For a grievance-strike or group-grievance to spread, it should be “organic”. If union leadership is seen to encourage this spread, then the Company may try to file a ULP charge on the union. Even though it would be BS, it would affect bargaining in a way workers don’t want. That is why there are often “whisper-campaigns” to develop job-actions. Your leaders are not cowardly, they are educated to not put bargaining in jeopardy. Workers’ role is to punch; leadership’s is to tell management that strikers were actually showing restraint.
Communication Is Key – To Fellow Workers and Management
Here is how I would join (or start!) a grievance strike if this if I was in another garage, or even in another Local:
Call my fellow workers and TELL them I am going to call my boss and return the job I am on so I can return to the garage and picket in support of (for example) the Columbus, OH Chambers garage
I would explain to my fellow workers that we all should participate in this job action because article 12.03 “Just Cause” was being violated by [whatever department] management by skipping steps in discipline. Skipping steps in discipline just because we are without a contract and without arbitration is meant to intimidate us into not exercising our Section 7 and Section 8 rights under the NLRA. This is an unfair labor practice (ULP) and thus striking over it is PROTECTED concerted activity. The use of the word “safety” by management in such discipline is egregious
It would be best to write all this down in an email or text. I would totally use Company email, since I’m also going to cc my boss and his boss. This is because it traps management into recognizing that the workers have a concern about their rights. Putting this knowledge on management is very helpful to demonstrate to the NLRB that management was likely retaliating if they take discipline. (Email also makes it easy to prove your lawful intent and prevent management from lying in court, if you have to go there.
Pro tip: Sending it in email to everybody including the boss gains you the “protected concerted” even if you are a lonely switch-man or home-garager. Even if you are the only brave one (this time).
See one, strike one!
Picketing the Work-site
When you arrive back at your garage, safely park your truck, grab your sign from your personal vehicle and join your union. The NLRB has recently held that you have the right to picket on Company property, out of the way of where work is being performed, such as parking lots, sidewalks, break-rooms, etc. Do not voluntarily leave Company property; check with your local. If the picketing goes into the next day, that is your “work-location” so that you can immediately return to work as scheduled. Follow the instructions of your local reps, unless you decide to stay out longer to win more!
It is your right to not cross a picket line! No need to scab!
This is a ULP strike, not an bargaining or “economic” strike! In other words, we are fixing work or a particular violation, not trying to end bargaining. This is an important legal distinction. Signs and chants should be about the ULP, not about bargaining.
If you do it that way, especially telling all this to your boss, you can get away with picketing at least the whole day before things get straightened out. This is because at AT&T, managers are not trained on how to deal with you asserting your rights — likely by upper’s design.
Be careful when you’re walking the line. Safety in numbers.
Just like everything else in your career at AT&T, it is your supervisor who rats you out to upper about stuff they don’t like. When working without a contract, you have a legal right to do these job-actions and you are always encouraged to perform them. The reason for this is because job-actions work and have been recognized to work all the way up the US Supreme Court.
Glorious to work without a contract!
And your boss will be mad! Because he wants to discipline you for making him look silly, but he can’t, because you have rights.
It is time now to be brave. Your boss is supposed to feel inconvenienced when you conduct job actions. Often, managers immediately melt down, providing fantastic entertainment for the troops. Job actions are protected activity when working without a contract. They always report the action up the chain, which helps ratchet some more progress at the bargaining table.
When bargaining a contract, pissing off your boss with no-to-little loss of pay during job-actions only makes economic sense (compared to a six-week strike!). The benefits of keeping your boss on his toes extend into the “off years,” when working under a contract ensures that they won’t try to violate the agreement they just signed. Think: Who is it always talking about how “..we still need to work together after this.” The boss! When did you ever need to “work together” with that dude to do your work during after the contract was signed?
It’s time to harden up family. It really is them or you and that “friendly” manager may fire someone just to prove a point during bargaining, if his job depends on it. They are so unafraid of reps, and bargaining committees – maybe even the law – that some will lie under oath in order to win against the union. The only thing management is afraid of is that you their employees will stand up for your rights.
And don’t worry if your boss loses his job over your work-stoppage, AT&T will hire another!
Here are some things to start, the embarrassing ones work best and are most legal:
Entire work-group give “CWA-clap” (just one) every time a manager speaks in the morning
Entire work-group turn back on boss when she says good morning (make it one of the evil ones, it is surprisingly powerful on the power-trip bosses!
File a grievance every time a boss threatens you with the COBC – this will cause him to have to explain exactly what the hell the offense was, every time. It’s legal and protected from retaliation. Boss should clean up his act (unless he likes grievance-meetings, and I have never met such a creature)
Every tire on most work-trucks should be safe and make sure they all have the proper inflation – at the same time in the morning
File an article 28 and ask the steward to file an OSHA complaint on all unsafe contractors – AT&T policy has a “responsible manager” to make sure contractors are working to all of AT&T’s policies
Stick together. Bravery improves the posture every time its tried.
A friend on Facebook wondered aloud about something called “Family Night” and this reminded me that I had testified about such a thing at a different NLRB hearing in 2015. I’m a fan of Family Night(s); AT&T is not so much.
Family Night has been known as a euphemism for a concerted activity in which all employees in a work-group exercise their contractual right to not work voluntary overtime. Typically, this is to protest and correct management’s misapplication of work-rules regarding overtime.
Management often views Family Night as an uncontractual work-stoppage because of the “No Strike” clau– Wait a minute! When working without a contract, certain work-stoppages are now protected activity under the law!
Yes, it’s time.
“Family Nights” Can Be Protected Concerted Activity
Stewards in all shops where this is a problem should submit an information request to Local management asking for the “Labor Brief” or “Written Guidance From Labor Relations on the Application of e.g. “Appendix F(5.06) Overtime” The relevance should be that the union is attempting to enforce the contract and investigate a grievance regarding that application. (Denial of this request is an unfair labor practice)
Stewards should distribute this information to the affected work-group and discuss conducting protected concerted activities to enforce their contract; now is the best time as the “No-strike” clause is not in effect
The Company has the right to mandate that Prem Techs work 14 hours of overtime per week (excepting “emergency”)
All other overtime hours not mandated by management are considered by AT&T Midwest to be voluntary overtime
Employees have the right to not work voluntary overtime
In order to exercise their contractual rights, employees must be told by management which overtime hours are voluntary, and which are mandatory; this is also AT&T’s policy in different documents (such as one referenced on page 21 of the union’s brief in my case “..’The Manager’s Guide To Corrective Action’..”)
“Hit the button” does not comply with AT&T policy! Likely it would not pass the smell test in an unfair labor practice investigation
Not providing this information to employees who ask is a violation of AT&T’s own policies and is likely an unfair labor practice (ULP) as it could easily be viewed as deliberate management action to interfere with employees’ ability to exercise their contractual rights. Threatening discipline could be viewed as a violation as well; certainly disciplining employees who simply want to ensure they are not accidentally working voluntary overtime
During bargaining without a contract, ULP’s may be met with grievance-strikes, group-grievance sit-ins, etc.
This is the fastest, easiest way to solve this thorny issue. Management is likely to try to threaten and intimidate over this. Be brave. Watch out for each other.
If instead management timely provides the necessary information, then the contract is being followed. In that (somewhat miraculous) event, a craft-meeting should be held to discuss whether all mandatory overtime should be worked at once, then shut faucet off each, oh, say, Wednesday or so for the rest of the week. Decisions should be made collectively in craft-meetings.
Union members must follow their own contract and work any mandated overtime in accordance with their boss’s directive. However, employees should be encouraged to never have a conversation with their boss about this without a steward. Managers have been known to prevaricate or may not even know if the employee has worked all hours or not when he gives the directive. This should be challenged every time
If a manager gets gnarly about Family Night, encourage them to call Labor Relations to ask if they are cool with a ULP charge from every affected employee or the local
Document all conversations! Be sure to provide management your contractual and legal (NLRB) reasons and follow up in writing — judges like this!
If this had been a week ago, this post would have been about the management issues that currently plague AT&T, one of which has recently been in the news. I would have drawn a line from these tales of executive-management woe to the effects the recent seemingly wholesale abandonment of ethics have on the rank-and-file employees.
From there, I would have tried to make the case that unethical management, whether at the very top or at the lowly bottom, has a corrosive effect that can impact terms and conditions; among them and especially safety in the workplace. But the federal government, in the form of the National Labor Relations Board, couldn’t have made a better case than in their legal brief for my case last week:
The record is replete with their misrepresentations, evasions, and prevarications. For example, during the
Brash-initiated AT& T Asset Protection investigation of Hooker’s alleged GPS tampering, Brash
hid evidence from the investigator and lied about it [CP 2; R 42]. Brash then proceeded to lie
about it at the hearing in this case [Tr. at 1719-1720].
On April 19 at 11:19 a.m., Brash received an e-mail from the VTS vendor company ETech regarding the GPS unit in Hooker’s vehicle. It stated:
The PNP GPS device 4562059615 appears to have stopped reporting on
02/28/2016. In order to ascertain that the issue is not related to the physical
connection or the vehicle itself, there are a couple of steps we need to try.
Can you verify that the device is securely connected to the vehicle OBD port? Driver usage can sometimes partially dislodge the device, especially when
releasing the parking brake [CP 2, emphasis added].
At 1:40 p.m., about two hours after this e-mail arrived in Brash’s inbox, Vilk requested that Brash provide documents for the investigation, including VTS reports related to Hooker’s vehicle [R 42]. At 10:19 p.m., Brash responded to Vilk’s request for information. He did not provide the E-Tech e-mail he received earlier that day [R 42; Tr. at 1416, 1421-1422]. Instead,
Brash told Vilk: On occasion we may receive an email from VTS asking us to investigate a nonreporting unit. I am not sure what triggers that to happen. We have received nothing[R 42, emphasis added].
At the hearing, Brash gave this sworn testimony:
Q. BY MR. CARLSON: Okay. And Mr. Hooker said that he knocked it out trying
to push down the parking brake?
A. He said he was setting the parking brake.
Q. Setting the parking brake. Okay.
JUDGE SANDRON: And I think it’s pretty clear already, but you didn’t believe
THE WITNESS: No.
Q. BY MR. CARLSON: You were aware, though, weren’t you, you became
aware that was an issue sometimes with those GPS units that were installed under
the dash like that … that it sometimes would get knocked out or knocked loose
when people were setting the parking brake?
A. In my experience, I had never heard of it, no. I had never seen it, never had it
Q. Had you ever heard of it happening, though?
A. Not to anyone that – No. [Tr. at 1719-1720].4 During her testimony, Asset Protection Investigator Vilk confirmed that Brash never provided
her with the e-mail from E-Tech or otherwise told her about the parking brake issue – not even
after Hooker explained to Vilk and Brash that the GPS in his vehicle became dislodged when he
was using the parking brake [Tr. at 2007-2008].5 After hiding, and lying about, this important
evidence, Brash suspended Hooker and recommended his termination for tampering with the
GPS [Tr. at 1453-1454, 1459]
Retaliation is against AT&T’s Code of Business Conduct
There are several COBC violations above, only they were committed by Brash and his team. Ethical lapses such as demonstrated above by area manager Ted Brash can cause harm to employees, other managers and even the Company itself. Hell, I’m pretty sure the cost to the Company for my trial alone approaches Michael Cohen-money! The greatest cost of course falls on the employee, but in my case, the cost fell on all employees served by my Local: It was simply not possible to provide the same level of service to our members when a Local official is attacked by management simply for performing their duties (in a totally kick-ass way).
After my interview with Asset Protection and Brash on the above railroad-job, Brash concluded by saying, “Mr. Hooker, due to the GPS issue I feel we need to suspend you pending termina–” Then, he smiled and stopped himself. “I mean, “investigation” while we further examine your misuse of time.” When I pointed out to him that I was not in the load for another week due to grievance-meetings and upcoming family trip, so he could investigate during that time without costing me pay, he smiled again and shook his head. He said that, because of the GPS, he needed to “protect Company assets” by suspending me without pay while the investigation continued.
The family trip was my son’s wedding in Georgia. The suspension caused me to delay my children’t wedding gift by some months due to my fear that Brash was going to fire me despite having no evidence of wrongdoing. Obviously, if Brash could have terminated for this episode, he happily would have. Instead, he was forced to bring me back about ten days later, where he, Sharp and Mrla continued their campaign continued their campaign against me and the local union for another five months.
Until AT&T managers stop behaving like this, I can only recommend that members backstop their grievances with Board charges, OSHA complaints, or other third-party agency.
Information requests matter! The “GPS email” was received by the union in an information request for my one of my disciplinary grievances. Stewards’ info requests should be detailed, wide-ranging, thorough, and responsive to new information! I will talk quite a bit about these in this space
Read all three briefs in this case! AT&T’s brief describes how managers lie to each other, employees, and judges to get their way. The Union brief and NLRB brief describe how to catch them
Managers can and should be investigated by the union for COBC violations. I have done this in Uverse and it provided relief for the crew against unethical managers. Information about their EEO violations should be requested where relevant during the grievance process.
Sometimes the good guys lose – don’t give up! I knew that Brash lied to fire me on the GPS me and didn’t succeed. I knew he was humiliated at his failure to railroad me and would try again. He did and it sucked – bad. But, I continued to follow the same advice I give to my members:
Never speak to a manager without a steward
Always document every interaction with management (email is best!)
When confronted with a roadblock, involve your manager immediately – make him the decision-maker so he cannot blame you later for your decision
Over the weekend, I received copies of the legal briefs that were recently submitted to the judge presiding over my case. Legal briefs basically summarize the testimony and evidence during the trial in a way that is favorable to one side or the other. Frequently, they are used as one last push to get the judge to see things a certain way; they are usually peppered with case-law from years gone past to bolster an attorney’s argument. Sometimes, they are used to white-wash or discount problematic testimony from witnesses on either side.
In my case, briefs were submitted by the NLRB attorney, the Local 4034 attorney, and the AT&T attorney and that was the final step before the judge begins his deliberations. I should have a ruling hopefully in three to six months; if the latter, then this case will have taken two years since my termination in early October 2016. If you love “laborese”, here is a link to the NLRB case(s) page which documents the eleven different charges issued to AT&T by the feds.
While various attorneys were litigating my case, I voluntarily limited what I would post so as not to cause consternation among those who were trying to help me get my job back. Now that the briefs are filed, there are things about this case that are important to be talked about while we try to gain a fair contract with AT&T Midwest. And even after that, we will then need to be able to enforce it against those managers who refuse to follow, not only the contract, but their own policies regarding just cause, safety, mutual respect and many more.
Here are the legal briefs from my case. They are public documents which can be viewed and shared by anyone; I always recommend sharing our knowledge. All are readable, but also (one in particular) lengthy; so, read them at work.
Actually, prepare to learn a great deal about how AT&T fires people! (Credit)
AT&T seemingly found it necessary to document my alleged unlawful discipline in great detail. Likely this is because, when I became certain that I was the victim of retaliation by AT&T management, I did exactly what I would recommend to my members:
Follow all rules; “short-cuts” are equal to policy violations when management is after you
Never speak to a manager without union representation (Thanks again, Caresian!)
Document all conversations with management by email; cc the union regarding roadblocks, policy deviations, safety concerns, etc.
Keep a diary of each work-day in case you are interviewed by management, or a lawyer or a judge. (I used a voice-activated Google-form type of thing)
Even as the unfairness of management’s actions took its toll, I knew it would be vital to have contemporaneous notes (time- and date-stamped in my note-taker app) and especially emails to/from your supervisor (it is legal to cc or bcc your union rep on these – and highly recommended!). Automating this process using note-taking apps on my smart-phone made this important task very easy to do, even when overwhelmed by stress of knowing I was a “dead-man walking”. This is certainly something we all should consider doing when working without a contract.
You’ll understand more after reading the briefs.
It’s called “building a record” and it is vital to keeping your job if management starts lying.
I have long advocated for stewards, officers or any interested activists to attend NLRB hearings regarding their employer. What better place to obtain management statements, made under oath, about terms and conditions of employment? This applies to OSHA, EPA, etc. hearings. All contain info regarding terms and conditions and likely apply to contract enforcement
Reading AT&T’s brief should be required reading for stewards, for this and many other reasons.
A careful reading of all the briefs will indicate likely COBC violations committed by management in their zeal to end my career
At least two of the managers who testified in my discrimination hearing had to testify in another, separate discrimination proceeding with the NLRB — This should be a red-flag to HR except HR only goes by what field supervisors tell them
Asset Protection under oath admits to “losing” evidence in the investigation of me – AP’s methods need union scrutiny during relevant grievances
Building a record is key; emails involving management interaction are best!
A couple days ago, some Facebook friends told me that some managers in their department were beginning to discipline their employees for not filling out a made-up “safety form.” This form was devised by some desperate field-manager, likely a second-level, who was no doubt terrified of losing his bonus if one more of his employees reports an on-the-job injury.
In this department, some employees are required to inspect their job-site using the form and, using a diagram and symbols provided by management, list all the hazards identified by the technician in that instant of time. Though a state-wide department, strangely not all similarly situated employees are mandated to do this.
No doubt management told the employees that they were requiring this to help technicians “focus on their surroundings” and “put safety first” or some such self-serving BS. Employees know better: If they are injured performing work at that particular site, their supervisors often try to find a way to make it the employee’s fault. If the hazard is found on the employee’s hazard-map, management’s rationale will be that the employee knowingly did something that would injure themselves, and must be disciplined. If the hazard is not on the form, this is because the employee did not pay enough attention during the site-survey and overlooked the hazard, and therefore must be disciplined!
AT&T”s new “blame the worker” form is made-up and actually called a hazard-map. Hazard-mapping is often used by unions to point out safety concerns to management. This is because under OSHA, once management becomes aware of a safety defect at work, they are required to address the hazard. In other words, making management aware of a safety hazard at a work-location also now makes them legally responsible for an accident/injury (especially if they do nothing).
Like OSHA, AT&T policy also makes management responsible for the hazard, once they are made aware of it by an employee such as a technician. If a technician encounters a serious or likely-serious hazard and cannot determine how the hazard at the work-location should be addressed, there is now a legal and protected basis to stop working on the job — until a manager comes out to assess the hazard and determine the solution. If the manager does not come out to the job-site and instead tells the employee to “figure something out” or ignores the technician’s call then the employee has the right under OSHA to not perform the work and instead the employee should ask the boss to provide safe work. The employee should also inform his steward and may want the steward present if/when the boss comes out. For purposes of discussing these issues with management, a serious hazard is one that causes an unpaid suspension to the employee if he receives an injury from it!
You have rights, as long as you use them!
Sometimes when employees demonstrate knowledge of their rights under OSHA, management gets testy and looks for reasons to discipline. This is called retaliation and is usually unlawful. If you believe you are unfairly disciplined for a safety issue at work, an OSHA 11(c) complaint should be filed by the employee (or representative). This complaint is for employees who are disciplined for retaliation by management for reporting an injury or raising safety concerns. An OSHA retaliation complaint must be made within 30 days of the discipline!
If you file a complaint with OSHA (or a state plan such as MIOSHA, CALOSHA, etc.) be sure to involve your union; the local union will likely be able to assist OSHA in explaining AT&T’s “blame the worker” safety policies more comprehensively due to grieving these types of cases. If you’re not sure where to start, check out these resources:
Managers have the right to institute work-rules. However, work-rules that impact terms and conditions of employment, such as safety, overtime, and pay can and should be investigated by the union. In the case of the hazard-map above, management has disciplined an employee for not following the work-rule. Some reasonable questions that the union should put to management about this form could include:
Has EH&S signed off on the new form?
Where is the policy requiring use of new form?
Who “invented” the new form? (Get actual name/uuid, so you can email that person some questions, too)
Do all employees have to follow the rule regarding the form? If not, why not?
Does management inspect for compliance with the rule regularly? Or, only when there is an accident? (If the latter, this is a red-flag for OSHA 11(c) discrimination case and should be referred!)
Press for answers! Ask in writing or in a grievance-meeting with a note-taker. Even if management has not (yet!) disciplined someone for accidentally violating a made-up work-rule, the union has the right to investigate it for other reasons, such as fairness of application. Example: When one work-group has to follow the form, this takes time off the job. This time likely wasn’t calculated into Company incentive programs (ask!). So, when monthly incentives are issued, one work-group of employees appears less efficient (due to extra work-site inspection form compliance) than one that is not required to fill out the form.
Asking questions like these about “made-up” work-rules is the union role; answering these questions is the management role, no matter how embarrassing the answers! Not answering the union’s questions about these matters can and has led to unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
As a local union, taking a more proactive approach on these “made-up” management policies can bring some relief to work-groups who have “one of those” bosses. Such an investigation is likely to uncover other inequities that can be addressed and make for a fairer workplace. What say you?
When I say “grievance-strike” I am talking about work-stoppages that are initiated by a group of employees in response to an unfair labor practice (ULP) committed by management or, when working under “normal” times i.e. with a contract, a group of employees addressing a grievance with their immediate supervisor. This may be also be known by a more “legalese” term: partial strike.
When bargaining without a contract, most managers can’t take too much mobilization without their feelings getting hurt. Then, some start to snap and begin committing a few unfair labor practices (ULP’s) here and there. This happens especially when the “WTF” and “FU” buttons start popping up, since discipline or even the threat of discipline for showing union support is unlawful and a ULP. (Prem Techs read here for your button issues.)
Work-stoppages can often be the fastest way to resolve workplace issues with your manager. Disclaimer: There is always risk in asserting your rights to the powerful; but, much less risk when you act together! Management called the below a work-stoppage and threatened to fire the guy who started it, but that was bluster and nobody was disciplined. Best of all, a serious concern of the work-group was very quickly addressed, by the work-group, unlike in the usual drawn-out grievance process where both sides have to get “legalistic.” Indeed, local management will do just about anything not to be the reason for a grievance-strike; it’s bad for their careers.
The events below are from 2008, but they portray the way these things usually kick off. One big difference between then and now, is that then we were operating under the “No Strike” clause in our contract, with greater chance for retaliation by the Company. All the elements of protected concerted activity are contained in the below example.
You know that look on the boss’s face? Your rights give him that look.
One morning in our technician bull-room (meeting area), two managers walked in with three strangers and announced that the three strangers were a) time-study contractors and, b) they would be riding with various employees selected by management. Then the manager selected the only females out of dozens of technicians to be the “victims” who would be required to ride with the contractors all day. I objected.
At the time, I knew something was wrong with the way things were going down, but wasn’t sure what. I was an appointed steward who dealt quite a bit with management, but did not interact in “higher” grievance matters. But, I knew that this much change in the work-place is supposed to be discussed with the Local union. Since, I hadn’t heard anything from Local leadership, I asked the boss if our Local president had been informed of this. He answered, “I assume so..” but, that was not good enough. I believed our rights were about to be violated.
I took the first step: Object early and often and inform management of the group-grievance. In this instance I did this by jumping to my feet and saying, “You can’t make us ride with filthy contractors without letting our Local president know (article 1, exclusive bargaining agent)! The Union doesn’t even know who these clowns are (article 28, safety)! Nobody dispatch yet, this is bullshit (article 4, respectful relationship)!” I then looked around at my coworkers and pointed at one, “Call Alpine [garage] and, if this BS is happening there, tell them to hold up [from dispatching] until they hear from the union.”
Critically, every single technician stood (or sat) shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity (thank goodness!). Now, less than ten minutes into the morning shift, every installation and repair technician in a small Midwestern city was refusing to dispatch and get in their trucks. All thanks to management’s unilateral change in terms in conditions of employment without notifying the union.
Negotiating can be tough when one side just wants to chew ass!
During the next part, dealing with management, things can become tense. It’s important to keep reminding yourself and your coworkers that you have rights – management often just wants to bully you into not using them. So, about ten minutes after work started I found myself in a somewhat hectic spot while everybody tried to contact their leadership on both sides. Unfortunately, management found theirs first and I was soon on the phone with my third-level supervisor, B****. Fortunately, I was not alone and had another steward with me (never speak to management alone!) and we were both ushered into the first-level supervisors’ office. There were about three or four in there and they seemed both nervous and a little excited at my impending doom. Here’s my best recollection of that speaker-phone call with my third-level as he drove the 50-mile trip to my garage to (I later learned), “..fire that fucking Hooker’s ass..”
First-level supervisor un-mutes speaker-phone: “Thanks for holding, B****, I have Hooker and C****** here.” B****: “Hooker, are you there?” Hooker: “Good morning, B-“ B****: “You fucking cowards think you can embarrass m-!” C******: “Now, B****, there’s no need to bring the conversation to that level. The Union -“ B****: “)(^*&$&^%$*(&*&&^%^$#@$$@ Hooker: “B****, I don’t think the COBC allows you to speak to us that way. Let’s talk later after you’ve cooled down.”
Hooker hangs up.
I told the now very pale first-level that I would be outside having a smoke while we all waited for more instruction. On my way out, I noticed all technicians were still waiting to dispatch and I also noticed that management knew nobody would dispatch until there was resolution. Four cigarettes later, I saw all three filthy contractors drive off the property and a boss came out and told me and my Chief Steward to go back to work and that B**** and the Local president would be hashing things out later. Whatever you want to call it, grievance-strike or partial strike or group-grievance, the employees had won it and none had received discipline.
Resolution of the Grievance
Later that day, the union and management ironed out their differences, and I was present for some of that meeting. The part I saw was a spirited meeting where I learned that my first name was likely forever changed in management’s mind to something beginning with “F”. I do recall I was called a communist and a hope was expressed that I would someday be shot while espousing my pinko union BS since I would no doubt be waving a red flag during the revolution. I was not disciplined.
Once I left the meeting, labor peace prevailed but negotiation needed to still happen. The Company wanted to put the time-study contractors in the trucks; the Union needed to address the membership’s concerns. Ultimately, it was ironed out the best way: Everybody was equally unhappy.
Contractors would only ride with volunteers; employees could not be compelled to accept them except by inverse seniority
Employees could not be compelled to speak to contractors and could drop them off at anytime the contractor was creepy
Contractors could not wear Company apparel or identify as Company employees (most were retired managers who retained the clothing)
Most importantly, the union had its say in the terms and conditions of employment for its members
This agreement was announced the following morning in each garage where contractors were being located. It was also read to all contractors – by me – prior to shift start. At that meeting, a contractor complained that they would not be paid by their employer for the day the union caused them to be sent away by management. I believe that was the first time I ever smiled in a filthy contractor’s presence.
Safety in numbers!
How was this protected concerted activity?
This work-stoppage was protected because:
It was on behalf of fellow employees and our contractual rights (a group grievance article 12.13), which benefits all employees. Pro tip: Use words like “mutual aid or protection” when discussing strikes/stoppages with management. Quote the contract where relevant
The issue was not a “gripe”; it was related to terms and conditions of employment i.e. safety, discipline, new work-rules, contractors etc.
No malicious behavior e.g. interfering with other workers not affected by strike; blocking employer entrances, etc.
Did not leave property; returned to work when issue resolved
Great employee participation moved management to quickly solve the issue
Management was surprised; this helped
Though a “No-Strike” clause was in place, the union presented this as a group-grievance as allowed in the contract and Section 9(a) of the NLRA
Your first resource is each other, your union. If you love the legalese stuff and like to throw four-dollar words at management along with the rare four-letter word, here is some stewardy-stuff to check out:
Clear language, with examples for unionized and non-unionized employees, about your rights to engage in protected concerted activity
Let’s face it, working without a contract during bargaining is both insanely boring and suck-tacular. It’s been ten days since the contract has expired, and AT&T is still passing retrogressive proposals across the table that devalue all who built the network; proposals that your craft work could be done by filthy contractors just as well, for less.
In my opinion, the thinking behind AT&T’s bargaining strategy seems a little 2009-ish and the workforce seems a little over it. In the shop, the garage, or the center managers are getting tensed-up by mobilizations and the prospect of spending summer unable to make firm vacation plans. Many are either suddenly tightening up work-rules or inventing new ones, possibly hoping to intimidate employees from using their rights to join protected concerted activity. It’s just a matter of time until a manager commits an unfair labor practice (ULP) and draws a job-action.
ULP-strikes are one of the safest strikes when working without a contract, because the Company is barred by US labor law from permanently replacing these strikers. Managers can and often do commit ULP’s in several ways that violates employees’ rights during this time. Typically, when we exercise our rights to picket our bosses (especially their homes) enough times, managers can get testy and overstep. Here are some examples of ULP’s that should be immediately referred to the Local for an investigation (or, you know, maybe struck until the union gets there!)
Photographing or recording job-actions or pickets
Questioning about same
Harassing or intimidation because of job-actions or pickets
Refusing to meet on grievance(s) or refusing to provide information to process a grievance (now, a grievance-strike has become a ULP-strike
With that in mind, here are some things to discuss within your work-group:
A strike is highly winnable this year, keep saving Fairness & Unity money for five weeks or so of strike use when the trigger is pulled on the Big One
Pressure on management in the field and the work-centers produces results at the Bargaining Table; it is the turn of employees now to get the Company to listen. For everybody’s mutual aid or protection, follow all work-rules and written policies. It works every time it is used
Stop volunteering – ask management for copies of all policies, and follow them. Grieve direction by management to deviate from policies in order to prevent vague discipline issues during this time
Grievance-strikes/ULP-strikes are for the mutual aid or protection of worker, not a bargaining tactic. This is how it should be explained to members. When we work without a contract, grievance-strike/ULP-strikes are a way of protecting each other and our rights until a fair contract is bargained. In other words, once the ULP or grievance issue is cured by management, everybody back to work in good faith (while following all rules) until bargaining concludes
There is a high likelihood of grievance-strikes this time; these can last anywhere from one hour to days. These are almost always unpaid; another good reason to save your Fairness & Unity money
For job-actions, use voice calls, not text
Call everybody, everybody is needed for this fight
Keep signs in cars; signs should say “ULP”, “Unfair”, “WTF”, “Fair Treatment Now”, etc. They should not say “On strike”
If you get the call, participate immediately. Do not finish job/call/etc. Return truck to garage/leave call-center; grab sign and gather on sidewalk or where fellow-workers are gathered. Make this commitment to each other; there is literally safety in numbers during this time.
Do not block access to Company property or interfere with other employees/contractors not involved in the grievance-strike
Do not go home; the hope is to have the ULP-strike resolved ASAP and get back to work
Follow the directions of your Local, if not too enraged by management’s actions and decide to continue for awhile
Be brave, stick together
Sadly, not a cross between “Pulp Fiction” and “Bay Watch”
Which manager will it be? Where? Last time things got tense, back in 2015 bargaining, 425 CWA members hit the street over one poor management decision. That same month, the entire state of Indiana over vague “use of time” discipline. Those strikes were protected concerted activity in action and performed as named: The grievances were won by the union and no discipline was taken by the grievance-strikers. Hell, there may even have been a mini-Baby Boom later that year! Almost makes you want to add “Eliminate the ‘No Strike’ clause” to the next bargaining survey..
If your employees are wearing this, you have a fairness problem. Not a button problem!
WTF Is Management’s Problem?
Stewards, your members want to show their solidarity and determination to get a fair contract, yet management wants to create petty drama over their precious branded apparel. What can be done to create space for our members to mobilize? AT&T hates WTF buttons, hates union solidarity in general, though it is our right to wear them; this right has been upheld in two different parts of the country by two different judges. Yet, some managers will still try to intimidate employees who support their union by trying to say that they control our very boots, t-shirts, hell maybe even our skivvies!
What Are My Rights?
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (the Act) guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. Section 8(a)(1) of the Act makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer “to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7” of the Act. (more info here)
But There’s A Catch!
The “W” stands for Wisconsin!
In 2016 there was a federal case in Wisconsin regarding the wearing of WTF button by CWA members at AT&T. As often happens in these cases, both sides won and lost. The “WTF” and similar buttons are lawful for AT&T employees to wear, even Prem Techs, with a big “but”: The judge ruled that Prem Techs cannot wear them on branded apparel. (“Core” employees can, mostly for reasons that have to do with the fact that it never came up. Let’s face it, fam, the other side has smart guys too, and sometimes they win in court.) Naturally, this is not something the CWA likes but was forced to live with, as we all must live with the judge’s rule.
But, it is not true that Prem Techs cannot wear any “union flair.” They just have to put the flair on non-branded apparel (or risk a fight). Even though the Company gained this partial victory, the managers continued to not enforce it – for two years! Management continued(s) to allow Prem Techs to wear union flair all over their Company clothing (if management even enforced the branded apparel policy at all!). To an educated and activist unionista, this should appear as if management waited until Prem Techs were working without a contract before they decided to enforce their rule. It’s almost like they want an excuse to discipline members and break them down, instead of bargaining towards a fair deal.
When Management Picks A Fight
See how easy to get along?
If you as a Prem Tech have been wearing union flair on branded apparel all along, and your boss saw this and allowed it, but now they are hassling you then you should be pissed off. It’s an attack on your solidarity by changing a long-standing practice just so they can make you afraid during bargaining. We should hassle back, always, by filing a hundred or so grievances about this (each member, wherever it happens). Meanwhile, there is still ability to get our message across on non-branded clothing; Prem Techs can participate and be heard without risking unfair discipline over the sudden enforcement of a long-ignored work-rule. If a manager threatens a Prem Tech over union flair on Company clothing, simply show your boss some Fairness and Unity by moving the button or flair to your t-shirt or boots. If the manager still has a problem, then she will now have a problem with all employees and the law, because now the employees have complied with the policy, the law, and a court ruling and are still being hassled. Picketing is justified.
If the boss does not allow the buttons on non-branded apparel, employee rights are being violated and the Company has likely committed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP). This is because, in a union shop, that issue must be bargained with the Union first, before discipline is issued. The employee and his coworkers should immediately demand a group-grievance with that manager so the two sides can come to a solution that protects employee rights to wear union flair on non-Company clothing. While the employees wait for the steward to join the discussion, that employee and his co-workers should be heading to their cars to grab their picket signs and wait for their steward to resolve the issue – on the sidewalk! (When group-grievancing, do not leave Company property. Do not interfere with others’ work. You are intending to get back to work as soon as management stops the unfair treatment.) Note that wearing buttons is a right enjoyed by all employees, so all employees are allowed to join concerted activity for mutual aid or support, not e.g. just Prem Techs).
Your rights. Use ’em of lose ’em!
Members should be informed if this cannot be solved by direct job action, i.e. group-grievance then the formal grievance and Board-charge process can take days, weeks, months. (Picketing during your group-grievance is faster, IMO!) The membership may decide to extend the group-grievance into the next day.
Buttons and other flair may and should remain on non-branded apparel such as boots, hats, non-branded coats etc. But this is not over, because grievances and Board charges may be needed if management chooses to retaliate
Investigate. Did managers allow non-branded apparel to be worn before bargaining? How many work-groups? How far back has management allowed non-Company clothing or the wearing of union flair? Get statements, etc. Enforcing the rule only now that bargaining has begun may be viewed as discriminatory by an NLRB judge since it appears it is designed just to chill union flair and not “protect the brand.” The information that stewards collect during this investigation will help your Local and your District leadership at the table
Turns out, designing your own button isn’t that hard!
Employees have the right to conduct a group-grievance with their manager to resolve their complaints. When management stops listening to Local reps or even the union Bargaining Committee, only action from the membership can move the Company. This usually involves picketing the manager, or refusing to dispatch, etc. until the grievance is resolved. This is lawful! Managers who do not resolve these kinds of grievances risk spreading employee discontent, even to other work-groups. This risks a grievance-strike that may spread widely. Management take heed!
If I was a steward working without a contract at AT&T, here is what I would say to my fellow workers that first week; whether face-to-face, on the call, or in the newsletter. It’s okay if management feels unloved by this; that is the point:
The Company feels comfortable “saying no” to our Bargaining Team because they are not yet pressured by job actions such as working to the rule (for our mutual aid and protection), grievance-strikes, or information picketing. In other words, fellow workers and their union reps are being disrespected. It is them or us!
When working without a contract there is typically no arbitration rights if a fellow worker is unjustly terminated (and they will all be unjust in the eyes of fellow workers during bargaining). Only management’s fear of our job actions over us walking will prevent these – but not the first few. Those, management will cruelly target first and they must be protected with the full righteous anger of the work-group. Management must believe you are willing to walk over each others’ fate. Watch out for each other!
Management is literally counting our attendance at job-actions – low attendance boost the managers’ morale, and nobody wants that. Don’t let each other down!
Stop volunteering! Volunteering, together, or not volunteering together is all employees’ right during this time. Whichever, be unified. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:
TLD – WTH are you thinking doing a boss’s job so she can go on vacation? Or worse, go to training to be strikebreakers?We want them stressed and tired!
Overtime – There are many ways to use the tool of exercising our contractual right to not volunteer to work voluntary overtime. (Steward pro-tip: Use this language when discussing any refusals to volunteer actions w/ management. Arbitrators and ALJ’s at the NLRB dig it.)
Call-outs – Also voluntary
LBM’s are on the other side! – Every technician who talks to an LBM instead of a bargained-for dispatch center employee is helping management get rid of a fellow worker’s job. LBM’s should be politely asked to honor your contract and contact you through bargained-for workers at the Center (or your boss, who will likely feel pressured by this).
Ask your members: What else? Find unity, stewards. The longer bargaining takes, the stronger, smarter, angrier we naturally become.
Double-check call-tree info; set next meeting or picket time and date
Walk into work together. Always together.
Stewards, do not tell your people “Don’t be afraid.” Be real: It is always scary to stand up and speak truth to power for your rights, alone. Instead, ask them to be brave, together. When we stand together, we win. Once you’re into bargaining without a contract, it’s also the best protection.
What it looks like when you must win. These teachers have taught us all. Start practicing. (photo: NBC News)