Why Union?

 

About CWA

CWA, America's largest communications and media union, represents over 740,000 men and women in both private and public sectors, including over half a million workers who are building the Information Highway.

CWA members are employed in telecommunications, broadcasting, cable TV, journalism, publishing, electronics and general manufacturing, as well as airline customer service, government service, health care, education and other fields.

The union includes some 1,200 chartered local unions across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Members live in approximately 10,000 communities, making CWA one of the most geographically diverse unions.

CWA holds over 2,000 collective bargaining agreements spelling out wages, benefits, working conditions and employment security provisions for its members. Many CWA contracts call for innovative training and education programs and child and family care provisions that are considered pace-setters for organized labor in the modern workplace.

Among major employers of CWA members are AT&T, GTE, the Regional Bell telephone companies, Lucent Technologies/Bell Labs, General Electric, NBC and ABC television networks, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., major papers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, US Airways, the University of California system, and the state of New Jersey.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., CWA also maintains regional district headquarters in New York City, Philadelphia, Silver Spring, Md., Atlanta, Cleveland, Austin, Denver and San Francisco. CWA staff members working out of 50 field offices assist local unions with contract negotiations, officer and steward training, organizing, legislative and community programs and day-to-day member representation.

CWA is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labor Congress, and the worldwide Union Network International.

The triangle symbolizes the three major programs of the union. None can stand alone. If the triangle is broken on any side, sooner or later it will be broken on every side.

Representation, day to day contract administration and collective bargaining, is the base of the triangle. Yet the other two sides, organizing and community and political action, are just as critical to our strength. Unless we build the labor movement through effective organizing inside existing bargaining units, and by organizing unorganized workers and adding new units, we will continue to be disappointed at the bargaining table. Similarly, unless we have effective community and political action programs, we will not have the kind of popular and legislative support we need to bargain effectively.

The founding president of CWA, Joseph Beirne, called this triangle the triple threat.

As we enter the 21st century we need to return to our roots and rebuild the triangle in order to defend the rights of our members and their families.

Organizing

In the last 20 years, organizing in the U.S., particularly in the private sector, has drastically declined. The percentage of the U.S. workforce which is organized has dropped from 30 percent to 15 percent. Meanwhile, in Canada, union strength grew over the last two decades and now hovers around 40 percent. In other industrial countries, the percentage of organized workers is even higher. This data demonstrates that technology and the shift from manufacturing to a service based economy are not responsible for the decline of unionization in the U.S.

The percentage of organized workers will grow only if our members are actively involved in building their union. Our members must realize the connection between organizing and their families well being if we are to reverse the downward trend. Organizing cannot be viewed as a separate activity, but as a key link increasing the power of working men and women and their families.

CWAs organizing strategy rests on strong local organizing committees supported by staff and resources from the international union. Each of us must take on the task of bringing new members to our union. If we are to reverse the decline of the labor movement in the U.S., organizing must be more than a slogan.

Community and Political Action

Organizing in our workplaces must also lead to increased organizing in our communities. Our fundamental goals, job security, an improving standard of 1iving for our families, and real protection for the right to organize require increased political power as well as more workplace organizing.

Improving our chances of electing candidates who share our vision means we must include other family members, members of other unions, and unorganized workers who support our goals. We also increase our political power by building coalitions for better legislation with other labor organizations and also with community based organizations with a similar outlook.

For example, without political power, health care for our families will never be a right guaranteed to all. Instead we will continually struggle to protect our right to health care with every contract we bargain, often sacrificing other bargaining goals when health care costs rise. Multi national corporations will continue to erode our job security under the guise of deregulation and competition unless we have the political power to restore our rights as workers.

Representation

Many of us came to join the union solely for better representation on the job. In fact, that is the primary purpose of the union and remains the base of our triangle. Yet representation on the job depends heavily on our ability to increase our power through organizing and effective political action.

Bargaining a contract during a time when union membership is decreasing will be increasingly disappointing. It is as if the unorganized workers in the same company, industry, or community are sitting on the other side of the bargaining table with management. They are pitted against us as management argues for lower wages and benefits and eliminates job security in the name of efficiency.

Similarly, if our political power is waning, there will be fewer safeguards not only for the right to organize, but for the right to strike if necessary. The law will increasingly work against us when we try to mobilize our members and our allies in the fight for justice at the bargaining table. As we attempt to improve our working conditions and bargain new contracts we all need to enlist new volunteers for organizing and political action.

What can we do?

We increase our commitment to organizing the unorganized, both in our workplaces and our communities. We join in when we mobilize for better contracts and as we defend our rights on the job between contracts. We build the triangle by discussing key issues at regular worksite meetings and one on one with our coworkers. We build it as we become active in organizations in our communities, linking that work back to our union work. We build the triangle as we talk to friends and family members in unorganized workplaces and encourage them to help build the union where they work.