February 1, 2008 Volume 109 Number 3

CWA calls for boycott of Unitus Credit Union

Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901 — the union that represents workers at Qwest and AT&T — is asking unions and their members not to do business with Unitus Community Credit Union.

For more than 30 years, the credit union’s employees were members of CWA. Unitus — formerly known as Oregon Telco Community Credit Union — started as the credit union for telephone company employees. But in 2002 it changed its charter to open up membership to any resident of six Portland-metro-area counties. And in 2004 the credit union changed its name to Unitus. It grew to 65,000 members and $700 million in deposits.

Unitus’ final union contract expired Nov. 1, 2006. In over a year of negotiations, management refused to budge from its demands for a pay scale based on “market” wages and “merit” bonuses.

In the end, said Local 7901 President Madelyn Elder, Unitus managers campaigned intensively for Unitus workers to vote out the union. Managers held anti-union meetings, distributed anti-union literature, and mailed employees a certified letter telling them how to quit the union. Union staff were only able to talk with workers after-hours, and by visiting workers at home. Unitus management told workers they could call the police if union representatives came to their homes, Elder said.

“Management put out the word that, ‘All this conflict will go away if you get rid of the union,’ ” Elder said. “We kept telling them, ‘Yeah, but so will your contract. You’ll be at-will employees.’ ”

CWA filed several unfair labor practice charges against Unitus, but none were found to have merit by the National Labor Relations Board.

On Dec. 17, in an NLRB-conducted decertification election, the vote was 31 to 31. Because federal law requires that a union demonstrate majority support, a tie in a union election means a loss for the union.

“It was a real heartbreaker,” Elder said.

Now that Unitus is nonunion, CWA Local 7901 plans to withdraw deposits of about $200,000 from the bank, and take its business to a credit union where workers are union-represented.

United Advantage Northwest Federal Credit Union has agreed to open up membership to CWA. UANW is the credit union for members of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290 and several printers unions, plus employees of about 60 companies. Workers there are represented by Office and Professional Employees Local 11, which also represents workers at IBEW and United Workers Federal Credit Union; UFCW Northwest Federal Credit Union; and Pacific NW Ironworkers Federal Credit Union.

Elder thinks several hundred CWA members also have accounts at Unitus.

Though withdrawing funds, CWA will keep its Unitus account open so that it can attend the credit union’s March 16 annual meeting.

The Oregon AFL-CIO has deposits of about $425,000, which it placed at Unitus specifically because workers there were union-represented. Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said the federation would withdraw the deposits whenever CWA requests it.

CWA’s boycott also has the backing of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which voted to place Unitus on its “Unfair/Do Not Patronize List.”

Under federal labor law, CWA can request another election in a year’s time if at least a third of the workers still want to be union.


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