The Communications Workers of America is taking credit for the $1,000 bonus that American Airlines announced it was giving its workers this week.
CWA said the bonuses were made in direct response to pressure from the union and implied that bonuses being given by other companies are its doing as well. Those companies meanwhile have not acknowledged that pressure, instead attributing the bonuses solely to the recently passed cut in corporate tax rates.
The union's claim comes as labor leaders are scrambling to counter a tide of good PR for corporations and the White House because of the bonuses. Americans for Tax Reform lists more than 80 companies giving out bonuses to workers. That's awkward for the unions, which fought against the tax legislation.
President Trump said Thursday that "it was all because of the tax cuts and tax reform ... Workers at AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and many other companies are receiving bonuses of $1,000 or more."
Some unions have tried to downplay the news, arguing that the tax cut is still a bad deal.
"History has shown that wealthy executives will simply use their giveaway for stock buybacks and dividends to shareholders. Instead of relying on failed trickle-down economics, imagine what could have happened if the $1.5 trillion redistributed to the wealthy was used for rebuilding our infrastructure. The proof is truly in the pudding," International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers President Bob Martinez Jr. said in a statement posted on the union's website.
CWA said much the same, but with the added twist that you can thank it for some of the bonuses.
"In late November, CWA President Chris Shelton contacted the CEOs of some of the largest corporations where CWA members work, including American Airlines, to ask them to guarantee the $4,000 wage increase and new jobs promised by the Republican corporate tax cut. While we are pleased that our request has prompted American to pay employees a one-time $1,000 bonus, it falls short of the permanent wage increase that working families were promised," the union said Wednesday.
American Airlines did not mention CWA, Shelton, or any other outside group in its statement announcing the bonuses, instead attributing them solely to "the new tax structure" in a statement Tuesday. The bonuses will total $130 million and will be handed out in the first three months of 2018. A spokesman for the company could not be reached for comment.
It's not the first time CWA has taken credit for the bonuses. It did the same regarding ones announced by AT&T on Dec. 20, saying, "Following discussions with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, CWA President Chris Shelton reported that CWA-represented workers at AT&T will receive a $1,000 bonus. ... By pushing employers for this raise, CWA proves that working people have power when we join together to negotiate for a fair return for the work we do." The statement implies the Shelton talked Stephenson into giving out the bonuses without explicitly saying that he did.
Shelton nevertheless criticized the bonus, saying, "While I’m never going to turn down money for our members, $1,000 is a drop in the bucket."
In both cases, CWA argued the bonuses were in response to a letter Shelton sent out in November to the heads of American Airlines, Verizon, AT&T, NBC Universal, Frontier, General Electric, ABC Entertainment, and CenturyLink, companies where it represents workers. Citing Trump's claim that the then-proposed tax cut would amount to a $4,000 pay raise, Shelton asked the employers to "make sure working people receive the wage increases they’ve been promised."
Of the companies Shelton wrote to, only American Airlines and AT&T have announced they are giving out bonuses to workers.
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said the union was inadvertently making the case for the tax cut. "Unions always try to take credit for any benefit that workers get ... Now CWA is trying to take credit for the tax cut. In doing so they are conceding the argument for the tax cut. He's saying, 'Because the tax cut makes higher compensation possible, will you please give higher compensation?' And then he's trying to take credit for that when in reality it was the tax cut that made it possible."
In its own statement regarding its bonuses, AT&T said, "This tax reform will drive economic growth and create good-paying jobs. In fact, we will increase our U.S. investment and pay a special bonus to our U.S. employees." It did not mention CWA or Shelton. AT&T spokeswoman Erin McGraph told the Washington Examiner the bonuses were "a result of tax reform."
"I believe most employees saw it in their account just before Christmas," she said.
A union contract negotiated between AT&T and CWA on Dec. 13 did include a $1,000 bonus for the workers if it was ratified by Jan. 12. That contract covered about 20,000 employees, a tenth of AT&T's workforce. The bonuses announced by the company on Dec. 20 are different. AT&T said those bonuses would go to "more than 200,000 employees," its entire workforce, and were tied to the tax legislation being signed. The timing of the two bonuses and Shelton's statement led some liberal pundits like Matt Yglesias of Vox to conflate the two and argue that the tax bonuses were the same ones that the union had negotiated.
"These are unrelated bonuses. Unfortunately, some have incorrectly reported that the tax-related bonus was repackaged and that is false," AT&T's McGraph said. The unionized workers will receive "$1K from the new contract if the agreement is ratified … and another $1K bonus as a result of passed tax reform."
Despite repeated efforts, a representative of CWA could not be reached for comment.