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  • CWA History

    CWA Historical Timeline

    1910-1919: Early Organizing Efforts in the Telephone Industry
    Unionization of the telephone industry during the first three decades of this century was confined to a few scattered pockets of organized workers. The first union to attempt to organize telephone workers — the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) achieved limited success during these years. These early organizing efforts did not include women who worked in the telephone industry. It was not until 1912 that the IBEW accepted telephone operators — generally women — as members. In 1919, IBEW's telephone department claimed 200 telephone locals with 20,000 members.

    1918-1923: World War I — Government Takes Control of Telephone System
    During World War I, under a Presidential order on July 22, 1918, the telephone and telegraph system was placed under the control of the federal government and Postmaster General Albert S. Burelson. In 1919, Burelson was faced with a strike by the IBEW that virtually tied up phone service in New England and threatened to become nationwide. In an attempt to end the strike, Burelson issued a government bulletin acknowledging the right of workers to bargain through committees "chosen by them, to act for them."

    1920-1935: Growth of Company Unions in Telephone Companies
    Frightened by the prospect of legitimate unionism on a large scale as a result of Burelson's statement, AT&T encouraged employees to form and join company dominated unions (usually called associations or committees).The company associations succeeded in virtually destroying the existing IBEW telephone locals. By 1934, IBEW had been ousted in every location except Montana and the Chicago Plant. Company associations dominated the telephone industry until 1935.

    1935: Congress Declares Company Unions Illegal
    In 1935, with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (more commonly known as the Wagner Act), the situation changed dramatically for telephone workers. The Wagner Act did several things.

    1. It prohibited the employer from engaging in certain activities that were defined as unfair labor practices. (This included setting up and promoting company unions).
    2. It protected union and collective activity. In addition to organizing, it protected workers who took part in grievances, on the job protests, picketing and strikes.
    3. It established an agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), to enforce the above provisions.

    1937: Supreme Court Declares NLRA Constitutional
    Formal severance of employee associations from the telephone companies is completed.

    1938: Growth of Independent Telephone Unions and the Creation of NFTW
    Strengthened by new rights gained under the Wagner act, new, independent unions began to spring up across the country. As the number of independent unions grew, their leaders recognized the desirability of joining together in an organization where they could exchange ideas and coordinate national activities.  After preliminary meetings in St. Louis and Chicago, representatives of 31 telephone organizations, representing a total combined membership of 145,000, assembled in New Orleans in November 1938, and adopted a constitution and established the National Federation of Telephone Workers (NFTW). The preamble of the NFTW constitution clearly states the reason for creating the union:

    We, the telephone workers of America, mindful of the fact that many conditions necessary to our economic security and general welfare can best be effectively secured by united, cooperative and continuous action on a nationwide scale, do hereby combine and organize under the name of the National Federation of Telephone Workers.  NFTW was never a national union, rather it was a federation of sovereign local independent unions. NFTW's lack of authority over the affiliated local unions left it at a serious disadvantage in dealing with a single-headed giant like AT&T.

    1941-1946: World War II and the National War Labor Board
    In December 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the AFL and CIO voluntarily gave no-strike pledges to the federal government for the duration of the war. In January 1942, President Roosevelt created the National War Labor Board (NWLB). The NWLB was charged with settling all disputes between labor and management that threatened war production.  The NWLB and 12 Regional War Labor Boards were composed of an equal number of representatives from management, labor and the private sector. All of the labor representatives appointed to the Board came out of the AFL or CIO. This was a great concern to the NFTW which was not affiliated with AFL or CIO and felt that the National War Labor Board and Regional Boards would not effectively protect the interests of telephone workers and the wages of telephone workers would suffer greatly during the war.

    The concerns of the NFTW were borne out by events. The average real wage of a telephone worker dropped from 83 cents an hour in 1939 to 70 cents an hour in 1943. According to the Bureau fo Labor Statistics, telephone workers in 1939 occupied the twenty-second place on a list of average weekly earnings of workers in 123 industries; by early 1945 they had fallen to eighty-sixth place on this list.  At hearings before the NWLB, NFTW's Ohio Federation presented a report revealing the starting and top rates of telephone operators in 17 Bell System companies. The report showed that in 1944, starting operator rates varied from a low of $16 a week to a high of $23 with top rates ranging from $26 a week to $34. A Wisconsin operator starting at $16 a week could not reach the top rate of $27 in less than 16 years!  As a result of these wage disparities, telephone unions brought numerous cases before the NWLB and the Regional Boards. Response to these appeals was exceedingly slow and, by mid-1944, there were 85 cases brought by telephone unions still waiting rulings.

    1943: First Black Operator Hired in NJ Bell System
    Gloria Shepperson was the first black operator to be hired in the NJ Bell System — most likely in the entire Bell System. Shepperson had to bring an anti-discrimination case to win her job as an operator. (Helped by the 1941 Fair Employment Practices Executive Order 8802 banning discrimination in hiring). Shepperson went on to become CWA's Director of Ethnic Affairs and, in 1977, served as Assistant to CWA's Secretary-Treasurer Louis B. Knecht.

    1944: Dayton, Ohio Strike and Establishment of National Telephone Panel
    The continuation of inadequate wages and the failure of the Boards to respond to union appeals led to increasing dissatisfaction on the part of telephone workers. These feelings came to a head in November 1944, when Dayton telephone workers went out on strike. Within three days, the strike had spread to 25 cities in Ohio and within six days to Washington, D.C., Chicago and Detroit. At that point, the government capitulated and agreed to establish a national board modeled on the NWLB that would only handle the cases of telephone workers.  On December 29, 1944, the National Telephone Panel (later renamed the National Telephone Commission) was established. It had two members each from the public, industry and telephone labor sectors. Its mandate was to hear and adjudicate all telephone cases and to formulate basic telephone wage policy.  The Telephone Panel was much more effective than the NWLB. By the end of 1945, when it was terminated, it had heard 55 disputes involving 180,000 workers.

    1946: First National AT&T Agreement
    When the war ended in August 1945, the wages of telephone workers remained below those of many industries. Contract negotiations stalled and the presidents of the NFTW affiliates authorized the Union's Executive Board to call a nationwide strike at 6:00 a.m., March 7, 1946. In the early morning hours of March 7, workers around the country prepared to walk the picket lines.  At 5:30 a.m., after 20 hours of bargaining, NFTW President Joseph Beirne and Cleo Craig, AT&T Vice-President in charge of negotiations, signed the Beirne-Craig memorandum. A strike had been avoided and for the first time in history, AT&T had negotiated a national agreement with the Union and committed its associated companies to that agreement.  While a major victory was won in the 1946 negotiations, the basic weakness of the NFTW had revealed itself: During negotiations, 34 of 51 affiliated unions broke away and signed separate agreements.

    1947: The Strike That Brought an End to the NFTW
    This weakness in the NFTW structure was exposed with devastating consequences in the 1947 strike. In 1946, AT&T was not prepared for a strike. But in 1947, AT&T was not only prepared for a strike, it forced NFTW into strike action.

    AT&T was determined not to repeat the Beirne-Craig type of national settlement. It flatly refused to bargain on an industry-wide basis. AT&T approached bargaining with a divide and conquer strategy. The company did not make a wage offer until three weeks into the strike and made the offer contingent upon the affiliates agreeing not to clear it with NFTW's policy committee. Five weeks after the strike began, 17 contracts had been signed. The strike collapsed and the NFTW was finished.

    NFTW President Beirne summed up events by saying: "We were trying to make a federation of union do the job which can only be done by one union in the telephone industry."

    During the 1947 strike, AFL and CIO unions lent their moral and financial support despite the fact that NFTW was not affiliated with either the AFL or the CIO at the time. International unions in both the AFL and CIO aided the strikers with contributions totaling $128,000. This support was very important in helping NFTW workers survive the strike and regroup into a strong and truly national union.

    1947: Coming Together in One National Union: The Founding of CWA
    In June 1947, a truly national union, the Communications Workers of America came into being. The first CWA convention took place that month in Miami with 200 delegates representing 162,000 workers.

    The delegates adopted the first CWA Constitution which converted the former autonomous organizations of the NFTW into a three-level union: the National Union, 39 Divisions and the Locals.

    Joseph A. Beirne was elected President and advised the delegates: "All of us must take a new view of our roles in CWA. No longer can we hope to act as ‘autonomous' groups in scattered parts of the country. No longer should a division president permit his actions, aims or ideals to be bound by a first, last and always view of his local problems. We must embrace the ‘all for one and one for all' philosophy of a single CWA union."

    1948: CWA Debates Affiliation with the AFL or CIO
    At the 1948 convention, President Beirne told the delegates, "I think the time has arrived for us to submit the question (of affiliation) to our members so they can establish in a free manner and by secret ballot what their thoughts are on this question."

    Those who were in favor of affiliation were clearly in favor of affiliating with the CIO rather than the AFL. This was because the AFL could only offer CWA status within an existing international union for one industry. In February 1949, CWA's Executive Board recommended affiliation with the CIO and in a referendum, the membership approved the CIO affiliation.

    Not all of the independents agreed to join CWA. The AT&T Long Lines unit applied for a CIO charter which was granted as the Telephone Workers Organizing Committee-CIO (TWOC-CIO). Later, units from AT&T Manufacturing and Sales and Michigan Traffic joined the TWOC-CIO. When CWA was granted the CIO charter, TWOC was folded in.

    1949: CWA Restructures — Moves to a Two-Level Structure
    At the 1949 Convention, there was general agreement that the structure of the union needed to be changed to a more coordinated approach to the telephone companies. The three-level structure established under the 1947 Constitution created 39 Divisions and 39 different ways of bargaining, striking, and handling finances. The 1949 convention mandated that the Executive Board establish a special Constitution Committee to investigate the possibility of setting up a two-level structure.

    CWA Organizational Structure (1938-Present)





    National Assembly




    Executive Board

    Executive Board

    Executive Board

    Executive Board

    Affiliated Organizations

    39 Divisions

    Eleven Districts*

    Eight Districts

    Chartered Locals

    Chartered Locals

    Chartered Locals

    *When CWA changed to a two-level structure, eleven Districts were created (9 geographic Districts and Western Electric Sales and Western Electric Installations). In 1953, Districts 10 and 11 were dissolved. Consolidation was completed in 1986 when Districts 5 and 8 were dissolved.

    1950: U.S. Senate Condemns Bell System
    In that same year, in response to charges levied by CWA, the Senate Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations held hearings to investigate the status of collective bargaining and labor-management relations in the Bell System.

    During the hearing, which lasted for 11 days in August and September 1950, the subcommittee heard testimony on these issues from representatives of CWA, AT&T and the associated Bell companies. Joseph Beirne's testimony alone lasted five days.

    Following the conclusion of the hearings, a majority report of the subcommittee was issued. Its conclusions overwhelmingly supported the charges made by CWA. The subcommittee found that:

    1. The local associated companies functioned as parts in a closely integrated corporate system completely and directly controlled by AT&T management.
    2. The basic cause of poor labor-management relations in the Bell System revolved around the inability of the union to bargain with a level of management that had the authority to make final decisions.
    3. The Bell System had actively and continuously conducted an anti-union campaign, including placing ads in the public press and interfering in CWA affairs.

    1951: Creation of a National Defense Fund
    In 1951, after two days of heated debate on the issue and a roll call vote with 133,047 in favor and 101,883 opposed, the delegates to the annual convention voted to establish a national defense fund with contributions of 50 cents per member per month.

    1955: Southern Bell Strike
    1955 was the year CWA undertook its most difficult task since its formation eight years earlier: a regional strike against Southern Bell lasting 72 days, encompassing nine states and affecting 50,000 workers. Throughout months of bargaining the company remained adamant that any new contract contain a ban on strikes "or other interruptions of service." Throughout the strike, CWA expressed its willingness to resolve bargaining issues through arbitration, but Southern Bell refused.

    Ultimately, Southern Bell's attempt to break the union was unsuccessful. A one-year contract was signed that gave across-the-board gains to CWA members: Wage increases; the right to arbitration for suspension, discharges and job vacancy fillings; reduction of work tour hours; and, most significantly, recognition of the right to strike. The 1955 strike was an early landmark for CWA because of its scope, duration and success.

    1963: General Telephone of California Workers Demand Equal Pay for Equal Work
    In October 1963, CWA members went on strike against General Telephone of California for wages and benefits comparable to those enjoyed by Bell employees in the state. At the time, it was possible for a General Telephone worker and a Bell worker to be doing the same type of work across the street from each other, but the General Telephone employee would be receiving considerably less compensation for the job than his/her Bell counterpart.

    1965: The Triple Threat Program — Organizing Growth Resolution #1
    In 1965, convention delegates, at President Beirne's urging, adopted CWA Growth Resolution #1, which endorsed the Triple Threat program and clearly stated that organizing was a top priority of the union. It was Beirne's program for broadening the membership base and expanding CWA's influence in the areas of politics and legislation as well as collective bargaining. For Beirne believed — and it has remained CWA's philosophy — that all these activities are mutually dependent and equally vital to CWA's overall success in representing its members.

    1966: Public Worker Organizing
    The 5000 member Municipal Management Society came into CWA and became Local 1180. Between 1966 and 1980, CWA organized the parking enforcement agents and the Board of Elections workers in New York City as well as 15,000 welfare, city and county workers in New Jersey.

    1968: First National Strike Since 1947, Full Health Care Premium
    1968 brought the first national strike against the Bell System since 1947. Some 200,000 CWA telephone workers walked out because AT&T refused to agree to wage increases that would meet the rise in the cost of living. The strike lasted 18 days with AT&T ultimately agreeing to a raise in wages and benefits totaling nearly 20 percent over a three-year period.

    1970: Government Charges AT&T with Discriminatory Employment Practices
    On December 10, 1970, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed charges against AT&T and its twenty-four operating companies for discriminating on the basis of sex, race and national origin in their employment practices. The specific charges included:

    1. Extreme segregation of jobs by sex. The Commission found that almost all low paying jobs in the Bell System were held by women.
    2. Recruiting, hiring and promotion practices that discriminated against women.
    3. Lower wages paid to women than to men for equivalent jobs.
    4. Very few Blacks in craft jobs.
    5. Very few Hispanic workers anywhere in the Bell System.
    6. Minorities grouped in the lowest paying jobs.

    The EEOC tried for two years to force AT&T to comply with the equal opportunity requirements of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Finally, on January 18, 1973, AT&T, the EEOC, the Department of Labor and the Justice Department reached an agreement on the charges. The settlement, called the "consent decree," provided for compensation for the victims of past discrimination and an affirmative action program for changing the pattern of discrimination in the Bell System.

    The settlement included $5 million in back pay to 13,000 women and minority men, and an estimated $30 million in wage adjustments for women and minority workers. A second consent decree signed on May 30, 1974, provided $30 million back pay and wage adjustments to 25,000 employees in lower management positions.

    1971: Biggest Settlement In CWA History — Task Force ‘71 Receives Credit
    Four hundred thousand CWA members nationwide went on strike against the Bell System in 1971 for wage increases to offset the devastating inflation of the previous three years. After a one-week strike, CWA achieved the biggest economic package ever negotiated with the Bell System and obtained, for the first time, a cost of living adjustment clause (COLA) and big city allowance.

    In addition, wage progression schedules were shortened to 5 years and vacation time was improved to 2 weeks after one year's service. The total wage benefit package amounted to more than 33.5% over the life of the agreement. A large share of the credit for those successful negotiations went to the Task Force ‘71 Mobilization Program that President Beirne set up to activate the membership in support of CWA's bargaining objectives.

    Task Force ‘71 consisted of 50,000 local union leaders (one for every 10-15 members) who led training sessions, put up informational posters, passed out bargaining leaflets and worked to keep their members informed and activated. The Task Force ‘71 participants wore "small potato 71" pins to identify themselves as part of this important corps of local leaders.

    While the 1971 strike lasted one week nationally, for 37,000 New York Tel plant workers it lasted 218 days. This unit achieved a breakthrough in union security by obtaining an agency shop that was later extended in 1974 to the entire Bell System.

    1971: First Special Convention Outlines Duties and Responsibilities of Locals
    1971 proved a busy year for CWA but did not deter more than 1,500 delegates, alternates and guests from attending the first "special convention." The delegates adopted several constitutional amendments at this convention. The most important of these was the adoption of a constitutional amendment dealing with the duties and responsibilities of locals. The amendment required all locals to carry out the union's policies, participate actively in political and legislative activities, participate in local officers and stewards' training programs, and attend all district, state and area meetings.

    Also adopted at the convention was a constitutional amendment creating CWA Retired Members Clubs and providing three-year terms of office at both the International and Local level. (Prior to 1971 there were two-year terms.)

    1972: First CWA President's Award Presented
    It's been awarded annually since to local officers and staff who make an outstanding contribution to organizing. The award is a replica of the Stetson hat worn by President Joseph A. Beirne.

    1973: General Telephone Workers in Three States Walk Out
    In 1973, 6,000 CWA members in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky went on strike against the General Telephone companies of those states. The strike lasted two months in Indiana and Ohio before settlement was reached, but the workers in Kentucky were on the picket line for five moths before their contract demands were met.

    1973-1974: CWA Deals with Equity and Discrimination Within the Union; FWTW Merges with CWA
    During the 1973 CWA convention, extensive discussions were held on the methods by which CWA dealt with the problems of women and minority members. As a result of these discussions, the National Executive Board established a Blacks and Other Minorities Structure Study Committee and a Female Structure Committee. In November 1973, these committees convened at CWA headquarters and prepared reports for the Executive Board that included recommended policies and procedures.

    Extended discussions at the Executive Board meetings in January and February of 1974 led to a resolution recommending that the President develop a "Committee on Equity" concept from the national to the local level of the union. The Executive Board authorized the appointment of a National committee on Equity consisting of rank and file members from each district that is still in place today.

    The Federation of Women Telephone Workers of Southern California (FWTW) merged with CWA. Its President, Dina Beaumont, became the first female CWA Vice President in over two decades.

    1974: First National Bell System Bargaining; Death of Beirne and Election of Watts
    1974 was a historic year for CWA. For the first time, the Bell System agreed to conduct unified national bargaining. The company had finally given up the charade that claimed its operating companies were independent, self-controlled businesses. The new bargaining was structured so that wages, benefits and contract language would be negotiated at one national table. The 1974 bargaining session was significant because unlike its 1968 and 1971 predecessors, it did not result in a CWA strike.

    In January 1974, President Beirne left his sick bed to announce to the members of the Collective Bargaining Council that AT&T had agreed to his 28-year-old objective — national bargaining.

    Joseph Beirne, who had pursued the goal of unified national bargaining for all of his 27 years as CWA President, did not seek reelection and died on Labor Day of 1974. He was succeeded by Secretary-Treasurer Glenn E. Watts, who had first gone to work for C&P Telephone in 1941.

    1975-1976: Strikes Hit Independents
    Three of the most bitter CWA strikes of the 1970's took place at other independent telephone locations: a six month strike at Rochester, New York Telephone over an attack on wage levels, at General of Kentucky in 1976 over medical benefits and work rules, and a three month walkout at New Jersey Telephone over the issue of supervisors performing bargaining unit work.

    1978: First National Women's Conference
    CWA held its first annual National Women's Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Conference participants attended plenary sessions, workshops and discussion groups. Resolutions on the Equal Rights Amendment, child care and job pressures were presented to the CWA Executive Board.

    1979: National Organizing Department Established
    On July 12, 1979, the Executive Board authorized President Watts to establish CWA's National Organizing Department.

    1980-1981: CWA Organizes Public Workers — Public Workers Department Created
    Over the course of the decade, CWA began to expand into fields outside of telecommunications. In July 1980, the CWA Public Workers Department was created. One of the biggest successes in the public sector was the organizing of 34,000 New Jersey state workers in 1981. Today, CWA represents 100,000 public and health care workers across the country.

    1981-1983: The CWA Committee on the Future
    The CWA Committee on the Future was created in July 1981 by action of the CWA convention. The 14-member committee was composed of one elected representative from each District and a representative from the Public Workers sector, and was charged with evaluating CWA's structure in light of rapid technological change.

    After a year and a half of study and debate, the Committee on the Future submitted its final recommendations to the delegates to the special convention in Philadelphia in March 1983. The 1,750 delegates adopted 10 resolutions and two constitutional changes proposed by the Committee on the Future.

    1982: First National Conference on Minority Concerns
    The first National Conference on Minority Concerns was held in Dearborn, Michigan. Participants representing more than 100 locals attended workshops on assertiveness training, leadership skills training for minority workers, effective persuasion through verbal communications, building minority coalitions and coping with stress.

    1983: CWA Strikes the Bell System
    In 1983, only months before the Bell System was to be broken into separate companies, CWA opened national contract negotiations. Not surprisingly, it was a difficult round of negotiations. AT&T was demanding givebacks from workers and seeking substandard job titles. Seven hundred thousand CWA members went on strike on August 7 for better wages, employment security, pension plan changes and health insurance improvements. After a twenty-two day strike, the telephone industry agreed to meet the union's demands. This would be the last time CWA would be able to negotiate at one national table for all its Bell System members because divestiture was only a few months away.

    1983: First Minorities Leadership Institute (MLI)
    In response to recommendations by the National Committee on Equity for training opportunities devoted to minorities, the Executive Board established the Minorities Leadership Institute — a three week intensive study program. The MLI is held annually with participants recommended by District Vice Presidents.

    1984: Divestiture and Beyond: New Challenges, New Accomplishments
    For CWA, the most significant event of this decade was the divestiture of AT&T on January 1, 1984. The breakup of the Bell System was of great concern to the union. CWA feared divestiture would bring relocations, personal hardship and repudiation of contract gains by the new independent Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) and their subsidiaries. Personal hardship and relocation did, in fact, occur, forcing CWA to work hard to preserve the gains four decades of sacrifice and solidarity had achieved. Job security issues catapulted to the top of the list of bargaining priorities for 1986. During this difficult period, President Watts often reminded the members that it was AT&T that had broken up, not CWA. The union remained as unified, committed and strong as ever.

    Also in this year, members of the Federation of Telephone Workers of Pennsylvania voted overwhelmingly to merge with CWA. The Executive Board created District 13 to accommodate the 12,250 newly affiliated men and women.

    1985: CWA Elects Morton Bahr and James Booe
    Changes occurred within CWA itself during the mid-1980s. There were structural changes taken in response to the divestiture of AT&T. There was also a leadership change for only the second time in CWA's history. In 1985, President Glenn E. Watts and Secretary-Treasurer Louis Knecht retired after serving eleven years in these offices. Elected to replace them were District 1 Vice President Morton Bahr and Executive Vice President James Booe, respectively.

    1986: Post Divestiture Bargaining; Mobilization Takes Root in New Jersey
    1986 presented CWA with its first negotiations with the post-divestiture telephone industry. Twelve years after CWA had achieved national bargaining, the union was forced back to the old multiple table way of bargaining. CWA had to bargain not only with AT&T, but with the independent RBOCs and their subsidiaries. National bargaining was replaced by 48 different bargaining tables.

    In AT&T negotiations, the company attempted to take back health care benefits, lower clerical wages, and eliminate cost of living adjustments obtained in earlier contracts. CWA had no choice but to strike. The strike lasted 26 days and AT&T agreed to provide wage and employment security improvements and retain health care benefits intact. Although negotiations with the RBOCs were also difficult, they were less contentious than those with AT&T. Strikes were necessary against some of these operating companies, but none lasted more than a few days.

    The first large-scale mobilization effort began with New Jersey clerical and professional state workers. Faced with no right to strike in New Jersey, state workers launched the Committee of 1,000 to involve members in mobilization activities aimed at pressuring the employer during bargaining. A strong mobilization system of organization, education and collective action resulted in gaining a breakthrough contract for state workers.

    1987: International Typographical Union Merges with CWA
    In 1987, members of the International Typographical Union (ITU) were welcomed into CWA. Members of the oldest union in the AFL-CIO representing union typesetters and mailers throughout the U.S. and Canada approved affiliation with CWA. Recognizing the distinct nature of the work these members perform, the union created a new Printing, Publishing and Media Workers (PPMWS) Sector and elected a Sector Vice President.

    1988: Celebrating 50 Years of Achievement; CWA Kicks Off Mobilization
    In 1988, CWA celebrated its 50th anniversary. The convention took place in New Orleans, the site of the NFTW's founding in 1938. From its roots in the NFTW, CWA has grown to become one of the most respected unions in the United States, representing telecommunications workers, state and local employees, printers and health care workers.

    CWA Mobilization was kicked off at the ‘88 convention in preparation for a major round of bargaining in 1989. Mobilization — organization, education and collective action — was a way for CWA to get back to the basics of unionism. Members were recruited to work one-on-one to educate members about bargaining and workplace issues. Mobilization became a way of life for many CWA locals.

    1989: Mobilization Key at AT&T Settlement, NYNEX Strike
    Mobilization by CWA members around AT&T bargaining "proves how successful we can be when we stick together and fight together," said President Morton Bahr. Faced with the solidarity of mobilized workers, AT&T backed off health care cost-shifting demands. The settlement for 175,000 workers broke new ground on child and elder care by creating a $5 million fund to establish care centers and support facilities, granting parental and elder care leave with a job guarantee and paid medical and dental coverage for six months.

    Mobilization also was key for NYNEX workers who spent 17 weeks on the picket line fighting management's attempts to shift health care costs. "Their victory in holding the line against concessions is a victory for tens of thousands of other telephone workers. Because of their sacrifice, others won't have to endure strikes in our next round of negotiations because we've sent a message throughout the industry — we're solidly united," President Bahr declared following the December 4 settlement.

    But the strike was not without a price. Local 1103 member Gerry Hogan lost his life on the picket line when he was struck and killed by a scab driving a car at a NYNEX facility.

    At the ‘89 convention, delegates voted to change the Defense Fund rules so strikers would receive a flat weekly payout beginning in ‘92 and continue a needs-based fund to provide emergency relief.

    1991: CWA Mission for the Nineties: "Wall to Wall"
    Delegates to CWA 53rd Convention resolved that the 1990s will be the decade of CWA Wall to Wall." Delegates reaffirmed their commitment to building the union by working to make every organized unity "CWA Wall to Wall." Delegates also made changes to the CWA Constitution to allow the Committee on Equity and the Women's Committee to give annual reports and recommendations to future conventions.

    In an effort to put the bitterness of the ‘89 strike behind, CWA and NYNEX negotiated an unprecedented early settlement 11 months before contract expiration. The agreement called for a 13% wage hike, retention of COLA and fully-paid health care. It included a breakthrough agreement in company-wide organizing, neutrality and card check recognition.

    1992: Membership Increases with Affiliations; CWA Elects 1st Woman Secy.-Treas.
    The National Association of Broadcasting Engineers and Technicians (NABET) affiliated with CWA. NABET represents 10,000 engineers, technicians and other broadcast workers at NBC and ABC, television networks and 50 independent television stations and cable TV production companies.

    CWA became the biggest union in Texas following the affiliation with the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT). The Association represents 12,000 officers, deputy sheriffs and jailers throughout the state.

    Members at AT&T worked for six weeks beyond contract expiration during the summer of ‘92, carrying out an extensive mobilization strategy against the telecommunications giant. It was the largest bargaining unit ever to attempt a coordinated inside tactics strategy — 100,000 members, 500 locals, 50 states and thousands of work locations. The coordinated inside tactics by members and massive external mobilization efforts, including generating community and AT&T customer support, proved that sometimes applying pressure in different ways can work better than a strike.

    Barbara J. Easterling was elected as the union's first female Secretary-Treasurer. Easterling, an Executive Vice President since 1985 and one-time telephone operator, was elected at convention.

    After more than 30 years headquartered at the Mercury Building in Washington, D.C., the union moved to a new building across town, two blocks from the Department of Labor and four blocks from the Capitol.

    1993: Organizing New Units, Fighting for Labor Reform
    CWA membership continued to grow outside the traditional telephone units with three big organizing wins at universities in 1993. Four thousand graduate students working as teaching and graduate assistants at the State University of New York (SUNY) saw the end to a 13-year organizing struggle when they finally voted for union representation. Seventeen hundred clerical and technical workers at the Bloomington campus of Indiana University voted for CWA after a four-year campaign. The Union of Technical and Professional Employees (UPTE) with 700 members affiliated with CWA.

    The professional and technical workers hold non-academic positions throughout the nine campus University of California system.

    On June 30, CWA activists joined other trade unionists and community activists in a day of protest at 30 regional offices of the National Labor Relations Board demanding justice from regional directors, and labor law reform to protect the rights of workers to organize. The civil disobedience led to 500 arrests.

    1995: Easterling Breaks Glass Ceiling at AFL-CIO; Mobilization Makes the Difference in 1995 Bell Atlantic Bargaining; University Research Professional and Technicians Join CWA
    CWA's Barbara Easterling made history by becoming the first woman to fill the AFL-CIO's second highest post when she and new AFL-CIO President Tom Donohue won election at the Federation's Executive Council meeting.

    After 5 months with no contract, Bell Atlantic finally fell in line with the mainstream of the telecommunications industry offering its 37,000 CWA workers double digit wage and pension increases, employment security protections and access to future jobs. Over 6,000 members were suspended for such actions as sickouts, refusing overtime and passing out "Block 900" flyers. The workplace mobilization effort was strengthened by a multi-million dollar advertising and corporate campaign.

    In 1995 and early 1996, 7,800 professional and technical university workers joined the CWA family. In 1995, 4,000 technical workers employed by the University of California system voted to be represented by CWA in UPTE-CWA (Union of Professional and Technical Employees). Fifteen months later, in March 1996, 3,700 professional researchers throughout the University of California system voted overwhelmingly for CWA representation as part of UPTE-CWA.

    1997: TNG Joins CWA; CWA Obtains Historic Card Check Agreement with SBC and PacTel; US Airways Workers Win a CWA Voice; CWA Endorses Atlantic Alliance
    The Newspaper Guild (TNG), representing 40,000 news industry workers in the U.S. and Canada, merged with CWA.

    A five year campaign that integrated continuous bargaining, membership education, political action, mobilization and strategic organizing, culminated in March 1997 with CWA and SBC (Southwestern Bell Corporation) signing the most far-reaching card check agreement in the union's history. A similar agreement was reached with PacTel in April.

    CWA won the biggest private sector organizing victory in a decade when 10,000 passenger service professionals at US Airways voted to join CWA.

    CWA joined forces with two of the United Kingdom's biggest telecommunications unions — the Communications Workers Union and the Society of Telecom Executives — and endorsed an Atlantic Alliance of the three unions to exchange information and plan coordinated strategies to protect our members and to organize new members in the global telecommunications marketplace.

    1998: CWA Signs an Alliance with the Independent Union of Telephone Workers of Puerto Rico; 7500 Workers at SNET Join CWA
    In the aftermath of the 41-day strike and 2-day general strike against the privatization of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company, CWA entered into an alliance with the PRTC workers. The agreement calls for joint bargaining and organizing strategies in response to the acquisition of the PRTC by GTE.

    In a representation election that culminated a 14-year effort, the 7,500 workers at the Southern New England Telephone Company joined CWA.

    CWA History PDF

    Page Last Updated: Nov 03, 2017 (09:21:11)
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