Labor Rights Defender: Communications Workers of America

ILRF honors the Communications Workers of America for its innovation in transnational organizing. CWA has taken the forces of globalization head-on, forging crucial ties with allied unions around the world that have assisted in organizing efforts.

Founded in 1938, the Communications Workers of America has grown from a union of telephone workers to an international union representing 700,000 in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. Today, CWA represents workers in telecommunications, the airline industry, media, public service, education and  health care, law enforcement and manufacturing

CWA has been on the cutting edge of transnational organizing since 1991, expanding its international programs to address the growth of globalization. Strategic partnerships with unions around the world have made this work possible. One of the longest-running partnerships is with the Sindicato de Telefonistas de la Republica Mexicana (STRM), the independent union representing telecom workers in  Mexico. Together, these two unions worked to support call center workers, journalists and other workers who wanted union representation, and to file complaints under the North American Free Trade Agreement for violations of that trade deal’s side agreement on labor.  

CWA continues to demonstrate the power of transnational organizing with two current campaigns:

  1. Currently, workers in the finance industry in Sao Paulo, Brazil, have a better standard of living than those in New York City because they have bargaining rights. Despite having union representation and bargaining rights in many other countries, bank workers have little opportunity for a union voice in the United States. International banks use the poor wages and working conditions in the United States as justification for cutting costs elsewhere. CWA formed an alliance with Brazilian unions — including the country’s largest union federation, Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), and its affiliate for financial workers, the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores do Ramo Financiero (CONTRAF) —to help U.S.-based workers build their own organization and to help Brazilian workers stand up against corporate demands.
     
  2. CWA and ver.di, Germany's largest union, have teamed up to push Deutsche Telekom to respect the rights of all its workers, regardless of where they work. Deutsche Telekom has a history of good working relations with unions in Germany, where all workers have bargaining rights.  Deutsche Telekom, however, has allowed a double standard for U.S. workers, who face intimidation and retaliation by T-Mobile US for seeking a union voice. CWA and ver.di have sponsored worker exchanges and held joint actions in an innovative partnership that is a model for the use of transnational organizing to unite workers with common interests across countries.