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Communications Workers of America (CWA) is the largest labor union serving to protect the interests of people working in the sphere of communications and media. CWA represents over 700,000 employees both in public and private sectors in the USA, Puerto Rico, and Canada (“About CWA,” n.d.). Members of CWA work in such spheres as news media, the airline industry, broadcast television, manufacturing, telecommunications and information technology, cable television, law enforcement, health care, and others (“About,” n.d.).
At the top of the organizational structure, there are the President, Chris Shelton, and Secretary-Treasurer, Sara Steffens (“About,” n.d.). The Executive Board, which governs the union between conventions, also includes sectors and industries, vice presidents of the union’s geographic districts, and other members. CWA comprises the following sectors and industries:
- Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (60,000 workers);
- Public Health Care and Education Workers Sector (140,000 workers);
- CWA Telecommunications (300,000 workers)
- CWA Telecommunications and Technologies (Independent Telephone) Sector;
- The NewsGuild (34,000 workers);
- Printing, Publishing, and Media Workers Sector (8,000 workers);
- The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (10,000 workers);
- CWA Industrial Division/International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers (45,000 workers) (“About,” n.d.).
Founded in 1938, the union has been in existence for over eighty years (“About CWA,” n.d.). Initially, CWA represented telephone workers and was named the National Federation of Telephone Workers. In 1947, the union changed its name to the Communications Workers of America (“About CWA,” n.d.). Because of CWA’s democratic tradition, several other unions joined it, including:
- The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (in 1994);
- The Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees (in 1997)
- The Association of Flight Attendants (in 2003) (“About CWA,” n.d.).
CWA and Avaya Inc.
In 2012, there was a dispute between CWA and Avaya Inc. (Communications Workers of America v. Avaya Inc., 11-1470 [CWA v. Avaya Inc.], 2012). CWA was the plaintiff-appellee, and Avaya Inc. (Avaya) was the defendant-appellant. Avaya appealed from the arbitration of its labor disagreement with CWA over the legal status of the company’s employees (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012). The conflict was concerned with the workers called “backbone engineers” (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012). CWA considered such employees as “non-represented “occupational” employees” (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012). Thus, the union treated them as objects that could legitimately participate in its campaigns. Meanwhile, Avaya viewed them as “managers outside the scope” of the organization’s labor policies (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012).
CWA argued that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the parties necessitated that any dispute concerning the position of backbone engineers should be settled in arbitration. Avaya disputed that it had not agreed to arbitrate its backbone engineers’ status. Hence, Avaya held CWA accountable for attempting to increase the CBA’s powers one-sidedly and envelop all the disagreements over the organization’s management (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012). In the course of the dispute, such documents and arrangements as the CBA, the neutrality agreement, CWA’s organizing drive, and CWA’s suit to compel arbitration were reviewed.
No adverse actions were taken either by the union or the employee. The dispute was resolved by means of litigation, which was followed by an appeal on the part of Avaya. The final outcome was the reverse of the district court’s order compelling arbitration (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012). The resolution confirming that opinion was remanded by the court (CWA v. Avaya Inc., 2012).
CWA and Ector County Hospital District
In 2004, there was a dispute between CWA and Ector County Hospital District (Communication Workers of America v. Ector County Hospital District, doing business as Medical Center Hospital, Defendant-Appellant, 03-50230 [CWA v. ECHD], 2004). The parties had a dispute over one of the hospital’s employees’ right to wear a lapel button on his clothes. Urbano Herrera, a carpenter for the mentioned hospital, joined CWA on a volunteer basis and arranged meetings at his home. Over some time, 37 hospital workers became dues-paying union members. On one evening, CWA representatives gave Herrera and others “Union Yes” buttons, which Herrera and another employee decided to wear to work the next day (CWA v. ECHD, 2004). The hospital’s dress code stated the non-adornment prohibition, so Herrera was advised first by the supervisor and then by the direct superior that he should take the lapel button off (CWA v. ECHD, 2004).
Herrera refused to take the lapel button off, claiming that the restriction infringed his right to free speech. The disciplinary action taken by the employer against Herrera was giving him a 3-percent annual rise instead of a 4-percent one (CWA v. ECHD, 2004). The union did not take any adverse action such as a strike. Instead, it decided to resolve the dispute through litigation: Herrera and CWA were co-plaintiffs against the hospital. The district court determined that Herrera’s speech (actualized through wearing a lapel button) was a “substantial or motivating” factor in the negative actions from the employer that the employee suffered (CWA v. ECHD, 2004). The hospital appealed against the decision of the district court, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the initial decision.
CWA and Jesse Averhart
In 2017, there was a dispute between CWA and Jesse Averhart (Jesse Averhart v. Communications Workers of America; Lawrence Cohen; Christopher Shelton; Hetty Rosenstein; CWA local 1033; Rae Roeder, 16-3136 [Jesse Averhart v. CWA], 2017). The conflict was lengthy and involved several suits filed by Averhart against CWA, its president, vice-president, secretary-treasurer, and CWA District 1 director. Averhart argued that CWA violated their fiduciary obligation to union members. Also, Averhart claimed that the union infringed the contractual boundaries of the union constitution (Jesse Averhart v. CWA, 2017). According to Averhart, CWA fell short of arranging unorganized union members. In addition, CWA was accused by Averhart of rejecting to fully disclose “financial disbursements of union dues” (Jesse Averhart v. CWA, 2017).
The first suit was filed in 2010 when Averhart invoked the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”), which led to defendants removing the case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Over the course of the next few years, the parties litigated in different motions: to remand, amend, and disqualify counsel (Jesse Averhart v. CWA], 2017). In 2013, Averhart filed the second suit, which was consolidated with the first one in 2014.
The dispute was resolved through litigation, which was actualized in several stages. Averhart filed suits several times (in 2010 and 2013) and then filed a motion to made amendments to his complaint in 2015 (Jesse Averhart v. CWA, 2017). On the part of the union, no adverse actions were taken except for defending themselves against Averhart. The final outcome was the affirmation of the judgment concerning all the defendants with the exception of Anthony Miskowski, who had died in the course of the process (Jesse Averhart v. CWA, 2017).
About CWA. (n.d.). Web.
About. (n.d.). Web.
Communication Workers of America v. Ector County Hospital District, doing business as Medical Center Hospital, Defendant-Appellant, 03-50230. (2004).
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Communications Workers of America v. Avaya Inc., 11-1470. (2012).
Jesse Averhart v. Communications Workers of America; Lawrence Cohen; Christopher Shelton; Hetty Rosenstein; CWA local 1033; Rae Roeder, 16-3136. (2017).