Approaching middle age. Husband to beloved Wifey; father and grandfather to several Favorites and GrandFavorites. Convicted unionist, and fired for it. Unable to abide a bully for long. Overall imperfect, yet still talking.
I'm likely to slip in some non-union posts in here occasionally, probably about sailing or something slightly anarchist.
While I wait for a resolution to my attempts to regain my employment, its my duty to diligently attempt to replace my lost wages. Part of the way I do that is by ad placement on this blog; ; and part of it is some Amazon affiliate links that are mostly books I consider required reading for union activists and plain old troublemakers.
If you want to help support my efforts, I teach union activism. Reach out.
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[Editor’s note: I wrote this editorial for the June 2011 edition of “Labor Pains”, which was the newsletter I established for CWA Local 4034 after being ‘lifted-up’ to full-time union status as Administrative Assistant to the Local president.
Recently, the title phrase came into fashion when noted celebrity boss-turned- POTUS used it to brush off over 160,000 American deaths during the COVID-19 crises. I remain convinced that nearly all bosses use this phrase to avoid accountability and it is the job of the union steward to find this unacceptable and question this premise at every turn. Our members very livelihoods, and sometimes their lives, depend on union leaders not accepting this answer from filthy bosses. Hook]
“It Is What It Is” – Loser Theme Song
I’m not sure when that poisonous, seductive phrase became so common; I think I began to hear it from management in grievance meetings about three years ago. Then, it was attributed to a since-retired director known for his pithy and somewhat…abrupt way of speaking. Of course, all managers below that director had to accept those words as gospel and go meekly about their business; the more ambitious immediately began copying the saying to indicate their slavish devotion to a motto that, while grammatically correct, actually means nothing.
But, let us face what the mindless parroting of these words really means when used in the context of AT&T. “It‘s too hard.” “I can’t figure it out.” “It‘s scary.” “It‘s confusing.” And on and on adnauseum. When I hear these words, I know that the speaker has released himself from the burden of thought, accountability, responsibility and mentally retreated into a land of blissful ignorance where the big, bad workplace is just a thing that somehow happens and can’t be impacted by humans. Any hard decision in the land of AT&T, no matter how much it may serve the customer, or improve conditions at work, can be successfully avoided by uttering this magic phrase. It works even better if accompanied by a hapless shrug and a slight rolling of the eyes as if to say, “Yeah, I could fix [fill in the blank], but it’s easier to spout this pseudo-Zen crap in order to mask my incompetence/laziness/helplessness!”
This trite, overused and ultimately meaningless phrase is often delivered with a wise nod and a nervous chuckle that invites you to join in the helpless, soul-sucking excuse-making of a dis-empowered manager. The cruelest twist is that if we were to use that same excuse to a manager when we failed to execute, we would be suspended. As a bonus, the manager who copped out by using that incredible statement of the obvious would deny having ever uttered it.
Ever notice that winners never proudly proclaim, “It is what it is?” Instead, they are happy to tell anyone and everyone that they wanted it, so they took it! This is what our Union has stood for, and what we continue to stand for. Put simply, in 1947 at AT&T workers decided that life sucked at work and if they wanted it to change, they would have to fight and maybe get a little bloody (Eeeassy, Company! It’s a metaphor..so far) Did our Union collectively gaze into its navel and meditate on the “is-ness” of things? No, we left that to management so they could explain falling share-prices to incredulous investors.
Instead, we got to work, made our demands and stuck together. It’s time, again, to roll up our sleeves. Time to say not, “It is what it is,” but “It is what we make it.”
In Solidarity, Hooker, Administrative Assistant CWA Local 4034
I received great feedback, both positive and negative, about my last post. Both the content, and the wisdom of posting it. I especially value the discussions I had with some members of the Local Executive Board (made up of officers and Lead Stewards). Challenging me, listening to my concerns, and responding with their knowledge, these are all the things a Lead Steward should be doing with Local members. All affirmed that they would be asking for the Local bylaws and closely examining the IMO ill-advised decision to sell the members’ union hall while there are full-time officers on the union’s payroll. This robust discussion is a good thing for the membership.
I feel that, by using my voice, I have voiced an important concern to those I call sister and brother in my CWA Local 4034. Doing so created opportunities to ask questions of leadership, uncovering several concerns during two general membership meetings regarding Local officer pay, procedures, expenses and even falling representation levels in the field, despite having full-time officers. These are things that can be fixed by participation of both members and Executive Board, and the reinforcement that our leaders should lead, not rule.
However, I have paid a price to exercise my voice.
About a week ago, when I reached out to the Local president about not selling our union hall, I was told by him that I am not a Local member now; listed as “Dismissed/Inactive,” with no rights or privileges. No explanation or other detail was provided. On followup, I was informed without explanation by the Local president that he “must object” to my attendance at any general membership meetings, let alone the upcoming Lansing meeting.
I dispute this with every fiber of my being. I decided “objection” was a wishy-washy boss-talk for, “You can come but I really wish you wouldn’t,” and went to the Lansing general membership meeting to use my voice. In order to silence me, the Local president had the executive vice-president call the police on me, in front of my wife, friends and members whom I had served, and with whom I had served, for years.
In 2017, the Local president informed me that “the Local” could no longer retain me as a steward of Local 4034; this meant also that I could no longer serve in my various other “official” CWA capacities with the International. I duly resigned those positions, but not my membership. I made clear to him that being a member of the Local for whom I and my family had fought and sacrificed was important to me. I asked him to have the Secretary/Treasurer set up a dues structure for me at that time.
This was my right both under the CWA Constitution and the Local bylaws. It was also necessary in my view for me to continue serving CWA entities as a consultant who is also a CWA member in good standing. Similar to how those pesky financial guys are usually CWA members and this gains them courtesies, such as meeting potential clients at the union hall.
The Local president has not responded to my question concerning how, when, why this happened, yet. I hope to resolve this as a misunderstanding. I want my membership restored, not because I want to run for office, but because I want to vote on who makes these decisions.
I regret that I must speak against the decision by my Local 4034 officers to sell the Grand Rapids union hall and offices. In my years of unioning and absent a financial emergency, I have never seen a Local dispose of the members’ hall “because taxes and maybe a new roof soon” and “nobody hardly shows up anyway.” (As stated by the Local officers at the January 7 Grand Rapids meeting.) At the same meeting, Local president and Secretary/Treasurer assured the members that there was no financial emergency.
Selling any Labor Hall for those BS reasons is bad enough; obviously rent includes the landlord’s taxes and every place needs a roof replaced normally. Selling ours is a goddamned disgrace. Unions work for years, as ours did, to build a place where its members can gather to freely discuss the issues they hold in common. CWA Local 4034 members long ago voted to voluntarily increase our dues by 45 minutes per month to, first; build our mighty union hall; and then, to build our mighty Local. Mighty enough, fierce enough that when management drove past our hall and saw the parking lot full they knew, and I mean they were certain, that hell was coming the next day from Local 4034. Our parking lot was full because our leaders came and encouraged us to come together at our Hall.
Our Grand Rapids Hall is actually named the Suzanne C. Wilson Labor Hall. Sue Wilson was a CWA Local 4034 Vice-President who worked tirelessly to not only build our Hall, but our Local as well. She is only known on Google now by these words, once they are published. But, as long as we have our hall there is an engraved plaque on the wall of the entryway that memorializes her. First thing you see. That woman, that unionist, died too soon of an aneurysm doing union work for her sisters and brothers and our union cared enough about that, and her, and our Labor Hall that we named it after her. I learned this from past 4034 officers Kim and Jay Egan, who told of her dedication many times; always with a tear in their eye because they were there working with her when she passed, working for the members. That is the Hall I learned my craft in.
When challenged on the need for the sale, the president supposed that he could “..limp it along for the next four years without a new roof or a new parking lot and then hand it off to the next guy..” This cavalier attitude towards the members’ property is a problem. It’s almost like normal upkeep is being put off to preserve full-time officers. The members deserve to have the hall that they paid for, and continue to pay for, where their leadership is installed so they can drop in during business hours and hold their leadership accountable. The Grand Rapids Hall, like our Lansing Hall, is paid for and generates income and is capable of continuing to do so. It only needs to be stewarded properly by the Local officers. Local 4034 officers are full-time; this must be sufficient to balance and maintain all assets or full-time officers must become part-time officers so that the Local can retain permanent assets such as property.
What will happen to the money from the sale?
At the Grand Rapids meeting, it was disclosed that the Hall might be worth $600k-800k. Then, the Local president would need to rent offices and a union hall in Grand Rapids to replace the offices and the union hall that we owned free and clear. The money would presumably go towards “representation.” But, there was not a real answer to that. (I’ve been getting calls; that’s a whole ‘nother post.)
Do the members get a say?
Well..no. Not according to the Prez. He says he makes the call and if you don’t like it you can come take his job. When pressed at the Grand Rapids membership meeting by my Wifey, though, he admitted that the Executive Board, made up of the elected lead stewards, can over-rule him. So, I guess that’s our say: You need to get your lead steward to make your wishes clear to the officers before the next time they meet, on February 1st.
How 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.
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..
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:
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
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
Document everything the manager says, especially answers to the question of whether participation for bargained-for employees in employee surveys is voluntary or mandatory
Ask manager to contact Labor Relations or HR to confirm whether mandatory or voluntary; document response
If manager insists is mandatory, instruct employee(s) to complete survey with emphasis in comment section about requirement to complete an employee satisfaction survey
When grieving this issue, be sure that the Request for Information includes:
Copies of all survey materials, including answers and comments, provided to affected employees’ management.
Copies of underlying data for above (raw survey data; analysis; etc.)
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.
Managers should identify which employees they designated “detractor” or other such negative connotation
Managers should identify which “detractor” issue(s) they addressed and the actions taken to do so
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
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.
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 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:
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.
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:
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.
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].
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].
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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