Installation technicians at an ADT shop in Columbia, S.C., won a hard-fought victory in January when the home security company settled a handful of unfair labor practice charges, paying tens of thousands in back pay and restoring work that had been taken away last year.
Service and installation technicians voted in 2014 to organize with the IBEW, but the company, known for playing hardball at other locations around the country, put up serious resistance.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of this group,” said Charleston, S.C., Local 776 Business Manager Chuck Moore. “They’ve really stuck together through a tough process, and these wins really are an extension of that.”
The trouble in South Carolina started soon after the techs voted to organize, with the company’s go-to union-busting manager flying in and demanding changes to the Columbia shop’s pay structure for the installation of components for ADT’s home and small business security systems.
“This guy’s goal was to move the installation techs from a ‘piece rate’ where they got a flat fee per device to an hourly rate,” said Tenth District International Representative Lindsay Nelson, who led the negotiations.
The move would have meant a pay cut of nearly 50 percent, down to $14.17 from $28-$32 per hour on the piece rate system, which was completely unacceptable to the workers and the union.
During the uproar over pay scales, the company also started giving away the install techs’ work, first to the Columbia service techs, and then to nonunion installers from other ADT shops and local contractors.
“They were doing everything they could to break these guys,” said Moore, who had watched as ADT locked out technicians in neighboring North Carolina around the same time. “And this group was one of ADT’s top five producing units in the whole country,” Moore said. “ADT was treating them like garbage just to try and break the union.”
To make matters worse, on Jan. 1, 2015, ADT suddenly changed its healthcare plan to a high-deductible, high out-of-pocket plan that cost workers thousands in additional premiums.
For Moore and Nelson, it was time to fight back. “We filed four unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB,” Nelson said; one for giving the install work away, one for the healthcare changes, another for ADT’s improper firing of installer Michael Reeves without negotiating with the union, and a final one for ADT’s failure to produce wage and employment documents as required by the law.
It took nearly a year to resolve, but IBEW attorneys and negotiators completed a settlement at the beginning of 2016 that amounted to a huge win for the Columbia technicians.
First, ADT agreed to return all installation work to the bargaining unit, including adding a new piece of equipment to the “piece rate” pay matrix that had been a major sticking point for both sides. The company also agreed to pay more than $31,000 in back pay to the install techs for the work that had been taken away from them, which amounted to more than 80 percent of what the remaining techs were owed.
Second, ADT promised to reimburse employees for any increased expenses incurred as a result of the changes to the employees’ healthcare plan, and more importantly, agreed to keep doing so for as long as it takes to reach a binding contract.
And finally, the fired installer, Reeves, who had been suspended without pay and let go over a series of petty incidents, was awarded more than $11,000 in back pay for his mistreatment. ADT also turned over all of the documents it had long resisted sharing.
After the wins, Nelson and Moore are heading back to the bargaining table, still trying to hammer out a first contract. “We’re hopeful we’ll get a little more movement now,” said Nelson, who said ADT has so far agreed to just five of the contract’s more than 25 total sections in a year and a half. “This win ought to help the company see that it pays to treat people fairly,” he said.
“We’re just really happy for these guys,” Moore added. “Not only did they all get back a good chunk of the money ADT took from them, they held together and showed the company that working people win when they stick together.”