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Local 21 Wins Five-Year
Struggle with Comcast


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. “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.

Local 21 responded with a vigorous public relations campaign that included reaching out to allies in the political and religious communities and dogging the steps of Comcast executives. (See “Hot Summer at Comcast,” IBEW Journal, July/August 2005, pgs 14-16). Today the workers have a contract.