Business-bashing telecom union boss takes mandatory dues

By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org

Communications Workers of America president Larry Cohen is a self-proclaimed warrior for “economic justice” who takes mandatory fees from over 40,000 workers who don’t want to join his union.

Based on CWA’s 2014 annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor, CWA had 623,020 members and 43,353 “agency fee payers” as of May 31. CWA takes mandatory fees from workers in private industry and in taxpayer-funded government jobs.

Many workers who decline CWA membership can be forced to pay union agency fees of slightly less than CWA’s typical 1.3 percent dues rate. Unions can make agency fees a condition of employment for private-sector workers in 26 states and public-sector workers in 23 states.

Cohen was paid $199,698 during the union’s 2014 fiscal year, although he and CWA have demanded big-government policies in the name of the working class for decades. Cohen founded union front group Jobs with Justice in 1987.

In 2011, CWA was one of several large labor unions behind the fringe-left Occupy Wall Street movement. Cohen was paid $199,043 in 2011, and was one of 234 CWA officers and employees paid six figures — but that didn’t stop CWA and its leaders from adopting populist OWS rhetoric.

Cohen echoed OWS themes at a 2012 National People’s Action rally in Washington, D.C., opening his speech with three repetitions of the call and response “Tell me what democracy looks like,” “This is what democracy looks like” before laying out the CWA agenda workers are forced to fund.

Cohen called for amnesty for illegal immigrants, restrictions on political speech, lax voter identification laws and an end to the U.S. Senate filibuster.

“President Obama’s goals, they are really, really, really modest — they won’t get us the change we need, but even those goals, they are blocked. They are going nowhere,” Cohen said. “Fairer taxes, infrastructure, public services. So what’s the problem?”

Cohen complained that unions, activist groups and “the progressive movement as a whole, it doesn’t matter who we are. We could be green or black or brown or labor or old or young, it doesn’t matter who we are. Our agenda is blocked by the limits of the democracy.”

Encouraging rally attendees to “focus on the limits in this democracy but also dream and aim higher for the economic justice that we demand,” Cohen screamed, “We can say to the 1 percent, ‘You’ve had your day, this is our day!’”

“Stand up, fight back! Stand up, fight back! Stand up, fight back,” Cohen chanted, shaking his fist in the air as the crowd joined along. In 2012, CWA paid Cohen $209,152.

“We got a great policy agenda. We have no power to enact it,” Cohen said during a June 2014 speech at union think tank Economic Policy Institute. “It isn’t just that working-class people can’t organize on the job, it’s that this democracy is literally in the trash can.”

For fiscal year 2014, CWA headquarters in Washington, D.C. reported receipt of $127 million in per capita taxes from its regional and local affiliates. According to Federal Election Commission data reviewed by The Center for Responsive Politics, CWA was the nation’s 28th-highest political campaign donor during the 2012 cycle and the 47th-highest donor during the 2014 cycle, spending over $10 million since 2011.

CWA’s top priority is blocking right-to-work laws, which free workers from mandatory union fees and which CWA describes as part of a “corporate attack on collective bargaining.” To keep money flowing into union coffers, CWA leaders “work to build progressive movements with community organizations” and press members to donate to the union political action committee.

The future holds more of the same for workers forced to subsidize CWA politics. CWA’s Next Generation program trains activists age 35 and younger who “bring youthful energy and unique insights to the task of advancing economic and social justice,” teaching them to fight for “good jobs,” “healthcare for all,” “bargaining and organizing rights,” “retirement security” and “democracy and economic justice.”

Terry Bowman, founder and president of Michigan-based nonprofit Union Conservatives, accused CWA of driving “a divisive wedge between the political agenda it seeks, and the rights and freedoms of its workers” in an email to Watchdog.org.

“With such a large percentage of non-member agency fee payers, the CWA should immediately abandon the radical progressive political agenda that it is known for and instead refocus efforts and resources into doing what they were created to do — represent their employees in the workplace,” Bowman added.

Bowman, a dues-paying United Auto Workers union member, said CWA’s political activism “makes it very clear why Union Conservatives believes that all union workers in the United States deserve the additional rights, freedoms, and protections that come with Right to Work laws, and we suggest the passage of the Employee Rights Act in order to protect all workers — member or non-member — who fall under a union contract.”

CWA didn’t respond to a request for comment on officer pay or union politics.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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