malaysia and Brunei.  But when we go to Congress and the White House and talk about child labor and how we’re going to lose jobs to countries that exploit kids and other workers, you know what they say?

“Hey, don’t worry about it. Look at all the great language we wrote on labor standards.”

Well, sisters and brothers, how are they going to protect workers’ rights in places like Vietnam and Malaysia and Brunei if they can’t protect them here at home?  Some people are going to make a lot of money off the TPP, but it won’t be workers here and it sure won’t be any of those kids in Southeast Asia.

Sisters and brothers, we have only one message to Congress. It’s time to make a choice: you’re either for working people or the corporations.  And if you refuse to stand with us against the TPP, we will never stand with you!

And corporate America isn’t only attacking labor in the private sector; they’ve taken aim at everyone who works for the government as well.  In Michigan, Wisconsin, and other states, Republican governors have made it priority one to gut collective bargaining rights and turn unions that represent public workers into paper tigers. 

Sisters and brothers, by June, we expect the Supreme Court to outlaw agency shops in the public sector.  The case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  But Friedrichs and the other plaintiffs are just a few teachers with chips on their shoulders.  No. They’re backed up by an outfit that calls itself the Center for Individual Rights.  And who is behind the Center for Individual Rights?  Groups like the Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund.  And who is behind them?  The Koch Brothers and their billionaire friends!

Now, because our convention had the foresight to create the Growth Fund, we’ve already launched a program to turn agency fee payers into members.  The clock is ticking and across the country, our public sector locals are doubling down – signing up fee payers as members. 

But even if every union did the same, the labor movement will take a catastrophic hit. And that’s the whole point.  Because guys like the Koch brothers and the rest of the billionaire class want it all – and the weaker the labor movement becomes, the more likely it is they’re going to get it.

You know, 50 years ago, nearly a third of the workers in this country belonged to a union. Today?  It’s one in 10.  Look at the private sector alone — it’s even worse – one in 15.  That’s why the US now has greater income inequality than any major developed country on earth.

That’s why the wealth gap between the very rich and everyone else in this country is wider now than at any time since the 1920s. That’s why, for the vast majority of Americans, wages are the same – or less – than what they were in 1979.

Parents, who ought to be able to raise their kids on one paycheck, now working two or three part-time jobs each just to cover their mortgage and keep food on the table.

It’s to the point where a lot of them can’t imagine it being any other way.

Sure, for the billionaire class, life’s never been better. But the rest of us have been left behind.  Despite all the hype about the recovery, the overall poverty rate in America is 15 percent. Outrageous? Absolutely!  But as disgraceful as that is, consider this: the poverty rate for Latinos is 24 percent.  And the African American poverty rate? 27 percent!!

Today, a child born to a poor African American family up in west Oakland lives an average of 15 years less than a child born to a better off white family just a few miles away.  And what does the corporate elite tell us?  That it’s their own damn fault. There’re plenty of jobs – they’re just not looking.

Well, sisters and brothers, if people look they will find jobs, but what they won’t find are ones offering the wages and the benefits they need to raise their families!

And there’s only one way that’s ever going to change.  It’s by electing a president who knows that poverty’s a disease and that the best medicine will always be a strong union contract!

It’s by electing a president who understands that Congress isn’t regulating Wall Street; it’s Wall Street that’s regulating Congress and the only way that’s ever going to change is by driving a stake through Citizens United once and for all.   It’s by electing a president who has pushed back against every single trade deal that has cost American jobs. 

A president who is going to break up the big banks and see to it they give back the money they stole.  A president who wasn’t afraid to get arrested fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, who spoke out for marriage equality and LGBT rights before it was politically safe, and who had the judgment and the courage to stand up to George Bush and Dick Cheney to try to stop their war in Iraq.

Sisters and brothers, it’s by electing a president who has walked with us on our picket lines, spoke at our rallies, and taken our cause to Capitol Hill -- not because someone had to convince him to do it -- but because he wanted to do it!

Sisters and brothers, that’s the kind of leader America wants!  That’s the kind of leader America needs!   And that’s the kind of leader we’re going to have when we elect Bernie Sanders president of the United States!

You know, our endorsement of Bernie Sanders wasn’t preordained.  As you remember, we asked our members if they wanted CWA to endorse in the presidential race and, if they did, who we ought to get behind.  We said that whatever they told us was what we’d do.

Not every union operates that way, but not every union is CWA.  So, we had a poll. It was open for three months.  Members could vote, change their minds – but only their last vote counted and we filtered out any votes from non-CWAers.  The members’ choice? Bernie Sanders. And that’s who we endorsed.  And I want to tell you that, for as long as I’ve been part of this union, I have never seen our members more pumped for a candidate than they are for Bernie.

Sisters and brothers, we’re fired up! We’re in it to win it! And that’s exactly what we intend to do!

We’re organizing more political boot camps than ever to help our members gain the skills they’ll need to get out and talk to other CWAers about what’s at stake in this election.  We’ve already begun mobilizing our members in New Hampshire, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, Georgia, Minnesota and, of course, Nevada.  And I hope that, regardless of what part of this district you’re from, you’ll be organizing your members to help our District Nine brothers and sisters win the Nevada caucus for Bernie.

Now on the Republican side, the leader of the pack is Donald Trump.  I don’t understand it. I knew him in New York and I can’t believe a bankrupted reality TV show star is leading the Republican polls.

But the Trump appeal to folks is real. Government has stopped working for us.  Our standard of living is stagnant and not rising.  Many are afraid of the future, and Trump taps into those fears and makes an emotional appeal for their support.  He claims he’s on our side, but he’s not.  He is the billionaire class…not one of us.  His plan is to make his billionaire friends richer. 

Some of our members like what Trump has to say about trade and its time to shake up Washington….all of us would agree…and those folks like us would flip to Bernie if they knew what Trump was really all about.    And we’re the folks who can get through to them.  The news media can’t.  No. It’s up to us because we know that there are few things more persuasive than getting the facts – face to face – from a co-worker.

For instance, we need to explain to them that while Trump talks a good game about standing up the middle-class, his tax plan would give the top one percent in this country a huge tax cut.  And the top one-tenth of that one percent? He’d cut their taxes by millions of dollars!

For all his talk about all the terrible stuff immigration is doing to American workers, he’s been using – and abusing --- immigrant workers for years.

The Trump Tower in Manhattan - beautiful building.  You know who did the demolition work to build it?  Two hundred Polish workers, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime.   Some of them were paid $5 an hour or less -- when they were paid at all!

Sisters and brothers, I spent my entire adult life in the New York labor movement.  I’ve seen how Trump operates and I’ve got to tell you that a worker voting for Donald Trump is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders!

We have more information about Trump – and we’ll be getting it out to you – but what it all comes down to is telling them the truth: Trump is a fake, but there is someone running for president who’s going to fight for good jobs and change Washington forever – it’s Bernie Sanders!

I think you know what I’m talking about.

The 2008 Obama campaign was a marvel to behold.  Millions of Americans came together to elect a man who ran on our agenda.  And then what happened after he was elected? Nothing. In so many words they told us, “show’s over, time to go home.”   I think the takeaway from that – the moral of the story – is that, regardless of who we elect, progressives need to keep their powder dry.  That’s why our message to labor is that, no matter who’s elected, unions need to be an independent political force that can hold our so-called friends accountable, and mobilize the kind of support our real friends need to move our agenda forward.

I should add that I’m not only talking the labor movement, but environmentalists, the civil rights community, and grassroots activists all across this country who share our vision and who are willing to fight to make it a reality. We don’t need letterhead coalitions; we need to organize working partnerships.

It’s something CWA’s already doing:  In New York, we took the lead in creating the Working Families Party, an independent political force that’s brought together progressives to elect our own and, at the same time, move Democrats to the left.  Today, it has branches in DC and six more states and more are on the way.

We’re part of the Democracy Initiative: 51 organizations representing 35 million Americans who are standing together to defend voting rights, get corporate money out of politics, and put an end to the gerrymandering that’s locking progressives out of Congress and state legislatures. And we’re joining forces with our allies to combat financialization.

As I’ve said, for 40 years:  Working people have been under attack.  The billionaire class has been waging war on public and private sector unions.  The top one percent has reaped all the growth in America’s wealth while everyone else’s income stagnates.  Good jobs are being exported.  And corporate America has bought off the government with a campaign finance system that’s rotten to the core.  This is what financialization is all about: Wall Street and the big banks devouring this country’s wealth and leaving only a few crumbs on the plates of the workers who created it.

Sisters and brothers, that’s not the kind of America I want to leave for my kids and I don’t think that’s the kind of America you want to leave to your kids, either!

On February 2nd, we’ll be launching an internal mobilization to help build a movement to challenge Wall Street and the Big Banks.  We will be joined by two of the most important national leaders in this movement—Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.  They’ll be talking about the importance of this campaign, and the steps we need to take. A lot of them are ideas Bernie Sanders has been talking about like breaking up the big banks, taxing Wall Street speculation so we can make public higher education free for all.

We’ll also be laying out a new membership education and training program that we plan to roll out across our union in 2016. Sisters and brothers, if you want to make America work for working people again, you will want to get involved!

You’ll hear more about financialization later today from Les Leopold, but what it all comes down to is Wall Street strip-mining companies, taking what workers produce, and robbing countless Americans of their jobs and pensions in the process.  Ultimately, it’s all about exercising real political strength and putting it to work for working people.

And in District Nine, we’ve been busy in politics and legislation this past year…leading the way on national priorities like stopping the TPP and making an example of Ami Bera.   

We’re on a path to deeper and greater political activity.   Just look at what you’ve done in this district:  In Nevada, you organized to keep a Republican Governor and legislature from gutting protections that working people fought years to win.

Let’s salute the CWA leaders who led the fight:

Liz Sorenson from the National

Rick McCann, Local 9110

Matt Richardson, Local 9110

Mark Ellis, CWA Local 9413

Jeff Martens, IUE/CWA Local 89119

Over the course of these last months, your District mobilized and carried out one of the most effective campaigns against the TPP anywhere in this country.

I want to recognize the men and women who took on that fight:

Darrin Thompson, 9003

Mark Morris, 9003

Sean Heape, 9400

Karen Macias, 9400

John Talbot, 9404

Stan Santos, 9408

Robert England, 9416

Robert Longer, 9421

Adrian Regalado, 9421

Heladio Saldivar, 9421

Jesse Whitney, 9421

Todd Knappau, 9423

Maya Austin, 9505

Orlando Gonzales,  9509

Sal Espinosa, 9509

Martina Rangel Ortega, 9588

And since we’re talking about building strength, there’s one person I especially want to single out for his leadership: Ernie Pacheco of Local 9412 who has done so much to build our alliance with the environmental community and uniting us in our opposition to the TPP.

Sisters and brothers, I don’t want to take up much more of your time.  I’ve always been a big believer in the proposition that speeches ought to end the same day they begin.

But I’d like to leave you with a quote. This one from Martin Luther King who once said:  “The time is always right to do what is right.”  And that’s never been truer than in 2016.

There are those who say that backing Bernie isn’t realistic.   There are those who say that working with environmentalists and others really isn’t in labor’s interest.  Still others who think that, when times are tough, the best strategy is to centralize decision-making. Tell everyone to shut up and get with the program.

Well, sisters and brothers, in CWA we don’t follow the herd.  We understand that if you fight for what you want, you may not always win, but if you refuse to fight, you’re certain to lose.

We understand that true union power can never be mandated from the top down; that it grows from the grassroots up.  We believe labor’s mission isn’t only to speak out for justice on the job, but to fight for it in the community.

We’re a union that understands that democracy isn’t an obstacle to union strength – by God, in CWA, it’s the key to union strength.

Sisters and brothers, I’m here to tell you that, in 2016, we’re not going to hold back; we’re going to push back.  We’re pushing back against AT&T.  We’re pushing back against Wall Street!  We’re pushing back against the Koch brothers!  We’re pushing back against Trump!  We’re going to push back against every Democrat who refuses to get off their ass and fight for unions!

Sisters and brothers, we’re going to push back to elect Bernie Sanders!  This is the year for a political revolution to take this country back for the workers who built it.  This is our moment to put corporate America on the defense!

Sisters and brothers, the time is always right to do what’s right! Standing together, proud, and united, we will make it happen!