CWA inks first union contract at AT&T Broadband

Workers at AT&T Broadband in Beaverton ratified their first union contract June 26, nine months after the company was ordered by an arbitrator to recognize them as members of Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901.

The new contract, which covers about 100 cable TV employees, is based on a national agreement for AT&T Broadband units that CWA negotiated in the spring. It runs through April 30, 2004, and provides for 3.5 percent annual raises, protections against subcontracting, grievance procedures, progressive discipline, and termination only for just cause. Wages range from $11.75 to $24 an hour.

Local 7901 President Madelyn Elder said AT&T's Broadband division is still overwhelmingly non-union; a recent CWA victory in Pittsburgh brought union density up to 6 percent. Wages, benefits and work rules are virtually the same in the Broadband division whether a unit is union or non-union, Elder said. But with unionized units, she stressed, the details are part of a legal contract, enforceable by binding arbitration.

The contract establishes the Beaverton unit as an "agency shop," meaning employees aren't required to join the union, but must pay dues to cover the costs of representation. The contract also includes the right not to cross union picket lines and a 20-minute paid union membership orientation session for new hires.

CWA's union organizing campaign at Beaverton AT&T Broadband was unusual in that the union lost the June 29, 2000 union election by three votes, but had that result overturned. Under a nationwide CWA contract with AT&T signed in 1998, both sides are committed to neutrality, enforced by binding arbitration. During the Beaverton organizing campaign, CWA accused company managers of distributing anti-union literature, conducting anti-union meetings, and firing one outspoken pro-union worker. In September 2000, arbitrator Joseph Bock agreed that the company had violated the neutrality agreement, and ordered the election results overturned.

The case of the fired union worker, cable installer Joel Valera, was pursued separately through a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An investigation by an NLRB board agent found merit to the claim that Valera's firing was union-related. In May, just before the case was set to be tried before an administrative law judge, the union and the company settled the case for an undisclosed amount of money representing six months' back pay. Valera, who has not yet found permanent work, said he's unhappy with the settlement because it wasn't sufficient to cover medical bills for his 10-month-old son, bills which would have been covered by company-paid insurance if he had not been fired.

July 6, 2001 issue

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