Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘ibew’

When a Company Tries to Decertify Its Union

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Cable provider and mass media company Charter Communications, which offers its services under the Spectrum brand, is pushing to decertify the IBEW Local 3 union in New York City, whose workers have been on strike since March 28, 2017. Decertification votes are used by workers to get rid of a union or replace it with a different one, with the vote to get rid of IBEW Local 3 being pushed by replacement workers.

Roughly 1,800 workers represented by IBEW Local 3 went on strike over a contract dispute with Charter Communications, which bought out Time Warner Cable in May 2016. A majority of workers voted to authorize a strike in response to cuts to healthcare and pension benefits in the wake of the buy-out.

As the strike approaches two years, Charter Communications is advocating workers to vote to decertify the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

In an internal email from January 31, obtained by In These Times, Charter Communications Regional Vice President of New York City Operations, John Quigley, told workers, “In my opinion, Local 3 has not earned the right to represent you. Over the past several years they have mislead (sic.) their members, led them out on a strike without a clear plan, mishandled almost every aspect of the strike, made it very clear what they think of employees who are working with us today, and continue to make empty threats about harming our business.”

Quigley added, “we hope that you vote ‘no’ and give us a chance to continue to make Charter a great place to work-together.”

The email reveals that Spectrum encouraged its workers to get rid of the union. A Spectrum spokesperson told In These Times via email, “the vote is between our employees and IBEW Local 3. We have no further comment.”

“A standard tactic in a union-busting campaign is to be intransigent in bargaining and thereby provoke a strike, hire replacement workers who are eligible to vote, schedule a decertification election and hope the replacement workers vote in greater numbers than the strikers,” Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told In These Times via email. “It illustrates the need for labor law reform that would permit workers to bargain and, if necessary, strike without losing their jobs and their rights to bargain collectively.”

The petition to decertify the union was filed with the National Labor Relations Board by Bruce Carberry, who the union alleges is a supervisor who transitioned to a survey technician role in order to file the petition and become a part of the bargaining unit represented by the union. Union members allege this individual was demoted for the purpose of undermining the union. Once a decertify petition is filed and approved with at least 30 percent of workers signing in favor, a vote is held where a majority determines the outcome. The vote went forward after negotiations to end the strike broke down in December 2018.

On his LinkedIn profile, Carberry lists his role as a supervisor until January 2018; the petition was initially filed in May 2018. Carberry began working for Charter Communications in May 2017, shortly after the union went on strike. Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director John Walsh approved Carberry’s petition to allow a decertification vote in June 2018 despite these allegations from the union that Carberry was ineligible to file the petition due to his supervisory position. The ruling explainedthe union did not prove Carberry was not in a supervisory role at the time of filing the petition, despite proving he served in a supervisory role prior to its filing.

If the vote passes to decertify the union, the outcome would essentially end the strike in Spectrum’s favor rather than continue to pressure Spectrum to make concessions in bargaining a new union contract. It’s unclear how many replacement workers, permanent and contracted employees have been hired by Spectrum during the strike. When the strike first began, Spectrum’s contingency plan included hiring contractors from out of state and the company has recently been scrutinized by city officials for not hiring enough local labor.

The attorney representing Carberry and his petition, Matthew Antonek, has previously represented union busting efforts at Verizon as the company’s Executive Director of Labor Relations.

“He’s a union buster,” said Tim Dubnau, an organizing coordinator for the Communications Workers of America which has led efforts to unionize Verizon employees, of the petitioner’s attorney. “The labor law is completely broken in this country. It’s amazing how coercive employers can be and are.”

Since the petition went through, a campaign that includes an anti-union blog surfaced to try to sway workers to vote in favor of decertifying the union. One blog post includes ten reasons to vote “No,” including claims the union hates current Spectrum employees, the union lies, and that workers would be better off without the union representing the workplace.

“Around the new year starting when the NLRB said the vote was going to go through, a charter tech blog showed up saying things like you can’t get anymore raises,” Chris Fasulo, a Spectrum worker on strike, told In These Times. “There are also a couple of Twitter accounts out there, all of a sudden they started trolling a lot of guys on strike like myself who are very outspoken on Twitter.” A Spectrum spokesperson denied the blog or accounts are affiliated with the company.

The NLRB sent out ballots to all eligible workers this month for the decertification election, which includes workers on strike and any hired before January 2019. Ballots were due February 22, and the outcome of the vote is not yet known.

“Even though none of these people are part of the union, the law seems to give them the ability to vote on whether or not a union should represent the workplace,” said Troy Walcott, a Spectrum worker on strike. “So while we’re out on strike all the people who are working in place of us who don’t have a union are now allowed to vote on whether a union gets to represent the workplace.”

He added a grassroots movement has started in the wake of the strike to create apublicly owned cable service in New York City. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and union leaders in New York have recently renewed calls to boycott Spectrum and its services over the company’s union busting. The company is currently in negotiations with the New York Public Service Commission to be able to continue providing cable services in New York State after the commission voted in July 2018 to revoke approval of Spectrum’s merger with Time Warner.

“The company is basically union busting in New York City, and they’ve come in, raised rates on people and set their own terms because they hold a monopoly right now and there’s really no one to stop them from doing what they’re doing,” added Walcott.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Sainato is a journalist based in Albany, NY. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1

Striking Verizon Workers to Return to Work Tuesday

Monday, August 22nd, 2011
Image: From AFL-CIO

Image: From AFL-CIO

The 45,000 striking Verizon workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Electrical Workers (IBEW), will return to work Tuesday under the existing contract as bargaining resumes.

The CWA and IBEW announced:

We have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured. The major issues remain to be discussed, but overall, issues now are focused and narrowed.

We appreciate the unity of our members and the support of so many in the greater community. Now we will focus on bargaining fairly and moving forward.

Verizon, which amassed more than $20 billion in profits in recent years and paid its top five executives more than $258 million in the past four years, forced workers in Northeast states into a strike by demanding $1 billion in concessions. Seen as an attack on middle-class jobs and workers, the move prompted massive shows of support by working families across the country.

This post originally appeared in AFI-CIO Blog on August 20, 2011

About the Author: Donna Jablonski is the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, she served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, she received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College. Most important: she’s the very proud mom of a spectacular daughter.

Cheating Workers Out Of Rights, Benefits

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Image: IBEWLawmakers Go After Employers Who Misclassify Workers as Contractors

Nearly three years ago, Warren, Ohio, Local 573 Business Manager Mark Catello found out the hard way how rampant is the illegal practice of misclassifying workers as independent contractors to circumvent labor law and cheat on taxes.

The local tried organizing cable workers at Baker Communications, a subcontractor for Time Warner Cable. Organizers got the majority of the 40-person unit to sign union authorization cards, but the National Labor Relations Board killed the unionization drive after agreeing with the company that most of its employees were independent contractors, making them exempt from the right to collectively bargain. “It’s a scam,” Catello said. “All the employees had to follow the company’s manual, wear the company’s uniform with the Baker Communications logo on it and follow their work schedule.”

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

Federal and state officials are now starting to aggressively crack down on employers who mislabel their employees as independent contractors—an act that cheats both taxpayers and workers out of billions of dollars.

According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, more than two dozen states are stepping up their enforcement of employment laws by increasing penalties for employers who misclassify workers as contractors. And Congress recently introduced tougher legislation to punish lawbreakers.

‘Widespread Practice’

The practice is extensive, says James Parrott, chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York. He testified earlier this year before the state Senate that an estimated 10 percent of the state’s workers are misclassified as independent contractors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number has been estimated to be as high as 30 percent in some states. Lax enforcement of the rules has only encouraged the practice.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that 10 million workers were classified as independent contractors, an increase of more than 2 million in just six years.

Misclassification ends up costing federal and state authorities billions in lost revenue. Companies that report employees as independent contractors avoid paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes.

But misclassifying workers also cheats workers out of their rights and benefits. Laws regarding overtime, workers’ compensation, sick days and minimum wage don’t apply to independent contractors.

“This denies many workers their basic rights and protections and means less revenues to the Treasury and competitive advantage for employers who misclassify,” Jared Bernstein told the New York Times. Bernstein is a noted economist and aide to Vice President Joseph Biden. “The last thing you want is to give a competitive advantage to employers who are breaking the rules.”

The practice is particularly common in trucking and some sectors of the construction industry. It is also found in the telecommunications industry, particularly in satellite dish and cable installation.

And it’s not just fly-by-night operations that are guilty. Corporate giants FedEx, Target and Comcast have all been sued for misclassifying workers.

Counting their workers as contractors has also proven to be an easy way for employers to prevent unionization.

‘Keeps Them From Joining a Union’

For Eighth District Organizer Bob Brock, a crackdown on industry violators is long overdue.

Brock has been trying to organize workers who install home satellite dishes for more than a year. Many of these workers—located mostly in Idaho, Montana and Colorado—endure long hours, low pay, draconian work rules and unsafe working conditions. But according to their employers—including Direct TV and Star West Satellite—they are their own bosses.

“Most of these (satellite) companies operate a whole separate wing, which they staff with what they call independent contractors,” Brock said. “But they have to follow the companies’ regulations, their work hours and use their equipment. What kind of boss is that?”

Brock says that the IBEW has been successful in getting many of these workers to talk with organizers, but until their job status is changed, they can’t legally form a union.

He says he has seen workplaces where two different workers are doing the exact same job, but one is labeled an employee while the other is an independent contractor. “It’s a selective way for the company to get out of paying benefits and taxes and to keep them from joining a union.”

Educating Workers on Their Rights

But the IBEW hasn’t given up on organizing the satellite sector. The Eighth District has started an organization—Satellite Techs Allied for a New Direction—which brings together satellite workers to improve their working conditions. Organizers help workers document what’s going on in their workplace so they have evidence to back up their claims that they are full-time employees.

STAND also helps misclassified workers with tax advice and how to avoid being preyed on by unscrupulous insurance agents who try to sell them overpriced liability policies. It’s a long-term strategy, Brock says, but the campaign is starting to pick up steam. “The word is spreading throughout the industry. A lot of them don’t know about their rights and they are hungry to find out.”

The campaign is now moving into lobbying mode, with organizers talking to state leaders about rampant abuses in the satellite installation industry. “This is a good time, because with the budget shortfalls, politicians are more eager to crack down on tax cheats,” Brock said.

Rampant Abuse

Broadcasting is another industry where the practice has become widespread. “Many broadcast technicians will work for one of the big networks, be considered an employee, but then go work for another network, do the exact same job, and all of a sudden they become contractors,” said Broadcasting Department Director Ro Wratschko.

Many smaller production companies are also notorious for misclassifying employees to give them unfair advantage over local signatory companies. “They are bidding for the same work as our union shops but they are illegally getting out of paying the same taxes we do, so they have a leg up,” he said.

While not as rampant in the electrical construction industry as it is in other trades, many inside locals have confronted nonunion contractors trying to pass off their employees as contractors. Last fall, Dublin, Calif., Local 595 helped bring to light one Bay Area contractor who cost the state and her employees millions of dollars by illegally misclassifying them.

“It’s the primary means for nonunion contractors to get out of their responsibilities to their employees and try to cut into our market share,” said Kirk Groenendaal, Special Assistant to the International President for Membership Development.

Federal prosecution of companies that misclassify their workers as contractors was nonexistent under the Bush administration, says Political and Legislative Department International Representative Dan Gardner, but the tide is turning.

President Obama has promised to hire an additional 100 investigators to look at companies accused of misclassifying workers and the Internal Revenue Service announced in February that it was launching a three-year nationwide investigation of the practice.

On Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) has introduced the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability, and Consistency Act of 2009—with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) sponsoring a House version—which beefs up enforcement of worker classification regulations and closes tax loopholes used by unscrupulous employers.

In April, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) introduced a similar bill—the Employee Misclassification Act—that focuses on tougher enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Department of Labor also recently announced tougher regulations of worker classification regulations, calling on employers to disclose to their employees their work status.

State authorities are also intensifying their crackdown. In Iowa, a six-month investigation by the labor department recently found more than 100 companies guilty of misclassifying employees, while in California, Attorney General Jerry Brown is aggressively going after lawbreakers, recently filing a $4.3 million lawsuit against a construction company with several public works contracts that he says cheated workers out of wages.

In Nebraska, a bill is under serious consideration that would target trucking and construction companies that abuse the independent contractor label.

Gardner said that the IBEW is working closely with NECA contractors and other businesses to push Congress to endorse Sens. Kerry’s and Brown’s legislation to crack down on lawbreakers. “It’s wrong for workers, wrong for taxpayers and wrong for the businesses that play by the rules and follow the law.”

This post originally appeared in IBEW.org on June 2, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alexander Hogan is Communications Specialist for the IBEW.

Clean Energy Company Treats Workers Like Dirt

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Covanta Energy operates 30 incinerators in the U.S. that convert waste to energy. The company’s holdings include Hennepin Energy, an incinerator that employs members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Minneapolis, Minn., Local 160.

Covanta, which increased its earnings in 2008 to $50 million, prides itself on being an innovative, “green,” responsible employer. But the vast majority of Covanta’s U.S. plants are nonunion. And the company, which is seeking to develop new projects in Canada, China, Ireland, the U.K. and the Netherlands, intends to keep it that way.

In 2008, the Utility Workers Union of America organized 130 workers at one of the company’s waste incinerators in Rochester, Mass. Soon after the National Labor Relations Board certified the union as the bargaining agent in Richmond, Covanta instituted new work rules. The regulations ban any solicitation or distribution of “unauthorized” material anywhere on company property or company time.

Employees are also told not to provide any information about Covanta to the news media, government officials or other “outside representatives” without management’s approval.

The utility workers filed a charge with the NLRB, contending that the rules, published in the employee handbook, violate the National Labor Relations Act. The same charges were filed in every NLRB region where Covanta operates a facility.

On May 22, The NLRB issued a complaint charging Covanta Energy with violating labor law at 46 Covanta locations across the U.S.

In April, OSHA issued citations against Covanta for violating fire safety rules and for “maintaining” electrical equipment with duct tape and cardboard. The citations–based on an October 2008 inspection of the Rochester plant requested by the utility workers–found that Covanta had improperly stored oxygen and fuel cylinders side-by-side on a welding cart with no barrier between them.

The labor board and OSHA findings don’t surprise Thomas Koehler, business manager of Local 160, who says that Covanta has historically operated with a heavy hand leading to high worker turnover. With Local 160’s contract with Covanta expiring next summer, Koehler hopes that government scrutiny will help force Covanta to be more responsible for employees and rethink its hostility to unions.

The utility workers are taking their campaign for worker justice at Covanta across the globe. In the U.K. the national Trades Union Congress has requested that unions spread the word about Covanta’s hostility to unions in four communities where new projects are proposed. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and national unions in Canada have voiced similar support.

This article originally appeared in Working Life on June 3, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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