Union Communications of Workers of America Research Paper

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Communications Workers of America: Then and Now

The relevancy of unions is being increasingly questioned in the 21st century and many unions are suffering from dwindling members and are face with an uncertain agenda for the future. In sharp contrast, the Communications Workers of America has become one of the fastest-growing unions in the United States in recent years, due in large part to the concomitant growth of information and communications technologies. To gain some insights into how this has been possible, this paper examines the relevant literature to provide an overview of the Communications Workers of America and its history, followed by an analysis of current issues and trends that are affecting the union. Finally, a description of the steps that are used to form a Communications Workers of America union shop in a typical workplace is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Overview and History of Communications Workers of America

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Established in 1938 at New Orleans and Chicago, the Communications Workers of America (hereinafter alternatively "the CWA" or "the Union") was originally known the National Federation of Telephone Workers; however, in 1947, the union adopted its current name (About us, 2012). The CWA was initially founded in an effort to target the draconian business practices used by the telephone industry. In this regard, O'Farrell and Kornbluh (1996) report that the National Federation of Telephone Workers was comprised of "loosely affiliated independent unions. at&T was strongly opposed to any kind of national agreement and negotiated separately with the affiliated unions" (p. 237). Following the end of World War II, though, the National Federation of Telephone Workers dissolved and was replaced with the Communications Workers of America (O'Farrell & Kornbluh, 1996).

Research Paper on Union Communications of Workers of America Assignment

The early years were turbulent but proved to be formative for the Union during the last half of the 21st century. For example, O'Farrell and Kornbluh note that, "On April 7, 1947, the CWA called a national strike for national recognition and over issues such as across-the-board wage increases, a union shop, improved schedules, and pensions. Of the 345,000 strikers, 230,000 were women, the biggest walk-out in American history of women. The six-week strike ended without national recognition, but with a stronger union movement" (1996, p. 237). The stronger union movement that began mid-20th century would not last, though, and by the early 1990s, many were questioning the relevancy of unions altogether (Masters, 1997). To its credit, the CWA managed to survive by keeping a close watch on issues that affect their membership, an enterprise that has become especially challenging in recent years.

Since its founding, the CWA has subsequently expanded its original fields of interest and currently represents workers in a wide range of industries besides communications, including healthcare, public and customer service as well as others (About us, 2012). As the largest telecommunications union in the world today, the CWA represents more than 700,000 men and women in the public and private sectors. Of these union members, nearly three-quarters, or more than 500,000, are actively engaged in building the Information Highway (About us, 2012). Currently, CWA members work in telecommunications, broadcasting, cable television, journalism, publishing, manufacturing, airlines, customer service, government service, health care, education as well as numerous other fields (About us, 2012). In addition, the CWA has approximately 1,200 chartered local unions throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico with members living in about 10,000 communities, which means CWA is among the most geographically diverse unions in the world (About us, 2102). According to the Union's Web site, "CWA holds over 2,000 collective bargaining agreements spelling out wages, benefits, working conditions and employment security provisions for its members. Among major employers of CWA members are at&T, Verizon, and other telecom companies; General Electric; the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; NBC and ABC television networks; the Canadian Broadcasting Co.; United, U.S. Airways and other airlines; the University of California system, the state of New Jersey and various law enforcement agencies" (About us, 2012, para. 2). At present, the Union top leadership team consists of President Larry Cohen, Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Rechenbach and Executive Vice President Annie Hill (About us, 2012).

Among the unions that have recently affiliated with the CWA are the following major groups:

1. The Association of Flight Attendants merged with CWA in 2003, adding its professionalism and expertise on airline industry issues (CWA has represented airline passenger service employees since 1999).

2. The International Union of Electronic Workers merged with CWA in 2000, becoming the IUE-CWA Industrial Division.

3. The Newspaper Guild merged with CWA in 1997, as did the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees.

4. The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) merged with CWA in 1994.

5. The International Typographical Union, America's oldest labor union, merged with CWA in 1987 (About us, 2012).

Currently, the Union is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress, the worldwide UNI Global Union, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF), as well as the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) (About us, 2012).

Current Issues and Trends

A wide range of current issues faced the Union today, including those set forth in Table 1 below which the CWA highlights, as well as some others discussed further below that are less publicized but are perhaps equally salient.

Table 1

Current Issues Facing the Communications Workers of America

Issue

Description

Corporate money in politics

The 2010 Citizens United opened the gates to unlimited corporate money in politics, making a bad situation, even worse. CWA, our Legislative Political Action Teams in every district and our progressive allies are fighting back against the flood of corporate dollars that is destroying our democratic process.

Support the call center bill

Over the last decade, the U.S. has lost around half a million call centers jobs to off-shoring. Often companies pocket millions in taxpayer dollars to establish local call centers before shipping those jobs abroad just a few years later. The U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act strikes back by cutting off-shorers off from federal grants and loans, giving you the right to know where your operator is based and giving you the right to transfer back to a U.S.-based operator.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting works with hundreds of national and local producers and community partners to ensure that Americans have universal access to high-quality non-commercial programming with a particular focus on the needs of underserved audiences, including children, minorities, and low-income Americans.

Collective bargaining rights

CWA continues to stand up for workers in the United States and across the globe, and carries on the fight for the right of people everywhere to organize for fairer wages, benefits and working conditions.

Source: CWA Legislation and Politics, 2012

While the CWA indicates the foregoing issues are among the most important on its current agenda, the biggest challenge for the Union in its organizing and bargaining efforts in recent years has been the dynamic nature of the telecommunications industry and the dramatic changes that are taking place in the field. For example, Manheim (2002) reports that, "In recent years, the greatest challenge confronting the CWA in organizing and bargaining has been the rapid development of new communications technologies and services, often by nonunion start-up companies or newly created nonunion subsidiaries of companies with which the CWA has agreements" (p. 117). The CWA has a highly skilled staff, though, that is quick to take action when the Union's interests are threatened. According to Manheim (2001), "With its large number of professional and skilled members, the CWA is one of the most sophisticated practitioners of the corporate campaign, having produced an extensive manual on their conduct, and having initiated campaigns against such high-profile employers as Bell Atlantic, Sprint, Blue Cross, and the Detroit newspapers the Free Press and the Detroit News" (p. 116). Likewise, the CWA organized a successful walkout against Verizon in 2003 (the largest such action against a telecommunications employer in U.S. history) over mandatory overtime, securing a limited overtime provision (Carrell & Heavrin, 2010). Given their successful track record to date, it is little wonder that the CWA has attracted new affiliates in recent years and the Union has made it a straightforward matter to form new chapters as well, and these issues are discussed further below.

Forming New CWA Chapters

As the fastest-growing union in the world, the CWA has fine-tuned its chapter formation process in recent years but the process is not automatic. In fact, a great deal of preparatory work must be completed before the CWA will consider a new chapter, but the Union emphasizes that it stands ready to assist organizers at every step of the process if they require it. A summary of the steps required to form a CWA chapter are set forth in Table 2 below.

Table 2

Summary of Steps to Forming a CWA Chapter

Step

Description

Comments

Talk to co-workers.

The issues that should be discussed during this preparatory step include whether a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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