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Honoring the Leadership and Determination of President Larry Cohen

Resolution 75A-15-1

Honoring the Leadership and Determination of President Larry Cohen
To Fight "One Day Longer, Each Day Stronger"

For the past ten years, CWA President Larry Cohen has led us, our union, the entire labor movement and a new and growing progressive coalition of activists in an all-out effort to reclaim our democracy for working people.

We’re grateful for his leadership, his vision, his willingness to take on the tough fights and take our union forward. We’re grateful for the tools and tactics he created, the strategies he pioneered and the alliances he has formed to make us ever stronger.      

Under Larry’s leadership, CWA has become the leading voice for bargaining and organizing rights and for democracy that works for all working people. 

After six years of organizing as a public worker himself, Larry led the organizing that brought 40,000 New Jersey state workers into CWA in 1981. He created The Committee of a Thousand that built a structure capable of reaching every worker.  This “1 for 20” framework was the foundation of what later would become CWA Mobilization.

In 1986, Larry was appointed CWA’s national organizing director and he developed organizers and an organizing program unmatched by any union.  Echoing his early days in New Jersey, Larry developed an organizing model “from the inside out,” with workers forming an inside committee, setting the issues and building support.

He pioneered card check and neutrality contract language that in the late 1980’s at Southwestern Bell Mobile was the start of now wall-to-wall representation for workers across AT&T companies, including AT&T Mobility, where today 51,000 workers are represented by CWA.

In 1987, despite some opposition from within labor, Larry founded “Jobs with Justice” to bring together progressive groups to fight for workplace justice.  Over the years, at rallies, sit-ins and demonstrations, Larry could be heard saying “We don’t just want jobs, we want jobs with justice.” Since its creation, hundreds of thousands of JwJ activists have taken the “I’ll be there” pledge initiated by Larry.  Of Jobs with Justice, Larry once said, “Our future lies with the majority of the American people, and we have to argue and fight our way to make that majority the real majority.”

In 1998, Larry was elected executive vice president, and in 2005 he was elected president of CWA.

As head of the AFL-CIO’s organizing committee, Larry pushed for broad initiatives to benefit all workers. From 2006 to 2009, under Larry’s leadership, CWA and allies worked hard for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Many at first opposed such ambitious reform thinking it impossible.  But through his relentless leadership, most of labor got behind the push for EFCA. It passed the House by a strong margin but despite majority support in the Senate, the Employee Free Choice Act never got to the Senate floor for even one minute of debate. The abuse of the Senate rules and a strategy of obstruction by the Senate minority blocked EFCA and some 400 other legislative proposals that were passed by the House.

This tragic defeat for workers’ rights pushed Larry to lead the fight for Senate Rules Reform. Again, there was considerable opposition within the ranks of labor -- many opposed getting involved in what seemed to be a lost cause. But Larry’s persistence and leadership led to meaningful change and a victory over Senate obstruction. 

The Senate confirmed a full, five-member National Labor Relations Board, top administrators for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other agencies, and more than 100 judges to key posts, including the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, the second most powerful court in our nation.

That same leadership was key to gaining better union representation rules for airline workers.

As president, Larry has promoted reform inside CWA and beyond.  Under his leadership, convention delegates approved a measure to add the voices and perspectives of local union leaders to the union’s executive board and to broaden the board’s diversity. He worked to stabilize the union’s finances and investments, looking for ways to safeguard what CWA members have built since 1938. He transformed the budgeting system of the union, brought the union finances out of debt and returned the pension to fully funded status.

The Strategic Industries Fund that Larry initiated has enabled CWA to carry out large-scale, strategic campaigns, targeting corporations and fighting back against bad policy initiatives like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. CWA’s SIF strategy has put our resources to work and enabled us to take on the challenges of today, whether it’s management demanding concessions in bargaining, employers attacking workers rights and a union voice, or a state government trying to strip away pensions and health care.

Internationally, Larry is recognized as the leading voice on organizing and bargaining rights in the U.S. and in how to build alliances with our counterparts around the globe. With ver.di, the union representing T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom workers in Germany, Larry created TU, a voice for workers at T-Mobile US who are fighting back against that company’s assault on their rights. With ver.di, Larry is rallying German and U.S. elected officials to push DT to end the double standard that has allowed T-Mobile US to fire, harass and intimidate workers who want bargaining rights.

His global vision has resulted in effective alliances with the independent telephone workers union in Mexico and unions representing bank workers in Brazil to help workers organizing in the U.S.

Above all, Larry is an activist and fighter. He understands the frustration of members fighting for a just contract. He feels the pain of a worker fired for daring to want a union. He is enraged when citizens are shut out of our democracy.  Larry’s determination to fight injustice, “One day longer, Each day stronger,” defines him and his legacy as President.  We are grateful for his leadership, his commitment, his caring. 

In 1989, CWA began wearing red on Thursdays as a sign of solidarity. When Local 1103 Steward Gerry Horgan was killed on the picket line, this spread throughout our union. CWAers create a sea of red at rallies, actions and demonstrations. Red is now the color associated with CWA’s mobilization and activism.   

Resolved: The 75th Convention of the Communications Workers of America expresses our deep appreciation to President Larry Cohen for his creative leadership, strategic vision, passionate dedication, tireless work, and countless contributions to building CWA, the larger labor movement, and connecting the fight for workers’ rights with efforts to strengthen progressive movements for democracy and social and economic justice at home and across the globe.

Resolved: The 75th Convention of the Communications Workers of America designates red as CWA’s official color in memory of Gerry Horgan and in recognition of President Larry Cohen’s commitment to organizing, mobilizing, movement building and solidarity.