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August 2015


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'We Told Them the Truth' N.J. Comcast Techs
Beat Back Decertification Vote

Trying to organize shops at Comcast is, for many union activists, the ultimate David vs. Goliath situation.

The company boasts a weak record of taking care of its workforce, having jacked up employee health care costs, withholding more than $160,000 in back pay to employees and more.

But despite a recent push by management and a few anti-union workers, technicians represented by East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 decisively beat back a decertification campaign that would have eliminated bargaining rights for dozens of members.

"The company got a couple of the guys who were not strong union people and persuaded them to try to go nonunion," said Local 827 Business Agent Rich Spieler. "There were rumors that Comcast was going to give them stuff that the union could never get for them."

Joey Mastrogiovanni, a lead organizer for the union's Third District, said Comcast was "making them hollow promises, telling them they could get more money if they got rid of the union." Mastrogiovanni said that this, coupled with many questionable discipline practices that he called "frivolous," set a climate that worked to stack the odds against many union supporters.

The group of more than 70 technicians organized in 2010 — the first group ever to vote "union yes" at the telecommunications giant — and successfully negotiated a contract a year later.

But as the first four-year agreement's expiration date loomed last winter, a group of employees influenced by management circulated a decertification petition that garnered 17 signatures.

"It was a total anti-union effort, with captive audience meetings and other tactics," Spieler said.

But Spieler, along with Mastrogiovanni, International Representative Brian Brennan and a dedicated team of stewards and other committed activists, set out to make the case to the workforce that the IBEW remained the right choice for their futures. The team included stewards Al Wallace, Edgar Negron, Heath Stephens and Shawn Spraggs; chief stewards Glenn Yeary and Leah Connelly; recording secretary Diann Rose; and Verizon steward Gavin Beachum.

"We worked hard, sending emails every week," he said. "We were on the phone with stewards all the time. With Business Manager and President Bob Speer, Joe (Mastrogiovanni) and other rank-and-file leaders, it was a total group effort."

In the end, the company's anti-union tactics came up short. The unit voted on Feb. 5 by a margin of 42-13 against the decertification. However, since both the company and the union had filed unfair labor practice charges, the National Labor Relations Board initially sealed the results. The board eventually dismissed all charges, and the vote was made public June 11.

"We did a better job of making the case for sticking together," Spieler said. "We told them the truth. The company would have their meetings with people in the daytime, and we would have a nighttime meeting afterwards where we would answer all their questions. That's what made the difference."

Mastrogiovanni notes that the votes for decertification were fewer than the number of people who signed the petition in the first place.

"It shows that even though some might have momentarily wanted the union out, they changed their minds and hung together with the unit."

Local 827's negotiating committee is now mobilizing for its next collective bargaining agreement.


New Jersey Comcast technicians overwhelmingly voted against a proposed decertification.

Worker Misclassification:
Unfair, Expensive and All too Common

Misclassification of workers costs taxpayers billions of dollars, harms companies that follow the law and is much more widespread than previously thought, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute says.

Because misclassification is fraud, it is very difficult to know with precision how bad it is or where it is worst. But the report collects the findings of disparate state and federal investigations, court cases and IRS audits, to present a picture of a shadow economy of millions of exploited workers.

The report's author, Francoise Carré, found between 15 and 30 percent of employers designate workers who should be full-time employees as independent contractors. As a result, they avoid immigration rules, overtime and minimum wage laws as well as workers' rights protections that only apply to full and part-time employees, not contractors.

"This is terrible for the guys doing these jobs, no overtime, no organizing rights and no unemployment or health insurance, but it is also a disaster for the good guys trying to compete on the level," said the IBEW's Construction and Maintenance Department Director Jim Ross. "This report shows why it is so hard to find these criminals, and why they have to be punished."

The report issued June 8 estimates the annual federal and state tax losses rise into the billions. They had no estimate for the lost income to the workers.

Misclassification also allows unscrupulous employers to skip their share of Social Security and Medicare taxes, state worker's compensation and disability insurance payments. According to the report — (In)Dependent Contractor Misclassification — by fraudulently misclassifying full-time workers as independent, employers can reduce their payroll costs 20 and 40 percent.

Misclassification happens in all sectors of the economy, Carré found, but it is more likely to happen when it is most profitable and easiest to hide under layers of subcontractors, a perfect description of the construction industry.

A 2001 to 2003 study in Massachusetts, for example, found nearly 20 percent of employers misclassified workers. In construction, nearly one in four employers misclassified at least one employee, but on average, they incorrectly identified half of their workforce as independent contractors.

Carré also found regional differences in misclassification. Not surprisingly, in states with already weak worker protections, misclassification is also more common. In Texas and North Carolina, the study found, nearly a third of construction companies misclassify at least part of their workforce.

"The loss of billions of dollars in tax revenue creates a significant financial burden for local, state and the federal government," Carré wrote.

The complete report can be found at


RENEW Reaching New Heights in Rockies

Denver Local 111 member Nate Gutierrez was an 18-year old looking to change his life and advance his prospects when he started an apprenticeship with the IBEW. As a journeyman lineman he was working 40 hours a week, but he wanted to do more.

"It's my place to give back," he said about his union involvement. So he approached his business manager, a move that would set him on the path to leadership and political activism.

Now Gutierrez is the Local 111 assistant business manager and a member of the RENEW (Reach out and Energize Next-Gen Electrical Workers) Advisory Committee representing the Eighth District, which consists of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. The job's not easy: the geography of the region means he can't visit locals as often as he wants. He was scheduled to speak about the efforts of RENEW at the Eighth District progress meeting in July.

"I'm very grateful that Eighth District Vice President Jerry Bellah is on board with RENEW," Gutierrez said. "He's been really supportive of our efforts."

Among them is the RENEW toolkit he helped to put together. Almost two years in the making, the 40-page manual contains strategies for members hoping to start their own RENEW chapters, including sections about crafting purpose statements, structuring committees and creating mentoring programs.

Gutierrez hopes greater exposure will enable RENEW to reach a larger audience. "Sometimes there's hesitation from older members about a young worker movement," he said. "RENEW is about creating a whole new generation of leaders."

Gutierrez is active in his own chapter of RENEW, partnering his local's group with the Colorado Young Workers, a politically active organization of union members from all trades that supports working families from across the state. The CYW, along with RENEW, created a scholarship for young workers to attend the Grace Carroll Rocky Mountain Labor School, a program that trains union workers to become labor activists.

For more information about RENEW and its progress, visit their Facebook page at

In Ohio, the IBEW Spirit of Giving

IBEW members' good works are expressed through volunteer efforts by hundreds of brothers and sisters in communities throughout the United States and Canada each year.

Sometimes the level of giving is off the charts. A prime example is the success of the Columbus, Ohio, Local 1466-American Electric Power United Way Campaign, which received the Engaged Leadership Advocacy Award from United Way of Central Ohio for 2014.

"Volunteering and giving back to the community are what union members do," said Local 1466 Business Manager Daniel German. "Once you join the Brotherhood it really becomes second nature. We are privileged to donate our time and help our neighbors."

The Engaged Leadership Advocacy Award honors efforts to support the United Way Campaign. For the 2014 campaign, Local 1466 raised $1.5 million, with $983,301 donated by active and retired members. For the last three years American Electric Power has made a 50-cent match for every dollar raised by the union.

"It's gratifying for all of us to receive this recognition. It reflects the strong effort our team has put into the campaign. We have a year-round engagement with the United Way, including a union member on their steering committee. American Electric Power has treated us as an equal partner in all of their publications, including recognition of our union in media materials. That level of respect gave us a welcome boost," German said.

The Local 1466-American Electric Power United Way Campaign collaboration began in the 1960s. In the 1990s, union members were given the option of donating through payroll deductions, when Barry "Bubba" Hickle became the driving force that started Local 1446 and AEP working together at a higher level.

Hickle mapped out a six-month campaign that included giving speeches to union members about donating to the United Way and organizing community service projects.

Hickle focused the campaign on 25 union garages, recruiting a steward and an assistant for each garage. "I tried to set a tone where participation was more important than how much money we paid in. And I always brought food," he said. By the end of the six-month campaign, member contributions rose from 30 percent to 100 percent.

IBEW members also contributed their time and skills to a variety of community service projects as part of the campaign, including volunteering at a Girl Scout camp, painting and rewiring buildings and installing meter boxes. They also participated at a YMCA care day and in a variety of local cleanup projects.

As part of the Local 1466 United Way Campaign for 2014, young leaders volunteered to donate their time to a day of action in support of a variety of community projects in Columbus. Union members served hungry families at a local community kitchen and participated in a soap drive for Lutheran social services, which benefits Faith Mission and Choices, a domestic violence shelter.


The IBEW-AEP partnership raised $1.5 million last year. Accepting the United Way's Engaged Leadership Advocacy Award are from left, Dan German, president and business manager, Columbus, Ohio, Local 1466; 2013 AEP-IBEW Local 1466 United Way Community Champs Nathan Bronder and Ashley Weaver; and Nick Akins, AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer.