CWA asks union members to use Cingular

Communications Workers of America (CWA) is calling on union members to use Cingular Wireless cell phones.

CWA is engaged in a national campaign to unionize non-union telecom companies. Cingular has a nationwide agreement with CWA in which it commits to stay neutral during local campaigns to unionize. As a result, Cingular units around the country have unionized in the last few months, including a Cingular call center in Portland with 400 employees.

In Oregon and Southwest Washington, Cingular is the only all-union cell phone provider, said Madelyn Elder, president of Portland-based CWA Local 7901. Some Qwest departments are unionized, including the customer service unit that would sell Qwest wireless service. But the unit that maintains the wireless network is non-union.

Union members get a 5 percent discount when they sign up, by mentioning “code 113662” when they call 800-356-9752 or visit a Cingular retail outlet. Retail outlets are typically located in shopping malls.

Most telecommunications companies are largely non-union; some, like Comcast, are notoriously anti-union. So CWA regards the Cingular neutrality agreement as a huge opportunity to unionize in the wireless sector.

In September, when a majority of workers at the Cingular call center in Portland signed union cards, they were brought immediately into the nationwide Cingular union contract. Under the contract, they'll get a raise in January, a cost-of-living increase in February, and step increases in July.

But customer support staffperson Sarah Carver, one of the unit’s 25 new stewards, said the biggest change is the “sigh of relief” that comes from knowing you can’t be fired just because you got on the wrong side of a particular manager.

“There is an overwhelming sense of empowerment that goes along with standing in unity,” Carver said.

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