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Communication Workers of America (CWA)

This Is What the Beginning of a Climate-Labor Alliance Looks Like: The PRO Act is emerging as the left’s answer to a classic political tension

By Kate Aronoff - New Republic, March 10, 2021

Tuesday night, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House by 225–205 votes. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, it will peel back over half a century of anti-union policies, including core provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. It would override state-level right-to-work protections—the darlings of the Koch brothers machine—and create harsher penalties for employers who interfere with employees’ organizing efforts. But in myriad ways, the act might also do something unexpected: set the stage for sweeping climate policy.

A coalition led by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, or IUPAT, and the Communication Workers of America is mobilizing to push the PRO Act over the finish line in the Senate. The youth climate group Sunrise Movement was an early recruit, and the Democratic Socialists of America—including its ecosocialist working group, which is also pushing for a Green New Deal—will be deploying its members in key districts around the country to ensure it’s passed. After a kick-off call over the weekend featuring Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA head Sara Nelson, and Naomi Klein, DSA is holding trainings for its members throughout March as well as events around the country pushing key senators to back the bill in the lead-up to May Day. Sunrise last week launched a Good Jobs for All campaign, which is urging on a federal job guarantee introduced recently by Representative Ayanna Pressley. Over the next several weeks, Sunrise hubs will be working alongside progressive legislators and holding in-district protests to advance five priorities for upcoming infrastructure legislation, including the PRO Act. After its passage through the House last night, a press release from the groups praised the measure as a “core pillar of the Green New Deal.”

The alliances forming around the PRO Act buck long-held wisdom in Washington about what it would take to get labor unions and environmentalists to work together. James Williams Jr., IUPAT’s vice president at large, has been frustrated by years of seeing the two talk past one another. Construction unions, in particular, have come to loggerheads with climate hawks over infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “I would blame labor a lot of the time for this,” he says, “but there have to be deeper conversations about the fact that labor is going to lose jobs that have been really good jobs for a really long time.” 

How to “Build Back Better”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

Anyone interested in how to address the concerns of both labor and environmentalists in upcoming legislation should take a look at the new Sierra Club report “How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal.” Although the Sierra Club is an environmental organization – in fact, the country’s largest–this “blueprint for economic renewal” has been designed with the needs of workers and discriminated-against groups front and center.

The plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and Service Employees International Union.

  • By investing $1 trillion per year, an economic renewal plan based on the THRIVE Agenda would create over 15 million good jobs–enough to end the unemployment crisis–while countering systemic racism, supporting public health, and cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030.
  • These investments must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.

Sunrise Movement Staff Form Union with Communications Workers of America

By Zoe PiSierra - Sunrise Movement, December 15, 2020

With Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) Serving as Sunrise Movement’s Third-party Validator, More than 95% of Staff Vote in Support of Forming Union with CWA Local 1180;

Sunrise Workers Take Important Step Towards Stronger and More Accessible Workplace with Recognition and Support from Management;

Sunrise Movement Becomes Latest Nonprofit to Organize, with Less than 5% of Nonprofit Workers in Unions Nationally

WASHINGTON - Today, workers with Sunrise Movement, a youth-led movement organization advocating to stop climate change and create millions of American jobs, voted to form a union with Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1180 in New York. More than 95% of Sunrise Movement staff members voted in support of forming a union with CWA, and management has agreed to recognize the staff union.

In a virtual meeting today with Sunrise Movement staff and management, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) verified the union vote count as Sunrise’s third-party validator, announcing support from 79 out of 82 workers.

“As a youth-led grassroots organization dedicated to climate justice and bringing millions of living-wage jobs to the American workforce, forming a union was a clear step of action for us at Sunrise, and one that we believe embodies our movement’s values and will guide its growth,” said Gabbi Pierce, Internal Communications Coordinator at Sunrise Movement and member of CWA Local 1180. “We know that workplaces are stronger when workers have a voice and are empowered through unionization, and we are thankful for the recognition of our union by Sunrise management, who has supported our organizing efforts from the start. This is a huge step for our movement in our fight against climate change, and for nonprofit organizations everywhere which are increasingly advocating in support of worker rights.”

“The organizing efforts by Sunrise workers show that unions are essential in creating a foundation for a strong, equitable environment that elevates the voices of all workers,” said Senator Markey. “I’m proud of these passionate young people who embody the true value of unions in the strongest traditions of the labor movement and are stepping out as advocates for workers’ rights and good American jobs. Their dedication to empowering their team with strong support from management sets an important precedent for our country's workplaces.”

Why Unions Are the Key to Passing a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizomodo, September 25, 2020

There’s a persistent conservative myth that the clean energy transition must come at the expense of employment. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The Congressional resolution on a Green New Deal, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey last February, includes a proposal guarantee employment to all those who want it. And increasingly, climate activists are focusing on the potential to create millions of good jobs in clean energy.

These pro-worker proposals—and the knowledge that it will take an economy-wide effort to kick fossil fuels and the curb to avert climate catastrophe—have won the platform support from swaths of the labor movement. Yet some powerful unions still oppose the sweeping proposal. The president of the AFL-CIO—the largest federation of unions in the U.S.—criticized the Green New Deal resolution, and heads of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Mine Workers of America, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have outright opposed it. That poses a political roadblock to achieving the necessary transformation of the U.S. economy. 

“The Green New Deal movement needs broader support from the labor movement to be successful,” Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability and former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department, said. “As long as labor isn’t a central player in this movement, they will they have the power to block pretty much anything. on Capitol Hill. They contribute in electoral campaigns. They’re a very powerful force.”

The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What's Stopping the AFL-CIO?

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 12, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO — all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, ​“We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, ​“We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, ​“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

Labor, Environmental Groups Urge Emergency Action to Protect Frontline Workers From COVID-19

By Various - Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., August 11, 2020

Legal Filing Demands Trump Administration Use Defense Production Act to Provide PPE, Prevent More Deaths, Illness

WASHINGTON— Labor unions representing health care workers, teachers, transit operators and millions of other frontline workers joined with environmental groups today to demand that the Trump administration take emergency action to provide adequate masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment to these essential workers.

The legal petition demands that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf act immediately to ensure the manufacture and distribution of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). The Trump administration has refused to properly manage PPE production and distribution, leaving states and industry to compete and frontline workers short of supplies.

“It’s terrifying to risk your life every day just by going to work. It brings a lot of things into perspective,” said Rick Lucas, a registered nurse at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization local of the Ohio Nurses Association. “I’m not going to give up on protecting my patients, even though it’s clear the federal government has basically given up on protecting us. More than 100 of my coworkers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and many of those positive tests were due to occupational exposure because of lack of PPE. This is inexcusable.”

Today’s petition was submitted by some of the nation’s largest labor unions — representing essential workers in healthcare, education, transportation and service sectors — including the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, National Nurses United, American Federation of Teachers and Amalgamated Transit Union. The groups collectively represent more than 15 million workers in frontline industries that have suffered thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses from COVID-19.

“The Trump administration is AWOL on safety and refuses to help the front-line workers who are still in desperate need of more PPE,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “It is unconscionable, it is costing lives and in this petition America's essential workers are demanding answers, and most of all, action.”

In March President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders declaring a national emergency due to COVID-19 and delegating broad powers to Azar and Wolf under the Defense Production Act. The act is designed to ensure the provision of essential materials and goods during public health emergencies. The secretaries have failed to fully utilize their authority, leading to a shortage of PPE.

On The Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America's Workers

8 Unions Have a Plan for Climate Action—But It Doesn’t Mention Fighting the Fossil Fuel Industry

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, August 26, 2019

On June 24, the BlueGreen Alliance — a national coalition which includes eight large labor unions and six influential environmental groups—released an eight-page document laying out its vision to curb climate change and reduce inequality. The report, dubbed Solidarity for Climate Action, marks a significant development in the world of environmental politics. It argues the needs of working people must be front-and-center as the U.S. responds to climate change, and rejects the ​“false choice” between economic security and a healthy planet.

While the report’s focus on public investment, good jobs and justice shares much in common with the federal Green New Deal resolution introduced in February, it also stands in tension with environmentalists who demand the U.S. work to transition more quickly away from oil, coal and natural gas. ​“We’d really like them to be stronger and more concise about what it means to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewables,” said José Bravo, executive director of the Just Transition Alliance and speaking on behalf of the Climate Justice Alliance. Members of the BlueGreen Alliance say the ultimate goal should be to decarbonize the economy — to reduce CO2 emissions, but not necessarily end the fossil fuel industry itself, with its tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Other climate groups say that won’t be enough, and humanity cannot afford to preserve industries that have caused so much environmental harm. This difference in vision will stand as one of the most fundamental political questions facing progressives in the next decade.

The report spells out a series of principles, including limiting warming to 1.5°C, expanding union jobs, modernizing infrastructure, bolstering environmental protections and rebuilding the nation’s manufacturing sector with green technologies. It also elevates the issue of equity, calling to ​“inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.” The BlueGreen Alliance emphasizes the disproportionate impact low-income workers and communities of color will face, and says those affected by the energy transition must receive ​“a just and viable transition” to new, high-quality union jobs.

(Read the rest here)

Solidarity for Climate Action

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, July 2019

Americans face the dual crises of climate change and increasing economic inequality, and for far too long, we’ve allowed the forces driving both crises to create a wedge between the need for economic security and a living environment. We know this is a false choice—we know that we can and must have both, and we need a bold plan to address both simultaneously.

Many solutions are already being put into place across the country. For example, tradespeople built the Block Island offshore wind project off the coast of Rhode Island, autoworkers are on the factory floors building cleaner cars and trucks in Michigan, and previously unemployed workers in St. Louis and Los Angeles are gaining access to high-skilled jobs in energy efficiency retrofitting, pipefitting, and transit manufacturing, while mine workers are extracting palladium to be used in catalytic converters. These are all good, union jobs building a clean energy and climate-resilient economy today.

At the same time, not enough of the new jobs that have been created or promised in the clean energy economy are high-quality, family-sustaining jobs, nor are these jobs in the same communities that have seen the loss of good-paying, union jobs.

Wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and sea-level rise driven by climate change are hurting communities across the country and will only worsen if we don’t take decisive action. Lower income workers and communities of color are hit the hardest and are less able to deal with these impacts as wages have fallen and their economic mobility and power in the workplace has declined.

It is critical that working people are front and center as we create a new economy: one that values our work, our families, our communities, and our environment. It is with that imperative that we call for a new plan to create jobs and protect the environment for the next generation. This plan must respond to the climate crisis on the scale that science demands, while simultaneously addressing inequality in all its forms.

Read the report (PDF).

Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

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