Setup Your Rat-proof Goon-squad

cwa-scabby-the-ratHow the hell do you set up your “grass-roots, organic, from the people, blah-blah” job actions safely and securely? Especially when union leadership is bound by a hostile NLRB to not lead “intermittent strikes?” No need to reinvent the wheel; use the tools that the most up-to-date revolutionaries are using.

Build The Network

For a successful job action, all that is needed is an idea; and a way to securely communicate that idea to like-minded employees who will take action on the idea. Ideally, this communication happens in a fast enough fashion that both takes management by surprise and protects the union from accusations of unlawful intermittent striking.

ring-chain-network
Maybe call it a..network?By Hcberkowitz – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

Building a structure like the one illustrated is a fairly easy and secure way to build your activist network. Using face-to-face communication and building on personal relationships, like-minded activists are recruited to join groups that have trust built-in thanks to those personal relationships (this is why craft-meetings are important for building unity – we care more about people with whom we intentionally meet). This reduces the chances of “rats” or “moles” appearing within a group. And, if one does, the damage can be limited due to the cellular structure of the network.

Secure The Network

The most secure way to pass messages for job actions is by using Signal. Signal is a free messaging app for iPhone and Android that provides end-to-end encryption for messages and calls. Signal does not collect any metadata regarding who you are messaging: the service only retains your phone number and the last time you accessed the app. Importantly, activists who use Signal can create messages that “self-destruct” from the sender’s and the recipient’s device anywhere from five seconds to one week after opening. It supports chat, SMS, video and voice calls and, most importantly, secure, encrypted group chats. Best of all it’s free.

For Hard-charging Locals

  • Because Signal is linked to a device with a phone number, any Local officer or staff who wants to be a part of the “goon-squad” network should get a a new phone number or SIM card on which to use Signal.
    • Local officers and staff should always be “surprised” by “spontaneous grass-roots organic bottom-up job-actions”
  • Just thinking out loud, but a case of “burners” would outfit an entire executive-board with secure communications that they could then use to build out the Local network – securely – through face-to-face recruiting. This is called “using cutouts” to protect the local from accusations of “unlawful intermittent strikes”
  • Job actions can be started at the press of a button or texting a simple message, like maybe “Blue Flu”, or “Grievance Strike at noon” etc; which then disappears from everyone’s devices five seconds after they read it.
  • It is not against the law or the contract for a local union to teach its members how to conduct secure member-to-member communications for purposes of bargaining!
    • Members should be educated and recruited by their coworkers to join a network
    • Employees not in networks should be invited to job actions face-to-face; if trustworthy and participatory then they should be invited to networks
    • Membership in a network is legal and contractual and may be acknowledged with a button, perhaps..

mob-buttons.jpg

AT&T Employee Surveys Are Voluntary. Mobilize by Doing Nothing.

A few years ago, AT&T started surveying employees about conditions at work. AT&T had notified our union leadership and the locals that the surveys would be sent to employees and they would be voluntary. I didn’t like it, as I don’t like most management ideas.

Because these surveys are voluntary and do not impact terms and conditions of employment, unions do not have much wiggle room to bargain over them; they can only make recommendations to their members. I recommend that you never, ever fill out any voluntary survey. Especially when your union is bargaining with management. I also recommend that local unions actively mobilize against the very idea of voluntarily filling out employee surveys. This is because employee surveys are used by the boss to weaken the union; they do this by going around the representatives directly to the members to solve problems at work that are usually created in the first place by the very same boss!

Employee surveys are about the boss, not the employee

At AT&T, employee surveys are very important – to the employee’s manager! Here is how various AT&T managers explained it to me:

  • When employees in a work-group fill out the survey, the results are tabulated and analyzed by a third-party vendor. Though employees must provide their employee ID’s to partake in the survey, the employee ID info is stripped out by the third-party vendor. However:
    • The bullet-questions in the survey are tabulated and aggregated by employee supervisor, to the third level of management (this is why employees provide the employee ID; it’s to figure out which boss they need to blame)
    • The “choose one” survey answers are calculated for results and labeled things like “engagement”, “enthusiasm”, etc.
    • Comments, favorable or not, are provided to the employee’s first-, second-, and third-level manager, verbatim! This means that first-line supervisors are usually able to identify the employee by their “comment-style” alone.
    • Those with negative comments are identified by management as “detractors”
  • Upper management places a great deal of “top-down” pressure on 1st-3rd level management to reduce employees’ low opinions of conditions at work so each is usually required to identify one detractor from their team and “create change for improvement”
  • Supervisors are “ranked” with their peers on what percentage of their team responds to the survey. In other words, the more of a boss’ employees who fill out the survey, the better the boss looks because of “engagement”. Actually solving issues is not rated as highly
  • Supervisors with low turnout on the employee surveys risk at the least scrutiny from HR; worse, there could be “performance management” by their boss

My boss keeps saying the survey is mandatory?

Remember: If your manager’s lips are moving, their is a high likelihood that you are being lied to! Here are the steps you should take:

  1. Inform boss that your union was informed by AT&T that the surveys are voluntary and that you are requesting a union steward because you may be disciplined for refusing the directive
  2. If boss threatens discipline, complete the survey in brutal fashion and appeal in the comments for a telephone call from HR due to being forced to complete an employee satisfaction survey. Then file a grievance.

If you are the union rep

  1. Document everything the manager says, especially answers to the question of whether participation for bargained-for employees in employee surveys is voluntary or mandatory
  2. Ask manager to contact Labor Relations or HR to confirm whether mandatory or voluntary; document response
  3. If manager insists is mandatory, instruct employee(s) to complete survey with emphasis in comment section about requirement to complete an employee satisfaction survey
  4. When grieving this issue, be sure that the Request for Information includes:
    1. Copies of all survey materials, including answers and comments, provided to affected employees’ management.
    2. Copies of underlying data for above (raw survey data; analysis; etc.)
    3. Stewards should request copies of survey history going back five years for all employees who were “forced”. i.e. told by their supervisor that it was mandatory to complete the survey.
    4. Managers should identify which employees they designated “detractor” or other such negative connotation
    5. Managers should identify which “detractor” issue(s) they addressed and the actions taken to do so
    6. Managers should identify, up the third level of management, the percentage-rankings for survey completions for each manager and whether each work-group was voluntary or mandatory
    7. Reasons for relevance of requesting this information are multitudinous; including to find out whether the Company is attempting to deal directly with bargained-for employees outside the contract. Grievances should reflect these concerns, including “mutual respect” provisions wherever management took action on a local union members issue (grievance) that may have violated other provisions of the contract

I consider employee-satisfaction/engagement/whatever surveys to be a form of “open-door” policy by AT&T management. “Open-door” policies by management are so typical of union-busting campaigns that they are by now almost cliche. But! The way that they are administered at AT&T makes clear that the focus of the surveys is really on management. And, because employee surveys are voluntary, participation or no participation gets noticed. Bad managers can, and should, be targeted for mobilizations using the surveys. These can be proactive, such as uniformly populating the comment-section with issues, concerns, or bargaining slogans. Or, (my favorite) just ignore the damned things and tell the boss that you’ll launch a group-grievance if you have a problem.

Or walk out with fellow workers, depending on how bad the boss is! That usually suffices to answer the employee-satisfaction question.

Decline to Sign (or, RTS FTW)

My last post about dealing with AT&T Asset Protection sparked a lot of interest from CWA stewards; particularly on the subject of not signing documents that AP investigators put in front of our members. A fellow representative asked me,

How much weight do you feel the RTS has carried in your case?

(Short answer: A lot. An Asset Protection interview can still end up in arbitration or the NLRB but, unsigned, cannot be used to impeach your testimony on the stand as “your own words.”)

Never Sign

  • Never sign a disciplinary letter
  • Never sign any document given by you by Asset Protection
  • Never sign a policy or list of work-rules, such as any document with the word “expectations” in it
  • Electronic “coverages” often require and “Acknowledgment” button to be clicked in order to exit; this is coercive and should be challenged as such by the union if management attempts to cite it as justification for discipline

Any steward who has ever sat in on an arbitration or NLRB hearing has seen AT&T’s attorneys and managers point to the member’s own signature on the “expectations” as proof that he knowingly violated the work-rules. Signing “expectations”, “coverages”, policies etc. indicates to an arbitrator that you were aware of all the work-rules in that document and also knew the consequences for violating them. In other words, that signature went a long way to proving that the company had just cause in issuing discipline or terminating.

Whether you are the steward or the employee being asked to sign anything besides your paycheck, keep these tips in mind:

Don’t even look at it!

  • If you are ordered to sign or acknowledge any document, you have the right to have a union steward upon your request if the boss suggests your refusal to sign a document may lead to your discipline. So before thinking about signing, ask if your refusal to do so could lead to discipline
  • Even if you refuse to sign the Asset Protection statement, the AP investigator will ask you to “read it over to make sure it is accurate.” Do not read the statement; do not touch the statement! If you do, the AP investigator will testify under oath that they watched you read it and did not object (or, even corrected the statement!). This is a trick that may lead an arbitrator or judge to decide that you agreed with the statement even though you did not sign it
  • Asset Protection is not allowed to coerce signatures, but may try to trick you into it with sweet words about “getting your side of the story down.” Do not fall for it!
  • If your boss accepts that you won’t sign something, he may still try to trick you into putting your initials on the document or the letters “RTS” Do not put pen to paper or even receive a copy of it from the boss. Let your steward have the copy and let the boss write “RTS” on the document – after all, the document has management’s side written down and you may not agree with it
  • If you are threatened with discipline or termination when you or your member refuses to sign; obey and grieve later. The settlement should be a removal of the signed document from the employee file. Also, consider filing Board charges after consultation with the Local president and attorney

Small actions taken at the beginnings of a management investigation can provide large benefits down the road in a grievance or arbitration setting for your member. Preventing yourself or your members from signing management’s statements can save a career.

AT&T’s Asset Protection Want to Talk? Grab a Steward!

Asset Protection is the name of AT&T’s corporate security arm. They are responsible for protecting the physical assets of AT&T, including information assets like customer data, etc. Asset Protection is also charged with investigating wrongdoing at AT&T including violations of AT&T’s Code of Business Conduct (COBC). AP investigators are sort of the “boogie man” of both craft and management and their completed investigations go straight to the director-level of the respective organizations. Sometimes, as in my case, an AP case is also sent to the Vice President of Labor Relations. Interfering with or attempting to impede an AP investigation is a violation of the COBC, even if you are found “not guilty” of whatever offense that is being investigated. It is not permitted for employees, even management, to conduct their own investigations in place of Asset Protection; suspected violations of the COBC must be reported to AP or discipline may result (this rule does not apply to union stewards or union investigations).

Relatively few AT&T employees (or stewards) find themselves in an AP interview and it can be intimidating experience. Because the “real” job of Asset Protection is that of corporate cop and that is their skill-set, they require a manager from the same department as the interviewee to stand by in case the investigator needs any technical or department-specific information obtained or corroborated. (The observant steward will note that the manager also will look intimidated! This is normal because most of them have guilty consciences.) It doesn’t have to be intimidating for a union steward or the member she is assisting, especially if you know your rights and assert them often. Here’s some lessons learned from my experiences.

Focus on the right manager

If Asset Protection is involved in an interview, they are the authority in the interview, not any department manager in the room! All managers at AT&T are required to assist AP and follow their directives in an investigation. So, address issues of harassment, intimidation, clarification or other Weingarten concerns to the AP investigator. So, too, any objection about process or attendees, such as your member’s supervisor being present during the interview. Example: I sat in on AP interview regarding employee behavior. The department-manager that the AP investigator brought to the interview was the employee’s second-level supervisor, between whom existed a mutual loathing. When I pointed out to the AP investigator that the stress of facing this particular manager would skew his reactions to the questions, the AP investigator booted the second-level (who had driven in an hour on a Saturday morning to “surprise” the hated employee). Here’s some things stewards should think about when serving as a representative in these important interviews:

Weingarten

This is likely to be a very important Weingarten meeting; stewards should be diligent in exercising their rights and responsibilities. Including:

  • Find out the purpose of the meeting and the subject of the investigation i.e. customer mistreat, theft, etc. Make the AP investigator be specific and document if she is too vague for review of additional grievances or NLRB charges.
  • Insist on your right to private consultation before the meeting and if necessary, during the meeting if the meeting becomes hostile or new information develops from management that requires new advice to the member
  • Ask the investigator to clarify any questions your member does not understand; your member should be advised to tap you or otherwise indicate his lack of understanding. Document such instances in your notes
  • Protect your member from harassment. Your member is likely and reasonably nervous and is concentrating on carefully, accurately answering management’s questions. It is your job to take the long view and ensure that the notes are accurate and that management is not harassing your member by putting words in their mouth. You have the right to interrupt and prevent this harassment; however, do excuse the member while you have this conversation with the AP investigator (Remember: It is AP’s investigation, not the department’s.). Document the conversation and outcome.
  • At the conclusion of the interview, stewards have the right to provide additional information to the AP investigator. This can include any information relevant to the investigation such as management animus towards the employee; management’s failure to train on relevant policies (i.e. 10-minute COBC “training”); or other mitigating information

Notes are vital

Notes are a steward’s greatest weapon. Especially important are the notes taken during the investigatory interview. Notes are often admissible in arbitrations, NLRB proceedings and OSHA hearings. Often considered hearsay, detailed notes are often allowed into the official record. They can be used to refresh witness testimony while on the stand: hell, just taking managers’ words down in front of them frequently gets them thinking about their word choices! Notes should always be taken for every part of the interview; including your discussions with management before and after the employee is in the room. Notes should include:

  • Names of all attendees
  • Objections to any attendees. If any other manager than an AP investigator participates in the interview, object and carefully document. At this point, the investigation is the sole province of Asset Protection; managers are usually instructed to ask questions through the AP investigator.
  • Current weather conditions at meeting location (trust me, arbitrators and administrative law judges love this and it lends credibility to your testimony when they are used)
  • Document start time, stop time and each time there is a recess to advise your member.
  • Your subjective impressions of the fairness of the interview, management’s demeanor, etc. These matter when you recall them on the stand. Face it, stewards: You are subject-matter-experts on bad boss behavior, whether you are aware of it or not! (Judges recognize this during important NLRB hearings)

Remember: Stewards are the equal of management when performing their duties as stewards. If you need to catch up on the notes, the other side should respect that. If AP objects, simply inform them that you are going to have the member write down each AP question in order to ensure the member’s accuracy before answering!

Advise the member

No employee enjoys these interviews. You can help your member by keeping your instructions short and easy to remember. Remind your member that you are there to be on their side and protect their rights. They will be nervous, especially if they don’t think they did anything wrong

Tell them what management says is the subject of the investigation. They need to know and you need them to fill you in on the situation. Even in “slam-dunk” situations where the member admits guilt, there are often mitigating circumstances that can be gleaned from the interview that management is bound under just cause to consider; these should be of course be documented.

After you discuss the investigation with the member and before questioning, give them some advice:

  • Answer the questions with the truth
  • Less is more. Don’t speculate on questions. If the member can’t remember, doesn’t know, or isn’t sure, that is perfectly fine to answer just that way (if it’s true!)
  • Management thinks they are pretty crafty and will sit there staring at your member after they answer; sometimes for a seeming eternity. This is a common management trick and the member should be prepared to sit silently after their answer. Often the interviewee feels an irresistible impulse to fill the silence and this should be avoided.
  • Never, ever sign the Asset Protection statement at the end of your interview!

I mean it. When the interview is done, the AP investigator will boot you and the employee from the room and type your member’s “statement.” Your member does not have to sign it, and should not sign it. In fact, instruct your member to not even look at it, read it or correct it. Why? Because your member’s signature on that document will be used by management against your member in later proceedings like arbitration or an NLRB hearing. You or your member should simply point out that those are AP’s notes, not his statement and he does not wish to sign off on their accuracy. Remember, your member is not in the interview voluntarily but at management’s direction.


Asset Protection may only obtain voluntary signatures to their notes. But, keep in mind that AP investigators are also managers and this means that they hate when employees exercise their rights in the workplace. They may try to persuade your member that he has to sign the “statement.” Stewards should intervene in this and ask the AP investigator if the steward needs to keep documenting unlawful coercion against your member (remember, notes are your weapon) – then document the coercion.

Below is the “statement” Asset Protection wanted me to sign (note the first line, “freely and voluntarily!”). The subject of the investigation was a clumsy attempt by Area Manager Ted Brash and some of his managers to use Asset Protection to terminate me for tampering with the GPS device in my work-vehicle. l refused to sign it and the handwritten notes at the bottom of the statement are those of Asset Protection Investigator Jody Vilk.

Hooker Asset Protection Interview

(in)Excusable Neglect

Way back in November, AT&T’s attorneys from a “union-avoidance” firm called Littler stayed up nights, worked weekends and abandoned their family obligations right before Thanksgiving to head into work. Something bad had happened: They had missed a filing deadline to respond to the NLRB attorney, who had recently quoted the Administrative Law Judge Decision (ALJD) called a bunch of AT&T bosses incompetent, “befogged,” and basically just plain shady. Littler needed to beg the NLRB to ignore the missed deadline and add its response to the record.

The ALJ Found Credibility Issues With Managers That AT&T Does Not Challenge

The record is replete with the misrepresentations and prevarications of Respondents’ two main witnesses – Area Manager Ted Brash and Director of Network Services George Mrla – Respondents’ key decision makers regarding critical issues in this case [ALJD at 5-8, 37-38, 40].

– Answering Brief to Exceptions, Counsel for the General Counsel
Management try-outs

When I train stewards, I try to make the point that “There are no criminal geniuses.” This is no more true than the ALJ’s findings about a corrupt Asset Protection investigation; so corrupt even HR, Labor and Legal couldn’t support a termination. And, a rookie supervisor who had never disciplined anyone in his short tenure, or even conducted an investigatory interview (by his admission), until he volunteered to become my supervisor. A supervisor whom I once witnessed answer to “Notso,” an apparent crew nickname.

Judge Sandron cited the following:
• Brash’s handling of the GPS investigation reflected a desire to find cause to
discipline Hooker rather than have impartial fact-finding;
• Brash’s failure to furnish Investigator Vilk a document from the GPS contractor that might have lent credence to Hooker’s version of the problems that he had with his GPS;
• Brash’s use of the GPS investigation as a means of having Supervisor Osterberg spend a good part of a day observing Hooker to find fault with his conduct wholly unrelated to the GPS matter;
• [Asset Protection] Investigator Vilk – who thoroughly documented her investigation of Hooker’s non-reporting GPS – inability to explain her failure to include her conversation with Caresian Campbell, who offered evidence that might have supported Hooker’s version of his problems with the GPS; and
• Supervisor Sharp’s failure to take into account Caresian Campbell’s statement on September 22 that Hooker’s mistake in diagnosing a problem on September 20 was an easy one for a tech to make [ALJD at 40].

– Answering Brief to Exceptions, Counsel for the General Counsel

Now, those true words will stand without answer. This is because, as every union steward knows, blowing a time-frame has consequences: This week the NLRB has refused to consider AT&T’s desperate attempt to rehabilitate the credibility of its managers and would not accept their late filing.

The reasons given by [AT&T] for the late filing do not rise to the level of excusable neglect.

-Board Decision January 2019 (PDF)

Unbelievably, AT&T continues to spend gobs of shareholder dollars just to keep one rascally steward off the payroll, at least for a little while longer. But, the good guys got the last word in this round and my case is now in Washington, D.C. for review by the Board. If they uphold the ALJ’s Decision there, AT&T will be ordered (again) to return me to work, with backpay. If it goes the other way; or, AT&T challenges my reinstatement, it’s off the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.


Steward Notes

Here are the full documents referenced above regarding credibility discussion of all who testified in this case:

RESPONDENT’S REPLY BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF EXCEPTIONS TO THE DECISION OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE
(Sadly, failure to timely file means no one reads it)

Things reps should be thinking about:

  • When AT&T managers are literally adjudged to not be credible in their sworn testimony, what are the ramifications of this?
    • Area managers and directors are very likely to be giving sworn testimony throughout their careers, especially arbitration proceedings that impact enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement, like employee terminations. Yet, a manager who is called out for questionable testimony under oath in a federal courtroom may be likely to assume that lying to a “mere” arbitrator is no big deal (though that is also sworn testimony). How should this information be used by Local unions to ensure fair contract enforcement, especially ensuring that discipline is in accordance with just cause? Should this be challenged directly to Labor Relations?
    • Making untruthful statements about AT&T matters is a violation of AT&T’s Code of Business Conduct. Unions are allowed to compare management discipline with craft discipline, when the violations are similar and the policy that was violated covers both management and craft. In other words, failure to discipline managers under the Code of Business Conduct can be a mitigating factor in grievances when craft are disciplined under the Code. This information is requestable for grievances.
    • Recent NLRB rule changes mean that the NLRB may now be quicker to charge local unions with failures of DFR (Duty of Fair Representation). In other words, a local union may now be charged by a disgruntled member for “not fighting hard enough” if his grievance is lost, no matter how hard the fight. Does this mean that a manager’s issues with credibility should be placed in the record of all grievances of which he/she is a party? Can a local be held accountable for DFR issues for not investigating/challenging management credibility? (Certainly RFI (Requests for Information) should be in-depth and thorough!)
    • Similarly, in this case an Asset Protection Investigator is singled out by the ALJ for some pretty egregious investigative lapses. Should her, for lack of a better word, shortcomings be placed in the grievance record whenever she is involved in an AP investigation that impacts your members? Probably; DFR may require this now. The power of an Asset Protection Investigation cannot be overstated in arbitration cases; challenging an AP investigation with federal rulings of credibility issues might be the equal of that power.
    • Calling a boss a liar is protected activity (for union reps); should a boss’ credibility be investigated as part of the grievance? You probably know my answer.

The benefits of getting management on the stand cannot be overstated! For starters, the “good” managers, who work in good faith with the local union, rarely end up on the stand. Hell, even in the all-too-seldom instance where a manager tells the truth, much valuable information can still be gleaned from sworn AT&T testimony that can be used to help our members. This includes OSHA/MIOSHA proceedings, NLRB trials, public testimony before legislative committees; all can be useful in fulfilling the union’s mandate – remove the boot of management from the neck of the worker.

CWA Leadership: AT&T Employees Need to Make Their Bosses Sad

Like many a good CWA member, last night my Wifey dialed into the “AT&T Midwest Bargaining Town Hall Call” to get the scoop on why AT&T employees in the Midwest are still working without a contract seven months into bargaining. We listened to reports from CWA leadership who are involved in the current bargaining; as well, questions were taken from some of the rank-and-file members who attended the call. Though I am two-ish years on from my unlawful termination by AT&T, I plan on coming back to right wrongs and so have been watching bargaining with keen interest. I have some observations. (tl;dr It’s bad, but fixable)

Santa isn’t coming this year

Both CWA President Chris Shelton and CWA District 4 VP Linda Hinton made a couple things clear:

  • AT&T does not want to talk about the things we want, need, to talk about. Things like contractors doing our work; and, closing call-centers to ship that work overseas (like GM)
  • Legal strategies via the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are now problematic because the NLRB members are appointed by the US president. Currently, President Trump’s NLRB is now very boss-friendly and likes to take shots at weakening unions whenever it can.
  • Both Shelton and Hinton said on the call that AT&T is not listening to them nor the Bargaining Committee. When pressed by a call-in questioner, Shelton did not accuse AT&T of union-busting. But, if it looks like a duck..
  • In other words, top-down chatter between the suits isn’t working and, without incentive to move at the bargaining table, AT&T will win this battle.

It’s time to make managers hate their lives

I mean starting with the first-line managers; those are where reports of “labor peace” and other lies are originating. As long as field-managers are reporting out good numbers and quiet employees, AT&T will continue to ignore the Bargaining Committee. Once these guys stop getting good numbers from the field, AT&T will be back to the table – and only then. Here is a short and non-comprehensive list of legal, protected activities you can lay on your bosses

  • Stop working voluntary overtime – just stop! You know it is wrong and that doing so helps management. Self-serving excuses about one’s love of the customer are transparent and, if true, do not reflect management’s behavior towards customer service, does it?
  • Stop filling in as “team leader” (TLD). You are literally helping management at a time when management is trying to reduce the quality of your work-life. This is true even if you don’t take the contractual pittance of $14/day (which some due, adding insult to injury). Ask yourself: Am I so broken that I want to accidentally be perceived as a boss?
  • Follow every rule and work very safely. When in doubt, ask your boss to demonstrate the correct procedure; if he does not, escalate the matter to his boss.
  • If you work a later shift, a weekend shift, and/or were forced to work mandatory overtime, call the duty manager with all work-related question that apply that day. Ambiguous answers or ignored calls should be followed up with an email that is cc’d to your union steward and your “normal” boss
  • Grieve everything
  • Publicize the name of the manager who handed out the most disciplines within your Local; post to union bulletin board
    • Hold an informational picket on that manager’s street asking him to be nicer to employees; leaflet neighborhood (very legal and extremely effective)

AT&T doesn’t have to act this way; AT&T is choosing to. They don’t “need” to reduce your standard of living; they are choosing to. What do you choose to do? Whatever you do, do it together. Internalize the fact that, by not meeting with your elected Bargaining Committee, you are being disrespected by management.

Time to fix that, wouldn’t you say?

Equality Rule

Probably the most important protection for stewards is called “The Equality Rule.” This rule acknowledges that your job is likely to involve confrontations with management—confrontations that could lead to discipline under the normal rules of employer-employee relations.

You can openly disagree and argue vigorously with management during grievance meetings; question management’s authority; and, demand certain actions of management, all without risking disciplinary action. The “Equality Rule” makes you a “legal equal” to the boss. But, it’s in effect only when you are doing your job as a steward, not when you’re acting as an individual employee. You’re acting officially when you investigate and argue grievances, request information and otherwise defend fellow workers or the union contract.

There are limits to what you can do, though. Threats of violence and actual violence are prohibited, as are extreme profanity, name calling, and personal attacks. Actions barred by your contract are not protected, either. To prevent supervisors from claiming you “exceeded the limit,” it’s wise to have another steward or witness with you during meetings with management.

Below are a couple pages excerpted from an NLRB filing in which two AT&T field managers testified in somber tones about the Equality Rule and their discomfort of being treated as an equal by an employee who also happened to be a union rep:

[pdf-embedder url=”http://bringhookerback.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/equality-rule-example.pdf”]


Stewards’ Notes


  • Above is pages 30-32 of Generals Counsel’s Answering Brief to Exceptions; in which Attorney Carlson argues for the government that AT&T exhibited animus towards me and the union due to their apparent fear of me – though no discipline was ever issued by AT&T for all of their “bully” hysteria
  • This is because I did not violate the Act by threatening violence or invoking, say, anyone’s questionable parentage in my colorful description of their intellect and their blatant disrespect for our contract; also
  • I was enforcing the contract (management had been caught red-handed violating a grievance settlement);
  • Rules of thumb:
    • I don’t swear until management does first; and they always lose it when you got them on the ropes
    • Never meet with management alone! This is for many reasons, but one big one: Management may defect from the conversation and accuse a steward of impropriety, risking that steward’s job. Always bring a fellow worker who has your back (and takes good notes!)
    • When in doubt, aggress! At large unionized companies like AT&T, most supervisors are trained on the Equality Rule. It is a fact, however, that some forms of manager chafe at having to treat employees with basic dignity and respect, let alone one who is a union steward and therefore his equal. You may have to remind the boss that the Fifth Circuit said the NLRA protects “against discipline for impulsive and perhaps insubordinate behavior that occurs during grievance meetings, for such meetings require a free and frank exchange of views…”
    • Make it clear to management that you are here on behalf of your member(s)/contract/grievance investigation.
    • Keep the heated discussions away from other employees, when possible (managers sometimes start things in front of the troops)
    • It is legal to tell a supervisor that employees may picket his church if he keeps pissing them off

Reason #997 AT&T Should Quit Using Contractors: Lawyer Edition

Sorry for the long delay since posting, I’ve been waiting for a “clean break” in the “action” as AT&T tries to weasel out of its obligation to return me to work and make me whole, per the judge’s order. Alas, the action is more like molasses and the breaks are never clean. I received a fresh reminder of this in my email just this morning; the title of the document alone indicates that AT&T has once again spent shareholder dollars on inept legal counsel (anyone remember the $4B T-Mobile debacle?)

RESPONDENT’S MOTION TO SUBMIT ONE DAY LATE ITS REPLY BRIEF IN
SUPPORT OF EXCEPTIONS TO THE DECISION OF THE ALJ INSTANTER

In other words, AT&T’s attorney missed a deadline to file more paper pleading AT&T’s case that the judge was wrong and, in fact, AT&T is  good and Hooker is evil. Now, he’s filing paper to get permission to file the paper that they negligently filed late! Naturally, this motion will take time to rule on before the Board buckles down to reviewing the case and their may be one or two more document submission while the Company tries to find new ways hate the worker.

Let’s be real: It may be months to a year to finish this appeal at the NLRB level and assuming my victory (which I always do!), the Company will have the right to appeal to the Sixth US Court of Appeals and even the US Supreme Court. So, months or maybe years! Most union folk who are familiar with this type of thing are pretty surprised that AT&T would go this far and like to think that AT&T must really hate me; like, in an actual personal manner. Oddly, I do not ascribe to this theory (“Oddly” because I have long been known to say that it is better to be known by who calls you enemy, rather than who calls you friend).  Nope, I’m pretty sure that this appeal will carry the AT&T case against Hooker and CWA Local 4034 into the seven-figure range and that is too much budget to spend to get rid of one rascally steward; even for the most fearful managers trying to save their careers (they won’t).

Instead, I believe it was the tactics I used against AT&T in order to combat unfair, abusive and, frankly, corrupt management. These tactics I freely admit were stolen from all over my CWA union and other unions around the country that are not in our industrial sector, like the US Steelworkers, the Wobblies, and more. I’ve been asked to share these tactics, and I will as time permits. Sometimes, tactics involve finding creative ways to get bad management to reflect on their behavior; I often accomplished this by acting as a mirror.

Since my June victory in the case, four new documents have been filed. The first one,(PDF) filed by AT&T’s attorneys, was an 83-page opus that once again describes me as the work-place Antichrist whose work-to-rule behavior confounded all of AT&T Midwest management for nearly a year before they reluctantly decided to fire me. The fact that I was a kick-ass union rep was merely a coincidence. The second filing(PDF) is from the NLRB attorney and is basically a 73-page manual on how to argue against AT&T. In it, Attorney Carlson also takes care to mention, again, that AT&T Area Manager Ted Brash likely perjured himself and also likely concealed evidence during an Asset Protection investigation. He also points out likely falsehoods in AT&T Director George Mrla’s testimony. The last two filings are related to the AT&T attorney’s late filing SNAFU and should not be published until there is a ruling. I do encourage stewards, activists and even hard-charging employees to read all docs in this case to glean information that may be helpful in your own endeavors on behalf of the membership. Solidarity!

Make Haste Slowly

tl;dr I won, but I’m not back yet.

A couple days ago I received notice that AT&T was requesting more time to evaluate their appeal to the judge’s decision; an extra 28 days which would carry us into mid-August. Absent the Company’s appeal, I should by rights have been returned to work fairly quickly and earning my livelihood while the back-pay gets straightened out; alas, not to be – yet.

In an NLRB case like mine, a trial takes place and an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes the determination if an unfair labor practice was committed. The ALJ is the sole “finder-of-fact” and he is also the sole determinant of witness credibility; the ALJ’s decisions in these areas are seldom questioned in appeal. The ALJ also makes conclusions of law, and who may have violated it. Any or all of these conclusions may be appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. (Usually hundreds of these are reviewed each year by a panel of 3-5 members.) These appeals are called “exceptions” and any party may file them.

It is likely that the ALJ will grant the extension of time for filing exceptions that AT&T requested, since the case was quite complicated. I am hopeful that my quick return and make-whole award are not part of AT&T’s exceptions to the ALJ’s ruling. Don’t laugh! There were some wonky privacy policy issues in one of the charges that AT&T flew a senior VP in from Dallas to explain to the judge, to no avail. That is almost certainly one of AT&T’s concerns with the ruling, but may not affect my return.

Some friends asked me about arbitration(s) in my case and where that is in this whole shebang. Yes, there are five arbitrations held by the union at this time. Because I was terminated (unlawfully!) before the expiration of the Midwest contract between AT&T and CWA District 4, I retain rights to those arbitrations. There is a chance they may not be necessary, depending on the Company’s exceptions filing; so it’s back to the waiting game. But waiting as a winner.

Of course it is disappointing to see my return delayed. But, I am not discouraged. Keep standing up and watch out for each other. Especially your stewards. I’ll keep updating with new info and documents as they are filed; below is the electronic filing by Company asking for more time (highlighting mine). Click here to read the ruling; good stuff starts on page 35.

 

Your AT&T Manager’s Poor Ethics Should Be Grieved

In fall of 2016, as the Wells Fargo “fake account” scandal broke wide open, I remember wondering when it would be AT&T’s turn in the barrel. It seems like a pretty obvious statement, but managing through a combination of fear and zero-sum “incentive” programs will almost certainly lead to bad ethical decisions by supervisors and employees alike; these decisions often harm customers and/or the public, but first these decisions always harm the employees.

In the case of these Mobility employees, after being encouraged by their boss to create fake DirecTV accounts, they were eventually caught by an automated system and left holding the bag. Like all such behavior, this could not have taken place without at least the tacit buy-in of their supervisors; though as yet reports are that only employees were fired.

So if a customer agreed to purchase a trial, representatives were able to use that credit card to start several trials as long as they totaled no more than $35. This often happened during $10 promotional periods because representatives could squeeze three sales into one.

“My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a Direct TV Now subscription on that email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” a fired AT&T employee said, preferring to remain anonymous.

Union Reps Should Challenge Supervisors’ Failure to Follow Their Own Policies

This will not make you popular, especially with management. Supervisors’ pay is based on a ranking system that assumes, among other things, that all employees are following AT&T’s approximate one bajillion work-rules, policies, practices, procedures, guidelines, codicils, precepts, and of course, codes. As we see in the example above, some managers have found that they can “choose to succeed” by coercing or allowing some of their employees to skirt policies in order to improve their production. For some reps, it can be easy to write off the cheating as no big deal. After all, if nobody’s getting disciplined by the boss and production is good, what can go wrong?

Here are some things that can go wrong:

  • Employees on other crews who do not cheat are more at risk of performance discipline due to ranking
  • Lack of enforcement of some rules leads to same of other rules; including safety rules
  • Management cheating harms our unity. Most employees do not cheat the system. Union reps who do not challenge this risk being perceived as colluding with management
  • Lack of union action on this issue will be cited by management as consent in arbitrations and other procedures (I have witnessed this)
  • Employees who report rule-breaking are retaliated against

How to Grieve Management’s Own Violation of Its Policies

If an employee or group of employees brings this concern to the Local, it should not be ignored. The steward should immediately interview the rest of that manager’s crew to ascertain the scope of the problem. A craft-meeting should be held to explain that the Union takes this seriously because of the harm such unfairness does to fellow workers – especially those at risk of performance discipline. Then, engage the manager and explain the union’s concerns about fair application of the work-rules for all employees – not just the ones on his crew. Most managers will try to tell the steward that they are the boss and can change AT&T policies as they see fit. This is false, but now the Local must get this manager’s falsehood on the record so it can be corrected using the grievance process.

Typically this should be grieved under the “Respectful Relationship” clause of the contract, because management’s actions are causing turmoil and stress on the membership by its arbitrary and capricious application of its work-rules bordering on unfairness. The remedy should be a statement by the supervisor to the crew that he will fairly apply the Company’s work-rules and policies in an even-handed manner. That statement should be preserved to “build the record.”

Such a grievance can be settled at the first step, provided the first-line supervisor commits to a fair settlement. But, in my experience, such behavior is at least condoned, if not encouraged, by his area manager. If that is the case, the Local should get the area manager’s statement about why this behavior is allowed from his direct-report. If the area manager will not correct the issue, the grievance should be advanced to the third-step for Labor Relations’ position.

Even if the grievance is denied at all three steps, it is important to do this because the trail of grievances will serve as documentary evidence in an arbitration or NLRB proceeding, if needed to save a job. Usually though, the supervisor is “fixed” by the second step of the grievance because bosses don’t want the Union to have too much evidence that they do not follow the rules!