CWA’s Claude Cummings: We must adapt ‘to protect our members, prepare them for the future’



CLAUDE CUMMINGS, International Vice President of Communication Workers of America (CWA) District 6 says unions must adapt to a changing workplace, and work to ensure new members understand what their union does for them. “A lot of these young people that are getting on with these companies today, they’re getting a contract and the company is telling them, ‘This is what we’re providing for you,’” Cummings said. “They don’t sit there and talk about the union – we’ve got to do that.” – Labor Tribune photo

The world is changing – technology is changing – and workers and their unions have to adapt, Claude Cummings, International Vice President of Communication Workers of America (CWA) District 6, told union members who gathered in St. Louis last week for the Union’s district conference.

Consider even the most common changes in technology.

Cummings related the story of how, when he bought a new car not long ago, he was flummoxed trying to find the slot for his CD player

“I checked everywhere,” he said. “I checked a slot on the dash, I checked the glove box. Finally, I called the dealership and they said, ‘Claude, they don’t put CD players in those cars anymore.’ I had to call my daughter and she said, ‘You have to plug in your MP3.’”

Cummings’ story got a few good laughs from his audience – a wide-ranging group of various ages, some of whom remember eight-track tapes and cassette players in cars. It also highlighted something the Communication Workers are keenly aware of – rapid changes in technology are changing their jobs, how those jobs are performed, how the CWA – and the Labor Movement as a whole – needs to work and organize to adapt to those changes.

“The technology has changed,” Cummings said. “Cars don’t come with CD players anymore, but we’re still driving cars, We’re still working for these companies, but the technology has changed. We have to figure out how to adjust to protect our members, prepare them for the future and keep them on the payroll.”

Cummings said the union also needs to reach out to new and younger members to ensure they understand how the union works and what it does for them, so they don’t think the benefits contract that they’re hired under just came from the goodness of the company’s heart.

“A lot of these young people that are getting on with these companies today, they’re getting a contract and the company is telling them, ‘This is what we’re providing for you,’” Cummings said.

“They don’t sit there and talk about the union; they don’t. We’ve got to do that. We’ve got to interact with these members on the job and get them to understand clearly what the union is about, and why we need them to know their steward, why we need them involved and why we need them volunteering to do some things. We’ve got to get our members to understand clearly, we cannot win this fight alone as officers and leaders of the union. We need them fighting with us.”

Cummings said CWA and the Labor Movement also needs to work to its political strength.

“We bargain contracts, but we also need those in elected office to support union workers,” he said. “We need more union members running for office, and we need to elect others who support union members and understand what unions are going through.”

In addition to supporting union-friendly candidates, Cummings, who chairs the CWA Human Rights Committee, said unions and their members also need to reach out and get involved with other like-minded groups to support their efforts to effect change.

“We cannot do this work alone,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity inside the union to do this work alone.”

And that’s a message that is resonating throughout the Labor Movement.

Speaking to conference delegates last week, Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, highlighted the Missouri Labor Movement’s recent victories – defeating “right-to-work,” passing a minimum wage increase and helping St. Louis secure the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a project that will include the employment of 1,500 people during construction.

“Of those 1,500, 30 percent of those people in the construction trades will come from the neighborhoods right here in this vicinity of the city of St. Louis, to include minorities and women, are guaranteed to work when we build that federal building. That’s guaranteed by the great work of our leaders in the building trades and our friends in the legislature,” Louis said.

In addition, Louis said, there will be 3,000 sustainable jobs at NGA with the completion of the project. And St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson is negotiating to ensure that 30 percent of those jobs will be from the neighborhoods around the facility and will include minority and women jobs.

“Those are things that we’ve accomplished together, working together, fighting together,” Louis said. “When we fight together, we win. There is no question about it.”

Still, Louis said, Labor remains under unrelenting attack in the Missouri Legislature, which this session moved to reduce unemployment compensation, undermine the minimum wage increase approved by voters, reintroduce so-called “right-to-work” and pass legislation establishing statewide mechanical contractor licensing – a move that would allow unlicensed contractors to install gas lines and other mechanical contracting work so long as the company they are working for has at least one licensed mechanical contractor on staff.

“We can’t sit dormant anymore,” Louis said. “We need a better government, where the government serves the citizens not the greedy corporations. Make no mistake, we’re going to have to fight for it. No one will just hand us a better life. We have to fight. We have to register voters. We have to elect politicians who are willing to get in the trenches with us and fight.

“For our members, we need you to register a voter; call your state rep or senator when you’re asked to; show up for rally or member-to-member walk. That is how we work together, and that is how we win together. It’s with you that Organized Labor survives.”

There is work to do, Missouri State Senator Karla May, a member of CWA 6300, told conference delegates, but now is a good time to do it.

“We have to talk about the family issues that are breaking up the family. We have to talk about health care. We have to talk about having a Labor union,” May said. “Right now is the best time to do it because we have a lot of organizations that are following the union model.

“When you talk about protesters, they’re following the union model when we’re striking against government and the things that are happening right now. We have already set that stage. We should be the ones who are leading in 2020.”



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