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IBEW Local 21 Wins Five-Year Struggle
with Comcast in Indiana

October 11, 2005

An epic five-year contract campaign ended on September 25 in a union victory at Comcast in Merrillville, Indiana when members of IBEW Local 21 overwhelmingly approved a new agreement, slamming the door on the company's drive to decertify the bargaining unit.

The three-year agreement, ratified by 94 percent of the 56-member IBEW work force, includes yearly raises of almost three percent, stronger job security language and fairer disciplinary procedures.          

Union workers achieved pay parity between represented and non-represented workers and will be granted priority for jobs in the growing fiber installation market.

Ron Kastner, business manager of Downers Grove, Illinois, Local 21, said that Comcast's goal from the start was to see the bargaining unit decertified to send a message to the 3,100 unrepresented Comcast workers in the greater Chicago market that unions were ineffective against Comcast's clout. "We told Comcast to pay attention to the fighting history of this bargaining unit, but they ignored us," he added.

Many Merrillville members have endured through several ownership changes in the always evolving cable industry.   Some worked for U.S. Cable, which was purchased by TCI Cable, one of the industry's most notorious union-busters. IBEW members were still working under a hard-fought U.S. Cable contract when AT&T Broadband acquired TCI. When Comcast merged with AT&T Broadband in 2002, Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO said that "wages would not be an issue" in negotiating a contract with the IBEW in Merrillville.   Then he dug his heels in.

Merrillville's unionists reached out to clergy and community leaders in neighboring Chicago in a public effort to bring Comcast to the bargaining table.

They successfully lobbied Chicago's Board of Aldermen to include workers' rights protections in its franchise agreement with newly merged Comcast-AT&T Broadband.   Other imaginative tactics drew media attention to Comcast's poor service and anti-worker policies.

Last Halloween, members of the local went "trick or treating" at the home of Comcast's Senior Vice President Joe Stackhouse.   The workers carried a casket symbolizing Comcast's "burying" of workers' rights and staged a mock funeral.

On May 11, as Stackhouse attended a luncheon at the Chicago City Club, Local 21 activists handed out copies of a pamphlet produced by American Rights at Work (www.americanrightsatwork.org), detailing Comcast's vehement opposition to unions.

Two weeks later, Comcast demonstrated its new services in the Merrillville facility's parking lot with a local radio station broadcasting from the site.   Members of the IBEW "Truth Squad," accompanied by members of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor, drove around the event in cars decorated with signs saying "Comcast Does Not Care." (See "Hot Summer at Comcast," IBEW Journal, July/August 2005, pgs 14-16).

"The members of Local 21 have written themselves prominently into the history of the IBEW," said IBEW International President Ed Hill.   "Our brothers and sisters in Merrillville have proven yet again that corporate arrogance and the abuse of power cannot defeat organized workers who tap into the deep roots of support in their surrounding communities."