Responses from CWA Presidential Candidates to our Local's Question
Before our Candidates Forum (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4c2yFpz6To) we submitted these sets of questions to the announced Candidates for President of the CWA, based on the issues we highlighted on our flyer at the CWA national Wireless Conference. So far we have received answers from two of the candidates, CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens and CWA District 6 Vice President Claude Cummings, Jr. We never received any written response from CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney. We are publicizing their answers here and on the PDF's attached.
Last year our Local organized a major campaign to keep the Work from Home (WFM) option at AT&T. Our members found that WFH was safer, saved them money on commuting and childcare, gave them more time with their families and more time for rest, and more control of their work space. With the help of a few other Locals we were able to organize actions, press conferences, a petition with over 8,000 signatures and major media attention. We didn't get much support from the CWA national or districts though and we were unable to win WFH for our Legacy T Call center Workers in Minneapolis.
What was with the disconnect between the Union and our members' urgent demand to keep WFH?
Going forward, how can we win good WFH jobs and maintain a strong internal union organization?
Ed Mooney: No Response Received
Claude Cummings, Jr.: Thanks for this question. First of all, I signed the petition. I recognized early during the pandemic that our members were enjoying WFH. It is a proven fact; mobilization is only effective when Districts and Sectors stand united in support of each other’s issues. This starts at the top. As President, as I have as Vice President, I will always remember I work for the members, the members don’t work for me and I will try my best to deliver for them on change they would like to see as long as it does not conflict with the CWA Constitution, and negotiated contracts. It is extremely important to implement an effective platform that provides ALL, Districts and locals an avenue where concerted activity is taken seriously. A platform where strategic plans and timelines are developed, encouraged and aggressively implemented throughout our UNION, should be in place. This is a process that every local regardless of need, regardless of size, should be a part of and have the opportunity to utilize that would include the critical, unwavering support of the National.
Work from Home jobs can be accomplished through contract negotiations, EFFECTS bargaining and a strong mobilization effort for WFH during contract negotiations.
However, when we do achieve WFH we MUST have a better internal Union Job steward structure with a strong and effective network. This must consist of dedicated and active leadership teams which includes empowering our Job Stewards in every step of this process. Proper tools, training and education is essential to the success of this process. Zoom membership meetings and quarterly gatherings such as Union Days that include educational programs along with outreach helps keep our members engaged and connected to their unions.
Sara Steffens: I know some CWA leaders still worry about the potential long-term effects of working from home on our union and our communities. But working from home is a major quality-of life benefit, as important as pay and job security, for our members in jobs where it’s possible — and that’s true as well for our CWA staff, many of whom now have hybrid work assignments. And CWA members including passenger service agents and journalists successfully worked from home long before the pandemic and remained strong union members.
So, it’s time to listen to members and get real: Instead of clinging to what used to be, we need to help our members advocate for the priorities they identify on bargaining surveys, including working from home.
We need to collect and share best practices for work from home, including model contract language on critical issues like new hire data and orientations, remote surveillance, equipment reimbursement and callback protections. CWA must build systems to support hybrid and home-based workers and units, including funding home visits, organizing blitzes, electronic membership cards, virtual union boards and other strategies to ensure that our union density and activism remains strong.
The experience of our Local and many others across the union is that we wait months and months - sometimes over a year - for grievances to be heard at District/National level. This lack of movement stalls any momentum and lets management know they can deny at first step and then it will effectively disappear. It's not uncommon for workers to leave the job while waiting for grievances to be resolved. This only breeds frustration, distrust and cynicism among rank & file members towards the union.
What can be done to aggressively expedite grievance movement?
Would you support an *expectation* that grievances are heard within 60 days at the higher levels?
Ed Mooney: No Response Received
Claude Cummings, Jr.: In an attempt to correct this problem, it is imperative to investigate to find the root cause. Based on the findings I would focus on a viable solution. For example, if shortage of Staff is the problem, one solution would be to hire more Staff. On the other hand, some delays are caused by management’s refusal to adhere to the negotiated contractual language. It is my belief that unnecessary delays in the scheduling and hearing of grievances is totally unacceptable. Every contract has defined time limits for filing, scheduling and the appeal process. Anything short of that is a violation of the contract which will not be tolerated and every avenue available should be utilized to correct this injustice. Our contracts are not worth the paper they are written on if we do not police the contracts and make sure they are enforced accordingly.
Sara Steffens: I support an expectation that grievances at higher levels should be handled within 60 days; we also need to clean up the backlog and identify what’s been causing the delays.
Transparency increases accountability for everyone involved: Going forward, all grievances assigned to CWA staff should be tracked and monitored for timeliness. Members and Locals should always be kept up-to-date on the status of their grievances.
Of course, even when we do our part, some grievances will take more than 60 days – for instance, when they are part of a larger collective bargaining process, or where an employer is unresponsive and requires more aggressive measures.
We are bleeding members at AT&T and DirecTV. The company has whittled down union presence to only 20% of its retail stores, more and more tech work is being outsourced and our Legacy T and DirecTV Call Centers face heavy attrition with no new hiring.
What can we do to stop the bleeding?
What is your plan to organize the unorganized sectors of AT&T and DirecTV?
What is your overall plan to build the Union?
Ed Mooney: No Response Received
Claude Cummings, Jr.: We must first alert our telecommunications employers we have contracts with, that the days of CWA helping them pass legislation and providing assistance in the regulatory arena are over, if there are not direct hires involved. We also must have serious negotiations with management about authorized dealers taking out work, and closing our stores, it has to stop!! We must lobby our counties and city municipalities to make good working standards a part of their RFPS when they are soliciting for broadband deployment,
Secondly, we must promote the importance of a unionized workforce, providing the buildout of broadband. CWA must use every means of communication possible, especially now, during the start of broadband buildout, due to the infrastructure resources provided to states to promote unionized workers in the deployment. This will cause an increase in membership.
In order to accomplish this, we must capitalize on the major difference in benefits, wages, job security, safety and working conditions in a unionized versus nonunion environment. Stress the importance of having a voice at the workplace.
At the same time, we need to launch serious campaigns in support of a US Based Workforce that requires corporate America to keep our jobs in the US or face serious tax implications.
We have to get back to basics. We must launch intense organizing campaigns with organizers that are hands on and reflective of the groups they are attempting to organize. Successful organizing, in my opinion, is more about relationships, than methodology. Organizing is difficult work and successful organizers must be committed to their campaigns which at times seem never ending. Organizers must build relationships and understand both the work and the problems that the workers have in the workplace. CWA must continue to provide guidance and direction until newly organized members become self-sustaining and understand the logistical responsibilities of all three sides of our CWA Triangle,
We must focus on Internal Organizing first. The percentage on nonmembers within some divisions within our Union is not good. Applying both grass roots tactics along with modern proven techniques which includes education and member outreach is essential. We must have better up to date communications technology to engage our younger and more seasoned members faster and with sound messaging.
We must also capitalize on every External Organizing opportunity. In order to do that, we must secure enough Organizers, at our Locals level to meet this demand. CWA has countless organizing opportunities that we can no longer afford to ignore. We must do a better job of organizing our Mobility members. In my opinion, we still have unorganized workers in industries similar to units we organized like, Dish, T-Mobile, Verizon wireless, etc. that we should again focus on. The Public Sector and Airline Industry, both Passenger Services and Flight Attendants, are some of the fastest growing sectors in our Union we must continue to support organizing in those sectors. We must continue to grow our Union through as many organizing campaigns as possible.
Sara Steffens: The only way to protect our jobs is to build our power at AT&T.
Building the leverage we need must be a national project across our contracts and job titles including workplace mobilization, public campaigns, shareholder actions, political pressure and more.
Organizing nonmembers and non-union shops is key: We must build our density in every open shop, with resources available to Locals that need help signing up nonmembers, and accountability for those that do not care to take on this work.
AT&T needs to see that wherever they move our work, we will follow – starting by organizing authorized retailers and contractors. Every store that votes to join CWA helps us represent all our AT&T members. And there’s never been a better time to do this work, with retail workers’ interest in unions at its highest level in decades and the NLRB allowing workers to create bargaining units at the store level.
Internally, we need to build our steward structure, commit to training members and working the CWA Strong program, and double down on our efforts to build CWA membership and union density in the overarching telecom, tech and media sector.
Everything we do CWA leaders should be aimed at building power for our members. And we know that our organizing model works: Since 2019, more than 25,000 workers have joined CWA.
Open bargaining means that contracts are negotiated with transparency for the membership that will have to live under them. Open bargaining lets the members see what we are fighting for at the bargaining table and what the companies are trying to low-ball or take away. In Minnesota, the Nurses union and the Minneapolis Teachers union are using open bargaining and have won major gains.
Will you support expanding open bargaining for CWA contracts?
What would you do to make Open Bargaining the "norm" in CWA?
Ed Mooney: No Response Received
Claude Cummings, Jr.: Every contract I have negotiated has been based on transparency, trust and leadership ability. When bargaining is taking place in District 6, we send out bargaining reports, we have Officer meetings to give updates and we have town hall calls to give updates to the membership.
That said, bargaining logistics are local decisions that are often dictated by contractual language or mutually agreed to rules that are negotiated at the table by both the union and the company prior to bargaining kickoff. I believe what we need to do differently, in CWA, is better preparation, better coordination between district bargaining committees and meetings with the members on what we are trying to accomplish at the bargaining table based on the member’s bargaining proposals. We need a national mobilization committee that will support and train activists, in districts or sectors, to support bargaining taking place regardless of the district or sector. There should be nationwide mobilization for any district or sector that is in bargaining.
I would like to add that I am extremely open minded and a firm believer in keeping current with changing times. However, I believe the way we bargain now works well when there is transparency, reports are given regularly, and when we have members involved in strong mobilization activities.
I want to be transparent: I have not personally experienced Open Bargaining in my District. I am open minded about this change, however a commitment to change the present bargaining process at this time, without further evaluation, and understanding language in other contracts would be deceitful. My District 6 members know this about me, and you will learn quickly when I become President, I will not lie to you and I am VERY transparent. I am open minded, I am willing to look at ANY changes members would like to see within the confines of the CWA Constitution and our present bargained contracts.
I will be the President, not a dictator. I am one that strongly respects district boundaries. I believe this is an issue that will need to have input from the new VPs, and Sector Officers, their members and bargaining committees - because they are the signatories on their agreements. The commitment I am willing to give is, I will have a discussion with the Executive Board about this issue.
Sara Steffens: I support open bargaining when it’s needed to hold employers accountable, to increase member engagement or to build trust between workers and their bargaining representatives. It’s particularly useful in situations like bargaining kickoff, or where an employer’s asks are egregiously offensive. Our union is stronger when our members participate in bargaining.
But open bargaining is never an end in itself – it’s one among many tools to engage members and increase our leverage at the table. Productive bargaining also requires that we keep channels open to find common ground and reach timely agreement. Just getting the membership mad is never enough – we always need a well-constructed plan to win a fair and equitable contract.
CWA brags about its power and influence within the political system - especially the Democratic Party - but when politicians stab workers in the back (like Biden did with the railroad union workers) there is little said or done. Meanwhile Trump and the fascist right organize using fake-populist rhetoric and are a serious threat to unions and the community.
Do either party really represent working-class interests?
Are Corporate politicians any real protection against fascist threats?
Why should we continue to pour millions of dollars and time and energy into corporatecontrolled politicians?
What percentage of movement building should be put into efforts outside of the political system?
Ed Mooney: No Response Received
Claude Cummings, Jr. : I have a cousin that is a Passenger Train Engineer. Although he was very disappointed in what happened during their negotiations, he was also concerned that a railroad strike, coming out of an already fragile economy, would be devastating for this country, and adversely affect many workers and Union members.
I am moving away from Party Politics. If a candidate supports Unions and working people, I have no problem talking with them about support. If they don’t support Unions or workers, they don’t get my support. I am very disappointed in Democrats that vote like Republicans and Republicans that don’t do anything to help pass legislation to help working people, build worker power on this job by joining a Union. Both Parties have failed us on the Pro Act.
In D6, I have gotten away from Party Politics and support candidates that support working people issues. I have reduced my direct contributions to candidates by a large percentage. I am a proponent of Independent Expenditure (IE) that work to Get Out the Vote (GOTV). Our GOTV efforts have been great in electing worker friendly candidates because our resources are spent strictly on door knocking, media and phone banking. I am frustrated at candidates that spend our money, on signs, consultants and fundraisers.
As President I will encourage our Political Department to educate Districts and Locals on the need to put resources on the ground through IEs, for worker friendly candidates, not in their pockets, in order to get them elected. I also have great relationships with wealthy donors, that donate to our IE GOTV efforts which has helped reduce the amount of resources used by CWA. I will solicit more wealthy donors for our GOTV programs to support our financial efforts to elect Congress Members and Senators to pass the Pro Act. I also believe we should collaborate with other organizations to increase our capacity in our GOTV efforts.
Sara Steffens: Corporate Democrats have too long blocked real gains for workers – including those who have failed year after year to stand for workers’ rights, labor law reform and democracy. I support the pledge of the CWA Executive Board to not give a single dollar to any politician who does not support the PRO Act or the other core issues critical to our members – and I’ve carried that warning in person to the House Democratic Caucus.
But we are still better off with pro-worker politicians in charge.
For example: Democrats repealed Michigan’s so-called “right-to-work” laws, while GOP-controlled Florida has launched an all-out attack on our CWA members in the public sector. In Minnesota, the Democratic Farmer Labor party (DFL) has banned captive audience meetings. Every election has real consequences for our members. If unions and working people sit out, corporations push to revoke even more of our rights in ways that can reverberate for generations. And the attacks hit hardest for those with the least power historically: women, people of color, immigrant families and LGBTQIA+ communities.
So, it’s not an either/ or, but a yes/ and: We have to live in the world we have while we build the world we want and need.
Biden isn’t perfect, but he gave us a card-carrying union member as Labor secretary, and appointed the most pro-worker NLRB General Counsel ever, former CWA attorney Jennifer Abruzzo, who is fighting every day to defend workers’ rights in unprecedented ways.
No single politician can fix our broken democracy, voting rights and labor law. True and lasting reform requires a broad-based movement of working people standing with our siblings who are fighting for racial, economic and climate justice – including direct action whenever necessary.
The strike is the traditional weapon of the working-class - and the method where we have won most of our benefits and rights - but some union leaders seem afraid to use it, or even plan for it. At a time when striking workers were winning significant gains our AT&T Legacy T contract was extended without a strike vote, and the DTV and Mobility Orange contracts were settled without a strike vote, and at the 2021 CWA Convention a resolution to simply research and plan for a strike at AT&T was ruled unconstitutional. AT&T has CWA divided up into a dozen different contracts with different expiration dates - we are divided, they are ruling.
What would you do to overcome the division of AT&T and DirecTV workers into different contracts?
The Civil Rights movement often defied unjust laws to win justice for the community - would you be willing to challenge unjust labor laws that handcuff workers the same way?
Ed Mooney: No Response Received
Claude Cummings, Jr.: AT&T did not request or ask for our opinion, ideas or suggestions on this move [to spin-off DirecTV]. I was very clear prior to the start of bargaining that CWA wanted ONE contract. We had no input in the formation of DTV - this breakout was entirely a decision by AT&T management.
Despite these facts, when AT&T approached CWA at the National level requesting to enter into negotiations to consolidate the 10 DTV contracts, we were clear we wanted all the contracts absorbed into one. CWA at the National level held discussions with the company and ultimately agreed to enter into negotiations. Unfortunately, the company did not uphold their end of the bargain. Almost immediately after kickoff, DTV demanded four different contracts instead of one for the members they transitioned into DTV.
After numerous unsuccessful discussions to advise the company that we were not willing to divide our members. CWA clearly stated our position: “ONE COMPANY ONE CONTRACT” which is what we agreed to when we entered into negotiations. Unfortunately. the company refused to live up to their end of the bargain so we walked away from the table refusing to agree to divide our members.
District 6 also filed a lawsuit on the Constructive Discharge of our members when the company terminated their employment with AT&T by forcing them to DTV with no regard to their contractual obligations.
Through mobilization, we must hold the company’s feet to the fire and make them understand that this is truly one company and the members should have one contract.
As far as defying anti-Labor rules - yes I would. I have already been active in the political arena fighting for the rights of workers. I have been active in lobbying Senators and Congress members on the need for the Pro Act to be passed to stop the intimidation and adverse action towards workers that want to build worker power on the job by forming or joining a Union.
During the Obama administration I was asked by President Cohen to address the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill to address how the Trans-Pacific Partnership would further destroy workers in this country by shipping more jobs overseas. Also missing in the TPP language was language to protect workers in other countries. Now deceased, Congressmember John Lewis, stopped me after my presentation, shook my hand, and agreed with me that TPP would be devastating to all workers. He committed to me that he would urge the members of the caucus to vote against the bill, and they did. Although all of Labor was lobbying against the TPP bill, I think that meeting turned the tide. President Obama was the first President in our lifetime who failed to have a trade bill passed. I would like to think, since the vote was taken shortly after my presentation, that I played a large part in it failing. I will do everything I can to use the political clout I have earned over my continuous thirty-six years as an officer of CWA, to stop bad worker legislation and work to pass worker friendly legislation.
Sara Steffens: Regardless of expiration dates, we must build solidarity and mobilize our members across bargaining units at AT&T and other common employers, with the understanding that we are truly stronger together.
Strikes are our strongest weapon, but must always begin with a clear plan to win and to return members to work. Our readiness to strike depends on full buy-in from all affected units.
I’m always ready and willing to get in “good trouble” when our freedom is at stake – and that includes our freedom to organize and act collectively as union members. Where our current labor laws are stacked against workers, we must fight by every means we have, including challenging unjust laws and even risking arrest.
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