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!
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
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).
- 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
- Here is the original CWA District 9 case that won the right to where the WTF button Pacific Bell Telephone Company (WTF)
- Here is the Wisconsin ruling Wisconsin Bell, Inc (AT&T Wisconsin)
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!
What am I missing?
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