Real-Life Working Without A Contract At AT&T In 2018

I was recently asked to relate some thoughts on my experience bargaining with AT&T, particularly when working without a contract. I know that when we work collectively we win – every time it’s tried. And, we can win this time, especially with this employer, in these times. Below are some rough guidelines I have used as an employee, union member, and union leader.


Here is what I would tell my fellow hard-chargers:

  1. Get your mind right — Management is just not that into you lately
    1. Employees can win this fight.
      In my judgment as a union member and activist (even one who was fired for being so) this fight is winnable in a number of ways. There are many ways to apply pressure while you save up for the odd grievance-strike (usually unpaid); the more frequent group-grievance (always paid by Company per practice); and then the Big One, which I estimate will last around seven work-weeks (the first two weeks are no strike-pay). So, figure it out; have the talk with your spouse; make a plan. The CWA Verizon strike  lasted around 45 days, if you want to disaster-proof your Fairness and Unity money.
    2. Showing up to mobilization activities is now part of the way you earn income — next year’s income and each one after that.
      Managers literally count people who show up for informational pickets, who wear red, who participate in “silly” bandage wearing mobilization and send this information to the Company side of the Bargaining Table. The Company negotiators use this information to decide if they are going to take Union proposals seriously – proposals like booting contractors, maybe. Your actions as a fellow worker figuratively and actually count towards your success in these actions. Most non-union workers cannot say that. In other words, most pickets are an hour or less, so suck it up and show up.
    3. An injury to one is an injury to all – This should be all workers’ new reflex.
      It’s time to figure out where the line is in your group that management must cross before a group-grievance is triggered (article 12.13 in the relevant Collective Bargaining Agreement). Many of our fellow workers have participated in them, they are legal, you are protected from retaliation for participating in group-grievances, and sometimes you are not paid for the group-grievance meeting that you attend with your work-group. Management just calls them by a different name: Work Stoppage. If you see one, join it. Make that commitment to yourself, your family, and your fellow workers: You are each others best protection from management during this time and you will stand together during this tough fight for your livelihoods. Do not puss out on this, its important to have each others’ backs! (Even that “one guy”) Also, consider picketing during a group-grievance or grievance strike until an unfair termination is rescinded, not just obtaining arbitration in a year or so.
  2. Communicate — often.
    1. Meet on purpose
      If I was facilitating a steward-training at a local on mobilization, I would say this about communication: Craft-meetings are best (whenever possible). At least once a week; there surely is much to talk about. And conduct the meeting when possible in view from management’s offices. (It makes them nervous, as they should be. They also have to report it to the Bargaining Table.) You should be looking at each others’ faces when you are talking about how to save your own and each others’ livelihoods. If there cannot be craft-meetings, free teleconferencing services can create “flash calls” at any time we need to share info. Make sure you are available to your Local leadership of course but, also to each other in your work-group. Social media and newsletters should be presumed to be read by the Company Labor Relations team, so make sure there is always a healthy dose of Fairness and Unity in the articles!
    2. We have a common enemy now; we have to trust each other. Managers may ask questions about the meetings, which is a legal no-no and should be reported to your Local for a potential Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) investigation. Managers may also try to divide the work-group. It is well known that first-line supervisors are wildly wrong about most things, used by upper to pass bad rumors on purpose, and often take counsel of their entirely legitimate fears BUT, their rumors are still not good intel. Listen to your reps; talk to each other; follow your union leadership. Let management know by your deeds and words that you are one unified work-group/department/union at every opportunity. Be proud, you are in a small minority of Americans who regularly grow a pair and make demands of your bosses.
      Stick together” must be your mantra. Works good in rally chants, too.

  3. Protect yourself, and each other
    1. Work to the rule – not to slow down, but for your own protection against arbitrary and capricious management discipline. This is not a “slow-down.”
      Members need to move deliberately, more safely, more carefully to be sure follow all rules and policies. Take no shortcuts. Managers that previously let you do things “your way” or the “common sense way” instead of following policy, may use this against you during a time of no arbitration. This working to the rule serves a legitimate “mutual aid or protection” purpose: Every single member saw AT&T unilaterally change a past practice of layoff by inverse seniority to one of layoff by performance. This new policy of “layoff by performance metric” is new and nobody should do less or more than what is required by any policy until AT&T’s actions are explained (the proper forum for this explanation is a grievance meeting/discussion). The above should explained to management in whatever form your work-group or Local chooses to; however, be sure to use the phrase “mutual aid or protection” at lease twice per conversation. It makes it easier to explain during Board charges for ULP’s.
    2. Build a record
      When you are working carefully to avoid capricious and arbitrary treatment by management, it is useful to do something Labor Board investigators like to call, “Building a Record.” It’s easy and fun, especially if your frustrated by a manager who rarely removes roadblocks in your daily work-life. The easiest and best way to do this is to use email with your manager to lay out issues respectfully and clearly and ask for her input on any ambiguous directives or policies. Naturally, you will want to cc your Local steward and probably the whole crew so that they know a fellow worker is having difficulty with a manager. (Often these things can be solved by a group-grievance meeting) In any case, such email are lawful and make great evidence in grievances, federal trials, OSHA proceedings, etc. Here are some examples of  things to document:

      1. Grieve all repeats that are not your fault! If your receive a quality deviation, such as a repeat, that is not your fault it should be grieved and your performance record corrected for that month
      2. Management instruction to deviate from work-practice policy
      3. Management instruction to deviate from automated workflow systems (Hilariously, it is rumored that automated workflow systems will be used to “boot-strap” filthy contractor strike-breakers when CWA pulls the trigger on the Big One!)
      4. Management instruction to deviate from safe practice
      5. Ways in which management did not assist in removing roadblocks i.e.
      6. You get the idea
  4. Management must follow its own policies; if they don’t, grieve them every time.
    Why would we do this? The simplest answer is that when management does not follow its own policies, or administers them unevenly, this can make it impossible for employees to tell if they are being disciplined justly or not. In this case, just cause is a contractual right and a term and condition of employment; therefore, employees have the right to have this concern investigated using the grievance process. Managements likely statement that “Management has the right to change its own policies” doesn’t prevent the investigation. Each instance should be grieved, if for no other reason that a record must be established of mitigating factors management considers when it deviates from its own policies. Grieving the impact of the policy and its administration is lawful. Managers may not refuse such grievances. Our members deserve to know why managers are not following written policies or are being required to deviate from it when deviation of a policy may be grounds for discipline. Arbitrators and judges find it very easy to rule in favor of workers when managers don’t fairly administer policies and this is backed up by a grievance record. Doing this in one particularly intractable work-group was found to be very effective at ensuring fair and even-handed treatment. Discipline dropped quite a bit, too.

The family that pickets together, stays together!

Where appropriate, I’ll expand in other posts. Feel free to extend the conversation in the comments; you have the right to discuss terms and conditions at work with fellow workers. It’s a good place to practice being brave. Before commenting though, read more about how we talk to each other here.

When in doubt, aggress. Hook

If They Show You Who They Are, Believe Them

I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder

Actually, Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The bad news is that when it comes to some unfair employer behavior, “..the first time..” was a long time ago. The good news is, once the membership gets gnarly, things can rapidly improve at work; first, through legal job actions that cause bosses to feel pressure, then more rapidly at the bargaining table. True progress begins when management’s tender feelings get a little bruised, however. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way, they just seem to choose that outcome a lot of the time, though. Good thing job actions are fun!

It would be easy to say that 2018 bargaining has been hard from the beginning but that would be untrue. 2018 CWA/AT&T Midwest bargaining began much earlier for some employees when the Company unilaterally changed the lay-off interpretation for Premises Technicians and began to lay them off outside of seniority; instead using attendance and performance as primary factors before seniority. Days before Christmas and weeks before 2018 bargaining.

Could you get any happier?

Even before that, the Company made other unilateral changes about things like testing into new jobs; now they require you to take some sort of creepy personality test instead of the normal data-entry test. These “tests” have a staggering failure rate and many employees are exited soon after. The Company refuses to answer the Union’s questions about these tests and it has been necessary to go to the federal government to enforce our rights to obtain this important information. Think: Are they using that creepy data to “profile” employees without their knowledge? How much is our personality data worth to the Company? Collection and use of such information could certainly be a legitimate subject of bargaining.

Before that, in 2014, the Company declared an “unlimited” overtime emergency and disciplined some 400-ish employees for protesting it – in some cases when there was not even any work to do. Before 2015 bargaining.

In a Company that alleges to value its relationship with its Union, things like the above are fully discussed before being implemented, usually at bargaining. Yet, the Company initiates them a few weeks or months before bargaining starts. Why? Perhaps to create an issue where none previously existed at bargaining? Taking employees’ livelihoods in order to gain bargaining advantage seems needlessly greedy and cruel. This seems like an example of deeds not matching words.

The Bargaining Team has reported the Company’s true intent: The Company wants to be about 60/40 contractors (guess which will be the 60%?), gain the ability to force employees out on overtime for unlimited hours, pay much more for our healthcare, etc. All after year-after-year profitability, thanks to its employee. The Company says that now, after years of paying “premium compensation”, they must [finally?] get premium employees. Maybe they think they elevated all the “premium employees” to management?

Whatever sweet-sounding words are flowing into your Company email, those words must be compared to deeds. It is axiomatic that your management really thinks they are better, or at least know better, than you who built the network. They really do think that you are not working hard enough, that you are over-paid. They are telling your representatives this at the bargaining table. They chuckle about it to each other on their calls. They are telling you this through their words and deeds on a daily basis at work, wherever you work. It’s kind of their thing, really.

Yet, time and again concerted activity has put things to rights; when we get rowdy (within the contract and the law), change happens and the worst management practices can be put in check. And the worst managers. Labor peace prevails and all are happy and productive. So when they show you who they are, and you believe it, there’s one more step. It’s time to get together and talk about what can be done to take back our power at work.

The Last Witness

Caresian Campbell – Lead Steward, CWA Local 4034


Last night, I watched my Lead Steward, Caresian Campbell, take an oath in Federal Court and speak truth to power. Caresian, my brother, thank you. Your crew is smart to keep voting you in; your Union is lucky to have your calm, analytical manner to assist in our grievance and safety issues.

Caresian sometimes took a day off, so thank you also to these Local 4034 stewards who sat with me, took notes for me, bolstered my courage:

Charles Johnson
Anthony Engler
John Kotcher
Tony Idhe
Scott Ciesielski
Eric Buker
Phil Martin
James Williams
Dan Quick
Rick Balsitis

Tom Strach
Pam Beach
Ralph Prince
Ryan Letts
Chief Steward, At Large
Lead Steward, Hastings Garage (All)
Lead Steward, St. Joe Garage (TFS)
Lead Steward, St. Joe Garage (IEFS)
Steward, Alpine Garage (TFS)
Steward, Howell Garage (IEFS)
Lead Steward, Howell Garage (IEFS)
Lead Steward, 36th St. Garage (IEFS)
Lead Steward, Alpine Garage (TFS)CWA Local 4034 Safety Chair
Lead Steward, Alpine Garage (IEFS)
Lead Steward, Cadillac Garage (All)
Executive Vice President, CWA Local 4034
Secretary/Treasurer, CWA Local 4034
President, CWA Local 4034

The hearing concluded after 13 full days of testimony. Here’s what happens next:

  • The Company has until December 22, 2017 to file a motion to bring back a witness
  • If they do so, probably more testimony and more days of hearing will happen; if not, all Parties have until January 19, 2018 to file legal briefs about the case in support of each side’s position
  • At that point, the judicial record will be closed and the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will take as much time as he needs to issue a ruling (typically 4 months to who knows?)
  • Naturally, like any reasonable steward, I am always open to a negotiated, mutually beneficial settlement, time permitting before ruling

Thank you, Union. Watch out for each other. Watch out for your steward! It truly is the action/reaction/inaction of the rank-and-file that management respects.

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Fellow Unionists, sorry for the silence this week while in court for round two. I don’t ask permission to use my voice, so wanted to think about what I could share without ending up with my blog in the official record of this case! (Guess I’ll have to admit to Wifey and my Local president that I’m finally learning to think a little before speaking!) Continue reading

Hooker To Testify October 30 2016

No offense to management.

Or, as I prefer to call it, “Speak truth to power.” During the last two days of testimony by Local 4034 president (and union brother) Ryan Letts, it became apparent that a three-day trial was not going to be an option. After Ryan was crossed and re-crossed by counsel for several exhausting hours, it was decided that the hearing would be adjourned until Monday, October 30, 2017. My testimony is expected to take two full days that week, with other witnesses to my unlawful discrimination for union status on the third day. Then, the Company will put its case on for a couple days. However, because everybody is so wordy the judge has secured commitments from all parties to extend into a second full week of testimony, if necessary. I hope that will not be case, but that is up to the Company. As I have frequently told management in grievance meetings: It can always be a fifteen-minute meeting; just say ‘Yes’ to the Union’s reasonable demands. In this case, by bringing me back and making me whole.

I also wanted to thank those who drove in to Grand Rapids to support us, in many cases from very far away. When I last testified against the Company at an NLRB hearing in October 2015, I learned how much it helps to have a friendly face in the gallery when the Company attorney is sneering at you on cross-examination. Every day this week, members from several CWA locals showed up to support Ryan while he spoke truth to power. Thanks, Union, we are stronger together.

How Many Pieces Of Flair Do You Have?

John Kotcher, tireless Lead Steward for his fellow union members and model employee at AT&T. (CWA Local 4034)

My friend and Union brother sent me a picture today that made me smile. Like most CWA stewards, especially those in Local 4034, he is well-versed in his right to support his union and his and fellow employees by wearing buttons, stickers, and similar displays of solidarity. The right to do so is enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act and affirmed in countless legal cases.

The title of my post comes from the 1999 movie “Office Space” which, though nominally fiction, resonates with all corporate employees who see it. In the clip below, it is management who passive-aggressively pressures an employee to exceed the corporate policy.

Things are very different in a union shop. There, it is the employees who “wear the flair” to support their union, a union member, or even to pressure management to bargain with the union. For some employers, “flair” is regarded by management in a very different light if used to question management policies, pressure management during bargaining or even during grievances, or to call attention to unfair labor practices.

In a unionized workforce, it is almost always illegal for an employer to order an employee to stop wearing a button or otherwise show support for a union cause. In order to do so, an employer must show special, narrow circumstances on why a particular button must be banned. In most cases, including the one in which AT&T unlawfully fired me, the buttons are lawful. Their purpose is to call attention to the fact that AT&T is alleged to have discriminated against my Local union and me personally due to our vigorous representation and enforcement of our collective bargaining agreement. I know that is the purpose because that is why I bought them and asked my fellow Union sisters and brothers to hand them out: I need the support of my Union to persuade AT&T to bargain fairly in order to be made whole for my unlawful termination.

If you are wearing a button that supports your union, a union member or a union cause and a manager tells you to take it off, you should state that the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that you are allowed to wear the button. You are allowed to request clarification and a union steward; I highly recommend you do so. If a manager threatens discipline, obey and then immediately report the incident to your Local. AT&T once fought the wearing of union support buttons at work for two years before giving up!

NLRB Decision Affirming Legal To Wear “WTF AT&T” Button (CWA District 9)

AT&T WTF Buttons Upheld Again In Wisconsin By NLRB (Kudos CWA Local 4622!)

If your employees are wearing this, you have a fairness problem. Not a button problem!

Got pix of your Union flair? Leave’em in the comments!