Nearly two years ago, Kathy Smith heard from some Comcast direct sales representatives in south Florida that had reached out to the IBEW.
Expected bonuses didn’t materialize. Longtime employees lost their jobs to independent contractors. Work rules changed with little notice.
They had enough. They wanted to be part of a union.
“They were promised so many things over the years,” said Smith, IBEW Lead Organizer of the direct sales representatives. “Things kept changing. Nothing was ever consistent in what [Comcast management] would say.”
The 40-member group employed by the nation’s largest cable television company now has a voice on the job with Tampa Local 824. It ratified a three-year contract in late September that gives them greater job security and more rights in management-labor disputes.
IBEW has represented sales employees at major telecommunication companies, but none of the door-to-door variety. The unit is based out of three offices near Fort Lauderdale.
But it’s a move worth celebrating, considering Comcast’s long-standing hostility toward organized labor. The Philadelphia-based company has nearly 21 million cable-television subscribers. It has 139,000 employees, but less than 2 percent are unionized.
Telecommunications Department Sales Representative Kevin Curran hopes it can lead to more success stories for the IBEW with the company.
“It has hundreds of these [direct sales representatives] throughout the country, possibly more than 1,000,” Curran said. “The hope would be to use this as a template contract to show the rest of the groups. The first thing Comcast tells them is, ‘You’ll never get a contract.’“
Smith said the organizing effort that led to a contract with Comcast succeeded because of the commitment of the direct sales representatives.
They are seldom in the office together, so they often met on Sundays. There were late-night phone calls with other locals that had been successful organizing Comcast workers.
“When the employees take charge of a campaign like that, it’s always successful,” she said.
Last year, the IBEW filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Comcast didn’t pay the sales staff the same commission rate for selling its Xfinity television package as it paid those at other Florida locations.
The NLRB found merit to the claim, which resulted in back pay awards of $127,000.
The new contract protects the salary structure while also providing many of the job-protection clauses they were seeking, plus commissions.
For instance, if a position is eliminated, Comcast officials cannot replace that person with an independent contractor who doesn’t receive benefits or a base salary.
“It’s almost a guarantee of no layoffs,” he said. “It’s a pretty good job security provision.”
The sales reps also have established discipline guidelines for the first time, including the right to file a grievance and appear before an independent arbitrator. The contract allows for the formation of a four-member labor-management committee, with one member from the bargaining unit.
“These employees now have protection,” Local 824 Business Manager Danny Alfonso said. “They are not at-will employees.”