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.

New Jersey Comcast technicians overwhelmingly voted against a proposed decertification.

“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 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.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flicker user Mike Mozart.