Communications Workers of America

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Full name Communications Workers of America
Founded 1947 (1947)
Members 456,529 ("active" and "dues-paying retired" members)
166,491 ("non-dues-paying retired" members) (2014)[1]
Affiliation AFL-CIO, CLC
Key people Chris Shelton, president
Office location Washington, D.C.
Country United States, Canada

Communications Workers of America (CWA) is the largest communications and media labor union in the United States, representing about 600,000 members in both the private and public sectors.[1] The union has 27 locals in Canada via CWA-SCA Canada (Syndicat des communications d’Amérique) representing about 8,000 members. CWA has several affiliated subsidiary labor unions bringing total membership to over 700,000. CWA is headquartered in Washington, DC, and affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the Canadian Labour Congress, and Union Network International. The current president is Chris Shelton.


In 1918 telephone operators organized under the Telephone Operators Department of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. While initially successful at organizing, the union was damaged by a 1923 strike and subsequent AT&T lockout. After AT&T installed company-controlled Employees' Committees, the Telephone Operators Department eventually disbanded.[2] The CWA's roots lie in the 1938 reorganization of telephone workers into the National Federation of Telephone Workers after the Wagner Act outlawed such employees' committees or company unions. NFTW was a federation of sovereign local independent unions that lacked authority over the affiliated local unions leaving it at a serious organizational disadvantage. After losing a strike with AT&T in 1947, the federation led by Joseph A. Beirne,[3] reorganized as CWA, a truly national union, which affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1949. CWA has continued to expand into areas beyond traditional telephone service. In 1994 the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians merged with the CWA and became The Broadcasting and Cable Television Workers Sector of the CWA, NABET-CWA. Since 1997, it includes The Newspaper Guild, and since 2000 it includes Human Rights Watch's support staff. In 2004, the Association of Flight Attendants merged with CWA, and became formally known as the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, or AFA-CWA.

Contracts and strikes

Following is a partial list of contracts and strikes that the Communications Workers of America were involved in:[4][5][6]

An inflatable rat used by the CWA during a 2009 rally against Verizon
Verizon members protesting at Occupy Wall Street in October 2011
Year Company Number of Members Affected Duration of Strike Notes
1955 Southern Bell Telephone Co. 50,000 72 days Strike was in answer to management's effort to prohibit workers from striking.
1968 AT&T 200,000 18 days Wage increases to compensate for cost of living, and medical benefits won
1971 Bell System 400,000 1 week Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) won for workers
1983 Bell System 600,000 22 days Last contract with the Bell System before its breakup. Bell System sought givebacks. The contract resulted in Wage increases, employment security, pension, and health improvements.
1986 AT&T 175,000 25 days COLA clause suspended in contract - former Bell System contracts vary substantially from the AT&T contract.
1989 AT&T 175,000 n/a Child and elder care benefits added to contract. COLA clause removed from contract
1989 NYNEX 175,000 17 weeks Strike was due to major health care cuts by NYNEX
1998 US West 34,000 15 day Strike was due to mandatory overtime demands and forced pay-for-performance plan. Overtime caps were won.[7]
2000 Verizon 80,000 3 weeks Strike was due to mandatory overtime demands. Provisions for stress were won.
2011 Verizon 45,000 13 days Strike was due to major wage and health care cuts by Verizon, a forced pay-for-performance plan and movement-of-work job security provisions. Contract extended.
2012 AT&T 20,000 2 Days AT&T West; California, Nevada, and AT&T East; Connecticut - Unfair labor practice strike during contract negotiations.[8]



Total membership (US records)[9]

Finances (US records; ×$1000)[9]
     Assets      Liabilities      Receipts      Disbursements

According to CWA's Department of Labor records since 2006, when membership classifications were first reported, the total reported membership has varied greatly and unpredictably due to the addition and removal of reported membership categories.[9] As of 2014, around 27%, or a fourth, of the union's total membership are classified as "non-dues-paying retirees," and not eligible to vote in the union. The other, voting eligible, classifications are "active" (65%) and "dues-paying retired" (8%). CWA contracts also cover some non-members, known as agency fee payers, which number comparatively about 7% of the size of the union's membership. This accounts for 166,491 "non-dues-paying retirees" and 52,240 "dues-paying retirees," plus about 43,353 non-members paying agency fees, compared to 404,289 "active" members.[1]


Further reading

  • Bahr, Morton. From the Telegraph to the Internet: A 60 Year History of the CWA. Washington, D.C.: Welcome Rain Publishers, 1998. ISBN 1-56649-949-6
  • Palladino, Grace. Dreams of Dignity, Workers of Vision: A History of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Washington, D.C.: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 1991.
  • Schacht, John N. The Making of Telephone Unionism, 1920–1947. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1985. ISBN 0-8135-1136-4


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-188. Report submitted August 29, 2014.
  2. Norwood, S: Labor's Flaming Youth, page 302. University of Illinois Press, 1990.
  3. "U.S. Department of Labor - Labor Hall of Honor - Joseph A. Beirne". Labor Hall of Honor. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved 26 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Communications Workers of America - Timeline Accessed March 24, 2010.
  5. CWA Local 3805 Timeline Accessed March 24, 2010.
  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review - January, 1990 Accessed March 24, 2010.
  7. "Tentative Agreement Is Reached In Strike by U S West Workers". New York Times. 31 August 1998. Retrieved 26 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Svensson, Peter (8 August 2012). "AT&T workers in 3 states launch short strike". Boston Globe. Retrieved 26 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-188. (Search)
  10. "CWA, Transport Workers Union Form New Partnership". Communications Workers of America (CWA). Retrieved 26 December 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "TWU, Communications Workers of America Form New Partnership". TWU Blog. Transport Workers Union of America AFL-CIO.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links