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February 2014

Organizing Wire
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Maine Verizon Business Techs Join IBEW

Verizon Business technicians in Andover, Maine, voted overwhelmingly to join Augusta Local 2327 in a National Labor Board-administered election on Dec. 11.

The six-person unit is the last group of Verizon Business technicians to choose a voice on the job with the IBEW in New England.

"Now they will finally have the right to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment," said IBEW Lead Organizer Steve Smith.

Verizon Business is subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc., formed after the company purchased the remnants of MCI/WorldCom in 2006.

While most Verizon technicians are represented by a union, the majority of the VZB workforce was nonunion, with the company fighting to keep it that way.

"Verizon had built a wall separating its unrepresented employees in its Verizon Business and Wireless divisions from workers in the older 'core' company as part of a union avoidance strategy," wrote labor activist Rand Wilson in an online blog post.

But after an organizing drive led by the IBEW and the Communication Workers of America, more than 600 techs in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut voted for union representation in 2008.

Verizon tried carving out workers from the new bargaining unit, denying union representation to small groups of engineers and technicians throughout New England. But IBEW organizers successfully brought these groups into the union.

Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin is negotiating with Verizon Business, and is pushing for the new members to be slotted in under the existing contract.

"We're focused on making sure they get a good contract," he said.

Thousands of Verizon Business employees outside New England are still without collective bargaining rights, however.

"Hopefully the other VZB techs in Virginia and Washington State will follow a similar path," Smith said.


IBEW Lead Organizer Steve Smith introduces Verizon Business technicians at a Verizon contract rally in Boston in 2008

Workers' Rights Victory in Saskatchewan

Supporters of workers' rights won an important legal victory Nov. 21, after the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board found contractor Magna Electric Corp. guilty of unfairly terminating pro-union employees.

The four workers had been hired in early 2013 to work on the multi-billion-dollar Boundary Dam Power Station project in southern Saskatchewan.

Nonunion Magna Electric tried getting away with recruiting temporary immigrants, but after Local 2038 found out the company was hiring electricians, it contacted locals with members sitting on the bench.

Saint John, New Brunswick, Local 502 sent four of its out-of-work members to Saskatchewan, who went to work for Magna.

The employer never inquired about their union status, but the new hires didn't hide the fact they were IBEW members either, talking with their co-workers about the benefits of working union.

"I met with them a couple times after they got some interest from other employees in the IBEW," Local 2038 Membership Development Coordinator Jeff Sweet said.

At one meeting at a restaurant in May, the Local 502 members spotted some of their co-workers at the bar, and went over to talk to them.

"Most were interested in what they had to say, but one guy was real anti-union and got angry," Sweet said.

The irate worker threatened to physically harm the IBEW members and to get them fired, Sweet said.

The next working day, the boss did just that, firing three of the workers over their union affiliation. The fourth resigned before being fired. The anti-union employee was never disciplined.

Terminating workers over their views on unions is illegal under provincial law, and the local brought the case before the labour board.

"We would draw a conclusion from the employer's conduct that the terminations were the result of an anti-union animus on the part of the employers," said labour board Chair Kenneth Love in the ruling against Magna.

Sweet said the board found Magna's defense neither "credible nor coherent."

The Local 502 members are seeking a monetary settlement.