Unlike Teamsters or UAW Coverage, White Labor Press Largely Ignores Black Reformer Winning CWA Presidency

Claude Cummings, a reformer, was elected as the 1st Black President of CWA yesterday.


Claude Cummings was elected the 1st Black President of the 600,000-member Communication Workers of America early Tuesday morning.

While the heavily white labor press covered extensively reform victories by white candidates in the Teamsters and UAW, only two publications on the left to even wrote articles about his victory – Payday Report and People’s World. The Philadelphia Inquirer also did a story because the losing candidate, Ed Mooney, who had been accused of violent intimidation and racist conduct, was an influential union leader in Philadelphia. 

Black Enterprise also did an article that cited Payday’s widely cited work on the multiracial union democracy movement that propelled Cummings’ election. 

However, the New York TimesWashington Post, and AP do a single story on the history-setting election of Cummings as president of the largest communication and media workers union in the country. All the papers covered when white reformers won at the Teamsters and UAW in the past year.

There are various reasons why the labor press largely ignores this win by a black reformer.

Part of it concerns the labor press being extraordinarily white, often from very affluent backgrounds, and not realizing the importance of the first Black president of CWA being elected. According to Pew Research, 76% of all journalists are white, and the labor beat, with its chronically low pay, is one of the whitest beats.

This has been a significant problem that led many prominent labor journalists to write off strikes inspired by Black Lives Matter in the early days of the strike wave. (See our piece “How Black and Brown Workers Are Redefining Strikes in the Digital Covid Age”)

Another reason is most journalists want to ignore the violent intimidation and sexual misconduct scandals of CWA and the NewsGuild that implicated many top union officers of CWA NewsGuild. As I have written extensively, the NewsGuild has tremendous clout both in newsrooms and social media, and many journalists are quite frankly pretty scared to cross them. (See my piece “Labor Notes Headliner Covered Up Sexual Assault & Retaliated Against Chicago Union Democracy Activists”)

After it was exposed that Sara Steffens, the incumbent Secretary-Treasurer (the #2 in the union), had covered up sexual misconduct and intimidation, she was defeated in the first round of voting by Cummings by a margin of 46%-14%.

Payday, though, was not scared of taking on this fight. We had a significant impact on it. Our work was cited on electronic billboard trucks that circled the election convention and went viral among election delegates. 

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]