Wear Red on Thursday's, Union Proud

It was just two weeks into what would become a four-month-long strike. Edward “Gerry” Horgan, chief steward of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1103, stood the picket line with his fellow workers. A cable splicer with New York Telephone, Horgan was striking for better conditions and against NYNEX’s effort to get workers to pay part of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

But on August 15, 1989, a scab—the daughter of a plant manager—drove across the picket line, killing Horgan. The details of exactly what happened are disputed. At the time, Horgan was just 34. He had a wife and two young daughters. Since then, CWA members wear red every Thursday to honor Horgan’s memory.

Thirty years later, in another August, one of his daughters showed up on the picket line. She wasn’t a member, but she came to support the thousands of CWA members in nine Southeastern states who were striking against AT&T. Christine Horgan-Klien boosted morale, and she brought donuts two days in a row.

“We were just kind of in awe because we didn’t know what to say,” says Steve Auerbach, president of CWA Local 3704 in South Carolina. Auerbach was among the picketing workers whom Horgan-Klein visited. “She was very supportive because she said we were all her family,” he adds.

That night, Auerbach reached out to Horgan-Klein on Facebook, and she visited again the following day. This time, he said, they were ready. “I made sure to get more people out there and we made signs that said, ‘We wear red for Gerry’ or something like that.” When she arrived, Auerbach hugged her and thanked her for everything she and her family “had done for the movement.”

The strike in the Southeast lasted four and a half days, concluding when CWA reached a “handshake deal” with AT&T when the company finally sent representatives to the bargaining table with the authority to make a deal. The strike had stemmed from CWA’s frustration that the company had not been bargaining in good faith, sending negotiators to the table who had lacked such authority. Negotiations had slowed to a crawl, and to CWA members, AT&T’s conduct was far from bargaining in good faith. Once the company sent actual dealmakers, the two sides settled on a contract featuring wage increases of 13.25 percent over the next five years, improved pension and 401(k) benefits, as well as better job security and more customer service positions.

(Full disclosure: I’m a card-carrying member of Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035, which is part of CWA.)

[More from Marcia Brown]

Wearing red is not just a way that CWA honors Horgan’s legacy. It’s a way CWA builds solidarity—and succeeds in their strikes. Unlike most other unions over the past 30 years, CWA has continued to strike regularly and—for the most part—it’s continued to win. From 1980 to 2017, the total number of strikes in the United States fell by a full 95 percent. In fact, despite a bump in the late 1960s and early 1970s, strikes have fallen since the 1940s. During the 2010s, the number of strikes each year actually declined to single digits. And yet CWA continued to launch major strikes, and to make gains.