January was a busy month and it went by so fast. Most of the officers went to training in January for a week. We discussed many topics from the history of CWA to running a local. I believe the information that was provided will help all the officers through their terms myself included.
Following that week I went to a Legislative Conference and the Presidents meeting. During the Legislative Conference I worked with our peers within the state and we met with 9 of our elected officials. It was a pretty hectic schedule. We talked about the call center bill that is being proposed that will reward companies for bringing work back to this country instead of how it is now that they get incentives for offshoring work. The bill will also require the center to identify themselves and location to the consumer and the consumer can ask the call be directed back to the United States. Another issue that has come up in the overseas call centers is the growing number of ID thefts. The people hired in overseas call centers are not necessarily screened and they can have access to all your personal information.
Another agenda item was the Financial Speculation Tax. This legislation is aimed at Wall Street to stop financial speculation and targeted at the high volume high speed trading. It would impose a .03% tax on those trades again done by Wall Street and not normal investors. It works out to be $.03 per every $100.00 but would raise approximately $30 Billion a year in revenue for the government. That money would help a lot in rebuilding infrastructure and putting Americans back to work. Many of our Representatives asked why does CWA care about this it isn’t a labor bill. We agree it is not a labor bill it is a financial regulation and tax bill which we believe will help everyone so we have an interest in it.
We also discussed CenturyLink and let them know it may be a very difficult negotiation and that we might call upon them for assistance. We took the time to explain the situation with the retiree premiums and how it had caused many people to drop their coverage simply on a cost basis and that it was very concerning to us especially for those who may have preexisting conditions and not be old enough to qualify for Medicare. We talked about how CenturyLink is considered a private insurer and many of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act don’t apply. On a side note this will be discussed a lot further in the coming months and as an update I know the District is still working on resolving the issues with the premium increases and we hope to have some update soon.
One of the other things we talked to our Representatives about was the FAA Reauthorization Bill. It has devastating language in it regarding union members who fall under the Railway Act and we are concerned that if a republican ever becomes President they will remove the rule regarding elections that was just put in place that allows an election based on the majority voting versus the majority of the electorate. Imagine now if people running for office had to get more than 50% of the vote for every eligible voter before they could be elected. We would have no one in an elected office in this country as sad as it sounds but true. But for Union elections our representatives think that is ok. Maybe the President will veto the bill but I’m thinking not likely and our two Senators Murray and Cantwell voted for the bill with this language in it.
We also had a Presidents meeting that is in lieu of having a convention every year so now the conventions are bi annual with the Presidents meeting in the off year. We don’t conduct any new business but do look at appeals to see if they should be arbitrated or not. This year the theme seems to be Stand Up Fight Back.
Vice President Joe Biden came to address the group and it is true about him being a bit long winded he spoke for just about an hour. He talked about jobs and he mentioned they have created more jobs than their predecessor and working through the recession. He said “a job is a lot more than a paycheck its dignity, self-respect, it’s about able to provide for your family. Their goal is to help people get back to work help build the middle class again, be in a position to own a home where the schools are good, help others and hopefully put enough away so your kids don’t have to help you. He went on to say it really is about making unions stronger again and with stronger unions you have a stronger middle class. He indicated that the states with the least union workers also have the weakest middle class. He talked about his “republican friends” and said that when they talk about jobs they say if we lower the wages we can create more jobs. He said he asked Speaker Boehner about compromise on the jobs bill and his reply to him was “I reject the word compromise” VP Biden went on to say he doesn’t understand he thinks the Speaker is a nice guy and he comes from working class roots so he just doesn’t understand why they are against working people and jobs. It wasn’t all negative though he talked about meeting with some CEO’s and they are telling him they are bringing jobs back and used GE as a reference that they brought back 1000 jobs from Mexico and are now assembling hot water heaters in Kentucky. But he knows the upcoming election will be difficult and looks forward to our support.
Michael Lynch and I finally got a contract vote at Tel-Data which is also struggling and it was a very tricky negotiation. That said the contract is for only a year and was retroed back to last May when we started this so it expires in a few months. We are hopeful the company will be in a better position. It is a small company that is struggling financially.
Unfortunately at DGM controls while we have met with the members on a couple occasions and met with management we are still waiting for some rather basic information to be provided so we can finish our proposals and meet again. Frankly I am not sure what the hold up is we keep asking for it and it should be rather simple to provide. More information to follow as things progress.
At MV Craig and I have met many times with management and to be polite they are being difficult to negotiate with. You may remember we had a vote several months back and the new members we are bargaining for rejected the first contract presented to them and in this case I certainly understand why and so we are back at the table. Since then some other things have developed and while we thought we had agreement with management after it was all written they came back with a different proposal that we simply could not take to the employees affected so we are still negotiating.
AT&T will be bargaining soon and that is done at the national level so we don’t get too involved in that process here. We did send out to those members bargaining proposals but as of yet none have been returned. We may need to show support and solidarity to these members in the coming months.
Which leads us to CenturyLink. We are in for a fight. There is no easier way to put it. The company continues to use contractors as much as possible on the Network side and continues to offer up VSPP to reduce the work force in our opinion clearly so they can shift more work to the contractors. As long as folks continue to leave voluntarily we can’t do a lot about it. I am wondering if anyone is paying attention to the dividend the company pays to stockholders. If I read correctly and I think I am in the ballpark they pay around $.73 per share quarterly which works out to be about $2.90 per year on over 600 million shares which works out to be about 1.8 billion a year in dividends. Most communications companies are paying about 3 to 4% on dividends and CenturyLink is paying way above at over 7%. We can see that they are more concerned with investors then they are about their employee’s. What would happen if they reduced the dividend by a half a point could they put more into healthcare especially for those already retired absolutely. Would investors be happy with a slightly lower return but still remarkably higher than the average? I think so but again I’m not a CFO… Either way we need to let the company know we are ready to Stand Up and Fight Back. That we understand “It Takes All of Us” and we are prepared to do exactly that.
As I write this the Business Markets Group announced a surplus of 48 people in the Seattle area remember just a month ago they had a kickoff which was an all day event at a downtown hotel to tell everyone how great things were and now basically getting rid of 25% of the workforce. That’s better how… To add insult to injury they say they are doing this because they can streamline work and have better efficiencies but when asked to explain how they say they are still working on it and don’t really know. Really? To me it looks like the company is not being honest with the employee’s… That is my opinion feel free to form your own. For many folks this is a good opportunity to retire and take the package and I will be happy for them. I also feel that some folks will lose their jobs who need it and want it and that pains me. It’s a bit early to tell how this will all play out and given the circumstances it would be great if 48 folks volunteered to retire but frankly I do not see that happening. Let alone they have offered other packages in many of the other departments LRAC is letting 9 go, Design is letting several go as is Assignment. I don’t know the numbers for construction, RMG, or COT’s but they all have offers pending.
I just hope that all these folks who retire will come back in September and October and volunteer to help with bargaining and mobilizing. Our retiree chapter will be busy and while we can’t negotiate for those retired (technically) retirees can certainly help and they have in the past benefited from negotiations and I hope this year will not be different. So if you’re in the group of folks choosing to retire please consider joining our retiree chapter.
Mobilizing will be an important part of bargaining with CenturyLink. They have all kinds of contracts all over but none of them are remotely close to the size of our bargaining unit and this year we will be mobilized and working together. It will be very important for everyone to be a participant. I’ve heard some say that if we can keep what we have that will be a win and while on some degree they may have a point I don’t think I can accept that. This company is running ads in our city talking about bringing jobs when in essence they are doing the opposite. They talk about the need to cut costs but at the same time pay higher dividends on average then all their competitors. Where does it stop? They are a profitable company and they make that profit by the work that we do. I don’t think asking to be treated fairly and taking care of their retirees is too much to ask. Do you? If you agree with me then volunteer Stand Up Fight Back. We are currently working on mobilization plans which I can’t share yet but will tell you that Karen Thompson (Our Mobilization Committee Chair) and I recently spent a day in training and working with others in the state to develop plans and put some timelines together. We will need assistance in the coming months and I am asking that everyone participate in the coming months. This negotiation will require all of us and remember this is about you. You do have something at stake in this process so please be willing to work for it.
More to follow on these topics.
We have new stewards training this Friday and Saturday February 17 & 18 and an all Stewards Meeting scheduled for the evening of February 18 as well.
We also will be having a Bargaining unit meeting with MV Transportation on Saturday March 10th from 10am to noon.