Remarks of CWA President Chris Shelton to District 4 Members and Leaders

Sisters and brothers, I’m glad to be here with all of you in District 4 today. I want to take a few minutes to recognize Linda Hinton, the staff, and all the terrific local leaders of District 4. You have taken on governors and elected leaders in every state in your district -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio -- who want to wipe out our bargaining and voting rights.

You’ve mobilized citizens and allies to fight back.  We kicked ass on SB5 in Ohio and beat back the attempt to eliminate collective bargaining.  You’ve built LPATs that deliver top results for our national programs like fighting back against Fast Track and collecting T-Mobile petitions. You know firsthand about the special interests who want nothing more than to push all of us back to the days when workers had no voice on the job.

Thank you for all you do in these tough times and for what I know you will continue tomorrow and in the future as we move forward together. 

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It pisses me off to read how Wall Street and the one percent -- and especially the one percent of the one percent -- couldn’t be happier, while we who live on Main Street are still struggling. That’s not a prescription for a sound economy.   The greed of the richest of the rich knows no bounds. 

We all know a new TPP agreement has been reached.  Of course, we don’t know what’s in yet, but we do know the very last issue on the table –  and we all know that it is always the most important issue – was our government demanding the rest of the world to bend to the demands of the big drug companies for longer monopolies and bans on cheaper generic drugs. Think about it. The last issue wasn’t labor rights, or environmental rights, or human rights that our government was fighting so hard to defend. It was for the owners of the drug companies and their profits.

These people are scum.  The worst of them, a hedge fund operator named Martin Shrekli, bought a life-saving aids/HIV drug and raised the price 5,000 percent.   What kind of greedy pig is this guy? You can’t get much lower than denying life-saving drugs to millions around the world while jacking up your profits. The only kind of government protection he deserves is jail time.

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Bargaining has been especially tough these past few years.  Our negotiators are top notch and we’re not leaving money on the table.  Our mobilization is strong. In every bargaining session, and I’ve been doing it for 35 years, there are things we wish we’d won and didn’t achieve, and sometimes our members don’t understand why we don’t get everything they want. 

Let’s take a moment to celebrate what we do bargain.  Ninety-three percent of Americans working in the private sector don’t even have that right. Let’s celebrate that we are protecting our members and our biggest contracts still are making improvements in our living standards.  Let’s celebrate the tentative contract just reached at AT&T Southeast, where our members will see their living standards go up just as we negotiated in D4.

Let’s celebrate that we’ve finished an industry-leading, first contract for 15,000 passenger service workers at American Airlines, who fought for their union voice for 19 years.  We preserved jobs at GE.  And we will negotiate another industry leading contract at United Airlines.

But we are going to have to change the power equation in bargaining.  Wall Street and the CEOs have too much, and like all of you, I know that our members deserve more. It’s up to us to double down on our commitment to build the movement for change and build our union to create a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Now I don’t know about you, but my granddaughters have me wrapped around their little fingers, and I’m not going to disappoint them.  We have to make our Union stronger and more united to succeed. 

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Last week, I was at the AT&T Mobility conference.  I was proud to be a part of the great energy and commitment to union building that our Mobility leaders have.  In the worst atmosphere for organizing in 100 years, we are growing in wireless -- at Cricket, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile USA.  In the past year, over 1,200 Cricket workers in 150 stores joined our union, including over 100 in District 4, under the neutrality and card check provisions we fought for and negotiated with AT&T. 

We have had 80 Verizon Wireless workers in seven stores withstand a blistering anti-union campaign to join our union in Brooklyn, New York, and Everett, Massachusetts.  We have had hundreds of T-Mobile members join TU, overcoming massive management pressure.

I told the Mobility workers about the White House Summit on Workers’ Voice that I attended, along with Abbey Parrish, a T-Mobile worker from Wichita. Abbey spoke about what it’s like to work in a non-union shop.  She was amazing. Abbey talked about the culture of fear at T-Mobile and how you can be loyal to your union and also want your company to succeed.  But at T-Mobile, management’s ruthlessness and its willingness to fire even the best performers makes most people afraid to talk about the Union.  She talked about low pay -- describing what it was like to look out her window and see six cars repossessed from the employee parking lot over the last eight months.

We are going to fix that culture of fear and create space to organize for T-Mobile workers like Abbey.  District 4 delivered big time on petitions asking the German Congress, the Bundestag, to investigate union busting at T-Mobile U.S.  And on November 30, there will be a historic German investigation into U.S. union busting. We can’t get the US Congress to do hearings but we’re getting it done in Germany with help from our partners in ver.di, a German union. We're doing this for T-Mobile but also for everyone else.

We know that every time we sit across the table and bargain with AT&T, the gains we can make are limited as long as workers in the majority of wireless and cable companies have no union presence.   On a global scale, ver.di members know it too.

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We must organize internally and externally to strengthen our union.  I’d like to recognize District 4 Locals who have been successful in organizing new members this year.  Stand up and be recognized:

Local 4250​ organized 10 employees at Procom Security.

Chicago Newspaper Guild Local 34071 ​won an election covering 21 members at the Chicago Reader.

Local 4202​ organized 77 former Cricket Retail employees in Illinois.

Local 4320​ organized 34 former Cricket Retail employees in Ohio.

Local 4603​ organized 12 former Cricket Retail employees in Wisconsin.

NABET-CWA Local 54041​organized 23 workers at CAN­-TV in Chicago.

Local 4340 ​organized 90 employees at the Cuyahoga Clerk of Courts.

And your newest Local 4201, with almost 800 American Airlines agents throughout D4, who won their election last year.

And that’s not all. This week, the National Mediation Board mailed voting instructions to thousands of Envoy passenger agents nationwide, giving them the chance to vote for a union voice.

Our Organizing Director Sandy Rusher, with D4’s Susan Baxter Fleming and D3’s Celia Cody, have done a great job coordinating this complex campaign with agents in 110 airports.  Over 1,000 of those voting are here in D4.  Most of these agents make less than $11.00 per hour and have to work over 60 hours a week to make ends meet.

I want to thank all of you who have been working to support these agents at Envoy and especially Joy Roberts, Tim Case, Pam Wynn, and Diane Jones.

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We face a massive court challenge for public sector members.   By next June, the Supreme Court will reverse 50 years of legal and legislative history and make the entire public sector “right to work, ” in the so-called Friedrichs case.   This will weaken unions and working families’ ability to bargain a better standard of living.

But we are not sitting still. We’ve launched a “CWA Stronger” campaign to sign up 25,000 non-members and make them a part of our movement. Ohio CWA leaders are taking the lead and are determined to turn the attack on public sector unions into an opportunity to build stronger, more active locals. 

We’re relearning the lesson: we must reach out and that when we ask our folks, they will join.  

Forty officers, stewards and organizers from Locals 4300, 4302, 4309, 4319, 4320, 4322, 4340, 4372, 4501, and 4502 already have met to discuss strategy and make plans to strengthen our membership.  Stand up and be recognized.

With support from National Staff, Local 4501 President Kevin Kee hosted a weeklong internal organizing blitz at Ohio State University, and in five days, 11 activists from Local 4501, along with retirees and activists from Locals 4309, 4310, 4322, and 4818 signed up 147 new members.  Great job.  We have to continue to build on this strength.

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We’ve entered the presidential political season.  As part of that process, and our democratic tradition, we’ve launched an online poll to give our members an opportunity to tell me and the Executive Board whether we should make an endorsement in the Presidential Primary, and if so, which candidate should CWA endorse.

You have a flyer on your table with the website for members to weigh in on whether CWA should endorse a candidate. Members also can choose their first, second and third choice for President.

You can vote at http://cwavotes.org.

Please distribute the flyers through your worksites and ask members—no matter what their political views—to vote in the poll, and to volunteer for the election or contribute to our Political Action Fund.  I want to hear from as many members as possible, because it’s the members’ voice that matters.   Our endorsement means nothing if our members are not behind it.

I know there is support for Sanders, Clinton, and even some for the man with the Big Hair.  We are a democratic union.  And unlike some others, I’ve said that we will endorse the presidential candidate our members choose.  But, I want you to know one more thing.  If our members vote to endorse Donald Trump, I’m going to have to find another union.

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To take back our democracy we need to get rid of the big corrupting influence of money in politics.   Our battle cry is money out, voters in!

There are several paths to kicking big money from polluting our system:  a democratic election in the Fall of 2016 will ensure a majority of Supreme Court Justices who will seize the opportunity to overturn Citizens United and declare money does not equal speech. 

At the local and state level, we can enact Public Financing for elections. This reform provides matching contributions for community or small donor contributions to a campaign.   

This year, Seattle will take up a ballot measure to give every voter a voucher to donate to the candidate of their choice.  In Maine, there is a ballot initiative to clean up election financing and accountability.  I hope to read the headlines after this November election day:  From coast to coast – Seattle to Maine – people have spoken to take back their political process.

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Ohio is where our presidential election will be decided.  And the anti-union billionaires have been trying to tilt the playing field to stop working people from voting. 

In 2004, Democratic precincts got 17 fewer voting machines than in 2000, while Republican precincts got 8 more.  In the end, an estimated 174,000 Ohioans left their lines before voting. And George Bush won the state by 118,000 votes.

In 2011 and 2012, 27 new laws in 19 states have put new limits on voting. Very restrictive voter ID laws were introduced in 37 states. But we are fighting back. We must turn around the voting debate – from false worries on fraud to the right to vote and duty of government to make this right of citizenship readily available.  Voter fraud is a fraud. 

Since 2000, there were 31 cases of in person voter fraud out of a billion votes cast.  So why the focus on restricting voting?  The anti-union billionaires are the one percent and to win, they need to prevent the 99 percent from voting.

For you and I who have to show an ID to go to work everyday, we might ask what’s the big deal with voter ID?  Ask a student in Texas who cannot use a state issued student ID to vote, but can use their state issued gun license to vote. Ask the African Americans in the 30 Alabama counties that are 75 percent minority, where the Governor closed DMV offices after signing a law requiring voter ID.

Ask North Carolina citizen Rosanell Eaton, a 94-year old woman, and one of the plaintiffs in the case against the North Carolina voter suppression laws. Growing up in the Jim Crow South, she was forced to recite the entire preamble to the Constitution from memory without missing a word just to be allowed to register to vote. Now, despite decades of voting history, because her name appears in slightly different forms across her birth certificate, driver’s license, and voter registration card, the new laws potentially block her from voting.

Many women who have changed their name following marriage or divorce have a similar issue with their identification.  Some 10 percent of Americans – seniors, students, and low income Americans -- don’t have a government ID. There should never be obstacles between citizens and the right to vote. 

In Ohio, we are pushing for internet registration, while in North Carolina, they want to eliminate same day registration and voting. They want to fix the game.  And we won’t let them. Democracy belongs to us all.

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Brothers and sisters, we are a union.  We fight for workers’ rights and workplace benefits.    But we can only achieve our top priorities if we stop letting the 1 percent pollute our politics, and to do that, we must get big money out and all voters in.   We must engage in broad movement fights -- like ending Wall Street abuse and ensuring that all have the right to vote -- and make these causes number two on our agenda. Otherwise, our voice will not be heard.

We must build our own political voice.  We can’t rely on democrats or republicans to carry our message.   We have some great leaders like Sherrod Brown in Ohio, but we must build our own power.

Over the last 15 years in my home District, we’ve united around the Working Families Party as our independent voice for working people.   I'm proud of the work CWA did to launch and grow it in what will soon be 11 states, and I want your support to take it nationwide.

It is an organization that we built and that working people and our allies run.  And most important, it has the capacity and the willingness to take on the corporate Democrats who oppose us.

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We live in challenging times, but we are strong and I am confident we can confront whatever challenges are in front of us.  We must do this together.

We are the 99 percent and we must come together and fight like hell against those rich bastards who ae trying to buy our democracy. It’s our government, not theirs. It’s NOT government by and for the corporations; it’s government by and for the people.

It’s our government and we will take it back. 

Join me as we stand up and fight back. Are you ready to stand up and fight at the bargaining table? Are you ready to stand up and fight in our workplaces?  Are you ready to stand up and fight back in your communities? We must all come together and fight like hell.   That’s right!  We need to kick some ass for the working class. The CWA Executive Board is ready and I know you are too.