CWA woos workers at new Cingular call center

For a limited time, about 435 workers at a Cingular Wireless call center in Portland have what most working people lack — a no-fuss way to unionize.

Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901 kicked off a campaign Aug. 8 in which the union has 60 days to convince workers to join. If the majority of workers sign union authorization cards during that period, Cingular has pledged to recognize the union and bring them under a five-year union contract CWA signed in March. The contract maintains employer contributions to health and other benefits, and provides step increases that top out, depending on the classification, at between $11 and $22 an hour.

The Portland call center, which handles billing calls for Cingular, was formerly part of AT&T, until that company sold its wireless division to Cingular last year.

Cingular is a joint venture begun by Bell South, based in Atlanta, and SBC Communications, based in San Antonio. The two are regional phone companies and are unionized. CWA was able to use its relationship with the parent companies to get a promise of neutrality at newly-acquired Cingular locations. Under the terms of the neutrality, neither side is to speak ill of the other, and the union can win recognition at new units on the basis of “card check.”

The campaign relies heavily on already-unionized workers to explain the benefits of unionizing, said CWA Local 7901 staff organizer Jeannie Carpenter. Working from a list provided by the employer, volunteers are knocking on workers’ doors.

“We want the workers to have a voice in their workplace,” said Michelle Garza, a Qwest call center worker who got a leave of absence from her employer to work on the campaign.

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