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Web Contact Nets Organizing Victory at Asplundh in Tennessee

October 21, 2005

The plea for help arrived via e-mail at the IBEW International Office in June 12: "I am a foreman for Asplundh Tree in Rockwood, Tennessee, and we need your help. Our rights are being trampled and our pay is too low. We have no benefits. I know you represent our brothers north of us and we knew nowhere else to turn..."

Signed by Donald Ryans, a 12-year employee at Asplundh, the note was forwarded to the Tenth Vice-Presidential District and assigned to International Representative Nathan C. Edgar, who contacted Oak Ridge Local 270 organizer, David Garcia.  

On September 28, Asplundh workers, who perform line clearance tree trimming for Rockwood Utility, voted 11 to 3 in favor of IBEW representation. A negotiating committee has already been assembled to bargain a first contract. "Donald Ryans kept those guys together," says Garcia.     

Asplundh, a huge firm that includes some unionized locations, managed its Rockwood workforce by a double standard, says Ryans. "We were working for nothing more than a paycheck. Managers had benefits and personal days. We had no benefits and didn't even get paid for all of the hours that we worked," he stated.

Schedule changes were made on short notice. Workers hurt on the job were either sent home without pay or given light duty, depending upon their relationship with the boss.  Two-person crews, which once consisted of two qualified tree climbers, were cut to one climber and one groundman, leaving the climber in jeopardy if he ran into trouble.  

"Organizing was a little tough," says Ryans, adding that "several of the workers didn't know anything about how a union works."

International Representatives Nathan Edgar, Rick Ellis and Steve Wilson assisted in the Asplundh campaign.