Thursday, May 18, 2017


By David Bacon
Working In These Times, 5/18/17

Workers have issued an ultimatum, giving company executives until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to present serious proposals—or the workers will walk. (Photo credit: David Bacon)  

Around 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at AT&T could walk off their jobs, starting Friday, for a three-day strike, as pressure continues to mount on the corporation to settle fair contracts.

In California and Nevada, around 17,000 AT&T workers who provide phone, landline and cable services have been working without a contract for more than a year. Last year, they voted to authorize a strike with more than 95 percent support. And in February, an estimated 21,000 AT&T Mobility workers in 36 states voted to strike as well, with 93 percent in favor.

Workers have issued an ultimatum, giving company executives until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to present serious proposals—or the workers will walk.

It wouldn’t be the first strike at AT&T. Some 17,000 workers in California and Nevada walked off the job in late March to protest company changes in their working conditions in violation of federal law. After a one-day strike, AT&T agreed not to require technicians to perform work assignments outside of their expertise. Nevertheless, the biggest issues for workers remained unresolved.

AT&T has proposed to cut sick time and force long-time workers to pay hundreds of dollars more for basic healthcare, according to CWA. At a huge April rally in Silicon Valley, CWA District 9 vice president Tom Runnion fumed, "The CEO of AT&T just got a raise and now makes over $12,000 an hour. And he doesn't want to give us a raise. He wants to sabotage our healthcare then wants us to pay more for it. Enough is enough!"

AT&T is the largest telecommunications company in the country with $164 billion in sales and 135 million wireless customers nationwide. It has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs in the United States since 2011, representing more than 30 percent of its call center employees, and closed more than 30 call centers. Meanwhile, the company has outsourced the operation of more than 60 percent of its wireless retail stores to operators who pay much less than the union wage, according to CWA.

The relocation of jobs to call centers in Mexico, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and other countries is one of the main issues in negotiations. A recent CWA report charges that in the Dominican Republic, for instance, where it uses subcontractors, wages are $2.13-$2.77/hour. Workers have been trying to organize a union there and accuse management of firing union leaders and making threats, accusations and intimidating workers. Several members of Congress sent a letter to President Donald Trump this year demanding that he help protect and bring call center jobs back to the United States.

"We've been bargaining with AT&T for over a year," CWA president Chris Shelton told the rally in Silicon Valley. "They can easily afford to do what people want and instead are continuing to send jobs overseas."

According to Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1, “AT&T is underestimating the deep frustration wireless retail, call center and field workers are feeling right now with its decisions to squeeze workers and customers, especially as the company just reported more than $13 billion in annual profits."

“The clock is ticking for AT&T to make good on their promise to preserve family-supporting jobs for more than 40,000 workers,” said Trainor. “We have made every effort to bargain in good faith with AT&T, but have only been met with delays and excuses. Now, AT&T is facing the possibility of closed stores for the first time ever. Our demands are clear and have been for months: fair contract or strike."

Last year, CWA members at Verizon were on strike for 49 days, finally gaining a contract with greater job protections and winning 1,300 new call center jobs. Since December, AT&T workers have picketed retail stores in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San Diego and other cities, hung banners on freeway overpasses, organized rallies and marches and confronted the corporation at its annual meeting in Dallas.

"Americans are fed up with giant corporations like AT&T that make record profits but ask workers to do more with less and choose to offshore and outsource jobs,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T wireless call center worker in Illinois. “I’ve watched our staff shrink from 200 employees down to 130. I’m a single mother and my son is about to graduate. I voted yes to authorize a strike because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show AT&T we’re serious.”

Full disclosure: David Bacon and In These Times staff are members of the Communication Workers of America, and the union is a sponsor of the magazine.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Text and photos by David Bacon

full set of photos:

This is a presentation given in my totally challenged Spanish at the rally before the 2017 May Day march in Yakima, Washington. 

I started by asking the people there (about 500 at the time, later growing to 1000 in the march) to raise their hands if they'd not gone to work, and were participating in the "Day Without Immigrants" strike.  Most people raised their hands. 

A group of over 40 farm workers, carrying red UFW flags, came from the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.  They all raised heir hands.  Some growers and packing shed owners either closed for the day, or said people could take the day off to come to the march.  Others just didn't go to work, and came to the march on their own.

What a beautiful day!  Que Viva el Primero de Mayo!

We are here today in solidarity with people all over this country who have stopped work, who are marching in the streets like we are.  And why are we marching?  Because last week ICE picked up hundreds of people, mothers, children, even a DACA student, and deported them.

To that we say Not One More!

We are here in solidarity with the people in detention - 360,000 every year, with special prisons for mothers and children.  The courageous people in the Tacoma center just organized a hunger strike two weeks ago to protest, and we march to support what they did.
So to the detention centers we say Not One More!

When President Trump says he will build a wall and send five thousand more agents to the border, and we know this means more people will die crossing, we say Not One More!

And when we see our brothers and sisters drowning, trying to cross the Mediterranean so they won't be hit by a bomb from a drone, we say Not One More!

You can kill people in more ways than with a gun.  In many cities and neighborhoods our families and communities are being sentenced to economic death.
It happened in Detroit, abandoned by the auto industry, looted by the banks.  It happened here in Washington State, where companies closed factories and moved to make more money paying lower wages to workers who get beaten if they organize a union.
What does economic death mean?  It means our kids have no jobs so they fill the prisons with them.  People are homeless and live on the street after they fight our government's wars.
And to that too we say, Not One More!

We are here not just to stop death, but to demand a better life.  We are here because 130 years ago in Chicago people had enough of long hours and low pay.  They organized a huge movement for the 8 hour day, and then a general strike, just like the strike we've organized today.
What answer did they got from the government and the big companies?

They said fighting for an 8-hour workday was "un-American" and the strikers were foreigners.  The same we hear from Trump today.

Then, on the first May Day, in Haymarket square in 1886, the police fired on workers, and murdered 6 people.  A bomb went off at the square four days later, and they framed the leaders of the 8-hour movement.

Four were executed: August Spies, George Engel, Adolph Fisher.  Louis Lingg committed suicide in prison.  They were immigrants from Germany with the same social justice ideas people bring today from Mexico, Central America and the Philippines.

The fourth man was Albert Parsons, a white man born in Alabama who fought in the Civil War, and then traveled the country demanding rights for workers and the 8-hour day.  For this they hanged him.

His wife, Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, an African American and Mexican woman, tried to stop the hangings, and then spent the rest of her life fighting for the 8-hour day as a socialist and communist.

Today we remember them, the people who gave their lives to give us May Day.

The campaign for the 8-hour day went around the world.  In every country workers organize and stop work on May 1 to remember the martyrs of Chicago.  This holiday we're celebrating cost lives and blood, and it didn't stop with the four martyrs.  Last year workers were shot down in cold blood in Turkey, after a rightwing government prohibited them from celebrating our holiday.

We remember them all.

In this country they tried to make us forget May Day and stop celebrating it.  When I was a little boy my parents brought me to a May Day rally in New York City, in Union Square.  The police charged the crowd on horses and ran people down, and beat them with clubs.
They called us communists and people grew afraid.

Then on May 1, 2006 millions of us went into the street.  We should thank every one who came out eleven years ago, because now we have May Day again.  Today working people are celebrating May Day in every country of the world and we are too.  We've joined the rest of the world.

Eleven years ago we marched to stop a law that would have made it a federal felony simply not to have papers.  We are still fighting today because Trump says he'll deport millions of us - our families, our friends, our workmates, our neighbors.
We will stop him.

But our strike and march today is for more than papers.  Even if we got papers tomorrow, most of us would still be out here working for minimum wage or less.
Today, 130 years after Haymarket, do we have the 8-hour day? 

If you go out to the apple orchards here, to the hop fields, how long is the work day?  10 hours.
Actually, farm workers work far more than 10 hours, and not just because the boss makes us.  It's because we can't survive on 8 hours of pay - the pay is too low.  The pay is so low at Wal Mart and McDonalds that we fight just to get 8 hours, because if we can't get enough hours we can't pay the rent.

So we need an 8-hour day, but 8-hours with a wage we can live on, and a union.  That's the bottom line.

And if we protest, suddenly the company or ICE says you don't have papers, and you get fired.  If we try to organize a union at Wal Mart, or we go out on strike at McDonalds, we get fired.  If we file a claim because they robbed us of the pay for the hours that we did work, we get fired.

I say, enough is enough.  No more firings, Not One More!

The next time one of us gets fired for demanding our rights, we will stand together.  If someone gets fired for coming to the march today instead of going to work, we will say together, Not One More!

And the next time the migra sets up a check point and puts our families on a bus to a detention center for deportation, we will do what brave young people all over this country did to protect their families.  They sat down in front of those busses!
So together we will say, Not One More!

This is what May Day means - standing together, marching together, raising our voices!

We don't believe in their world of violence and war and prison and unemployment and low wages and deportations.
We can build a better one!  Like the Zapatistas say, Un Otro Mundo!
We can build a world where we all have jobs that give us a decent living and rights.

We can build a world where everyone has legal status and equality.

We can build a world where people in Mexico or the Philippines have a decent life and a future too - where they have the right to stay home if they like, or if they want to come here, they have rights here too.

Is this just a dream?  No, it's not.
People fought for this 130 years ago in Chicago.  That's why we have this day.

So is it possible?  Of course we can do it!

Si Se Puede!