Communicating with T-shirts – Making the CWA Union Protest T-shirt

I was recently approached by Communication Workers for America to create their new “Rally” or protest shirt design. The CWA has had dozens of shirt designs in the past but they were seeking a powerful design with a good deal of visibility, strength and recognition. I took the project on as a fun challenge through my design office, Hype Visual and learned a good amount about the CWA organization in the process.

CWA Union Organize Rally Shirt

CWA Union T-shirt Design in process. Here’s a screenshot of the early options.

Communication Workers for America (CWA Union) is located in Washington D.C is a national organization representing over 700,000 communication workers across the United States and North America. Since telephone workers began organizing in 1910, millions of communication workers have been represented by CWA Union and gained fair wages, healthcare, benefits and fair working conditions. By 1919, over 20,000 communication workers in the telephone industry had unionized and as early as 1920 the struggles with the telecom leader, AT&T began. After over 4 decades of ongoing struggles with telecom giants Bell Systems, Southern Bell and AT&T, the Communication Workers of America begin involvement in community/political action and government representation. By 1965 it became clear that government alone wasn’t going to protect the working class from their corporate overlords. Throughout the 1970s and 80’s large legal victories took place with multiple legal settlements from AT&T, Southern Bell, Bell System and other phone companies. In the early 2000s the membership of the CWA Union has broadened to include over 50,000 flight attendants, as well as tens of thousands of communication workers in the mobile phone, cable, news media, information technology, public service, healthcare and education. Check out the full CWA Union history here.


One of the nicer designs for this project.


I really like the way this design turned out.



The new CWA Union protest t-shirt was destined to be a union-made t-shirt in a particular shade of red. The main goals of the design were to strongly show the design as a rally shirt, or protest t-shirt so it as clear the people wearing these shirts were visibly united at the events. The CWA leadership and myself agreed a unified bold word would visually aid that unification process and thus “ORGANIZE” was incorporated into all designs.

In the end the Communication Workers of American decided they didn’t want to include any communication imagery or historical references. The final CWA t-shirt design had the unique challenge of communicating the CWA message without using identifiable tools of communication. That took my favorite designs out of the mix, but the final CWA Union protest t-shirt is still a powerful one, tweaked from the protest t-shirt design above.


Official CWA Rally “Organize” T-shirt

The design process took place primarily in Adobe Illustrator after sketches. The final design was a 4-color front and 2-color back, printed pretty huge for maximum visibility. “Everyone was really happy with how the t-shirts turned out, they’ve been making waves across the country,” Ben Dalgetty of CWA Union.

Check out the Progress Label, Progress Not Congress t-shirt for a similar t-shirt design style. Available in a mens t-shirt, women’s t-shirt, women’s tanktop, or zip hooded sweatshirt.

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