Policy: Labor

Union leader representing news industry joins group that shuns news coverage

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Campaign Finance,Media,Newspapers

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, is a member of the Democracy Alliance, a Democratic donor network that has raised more than $30 million. CWA senior director George Kohl joined the network last year.

The group is highly secretive and goes to great efforts to prevent any reporters from covering its activities. At a recent gathering in Chicago, alliance members called security on Politico reporter Kenneth P. Vogel for trying to interview a member.

That is pretty ironic because one of the groups that CWA represents is … reporters. Its website boasts that its members include workers at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, ABC and NBC, among others. The Newspaper Guild of America, which represents about 34,000 news industry workers, is part of the CWA.

The guild's constitution states that part of its mission is to "Raise the standards of journalism and ethics of the industry." That would seem to pretty clearly conflict with Cohen's membership in the Democracy Alliance.

The CWA is itself part of the AFL-CIO labor federation, an aggressively partisan union. It has made more than $36 million to political contributions since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, 99 percent has gone to Democrats. It has spent more than $43 million on lobbying over the same period.

Does the guild have a position on any of this? Does it see any ethical concern for its members being part of the CWA? I wasn’t able to reach a spokesperson at their Washington offices.

Part of CWA's money presumably came from those Newspaper Guild members, though probably not much. CWA has more than 475,000 members, according to Labor Department filings. The guild’s 34,000 members would therefore represent about 7 percent.

It is not clear how many guild members are involved in political coverage. Membership includes everyone from writers and editors to advertising sales staff and computer technicians.

Cohen has been a particularly outspoken -- and partisan -- union chief. He was a leader in the effort last year to get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to amend Senate rules to limit the use of the filibuster.

Republicans had used the rules to stall many of President Obama's nominees, particularly Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

"If we don't have the Democratic majority act like a majority and establish democratic rules on nominations ... the right wing gets their way: You elect a president who can't govern," Cohen told the liberal Nation last year.

The guild gets involved in these issues, too. The main page of its website currently features a video of CWA members protesting against "fast-track" legislation for trade deals as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

International trade policy isn't an issue that seems like a key concern for a news media-centered organization, though it is a major concern for other unions inside the AFL-CIO.

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