Fla. Comcast Sales Reps
Unite for Better Conditions, Pay
July 3, 2014
|Fifth District Lead Organizer Kathy Smith, far right, celebrates with Florida Comcast sales representatives after their May vote to become new members of Tampa Local 824.
More than 700 technicians working for Comcast across the U.S. enjoy better wages and a voice on the job, thanks to the collective bargaining agreements they have negotiated.
But there’s another group of employees who help ensure Comcast’s steady bottom line and smooth operations for customers. They’re called direct sales representatives – the salespeople who go door to door promoting popular plans like Xfinity’s entertainment bundles and signing up new customers.
For these frontline employees, working conditions have been steadily eroding. And even as Comcast celebrates record profits, sales representatives have seen their pay slashed by as much as 30 percent in the last few years.
“They increased our sales goals, lowered our commission and lowered our salary – all in one day,” sales representative Debbie Hernandez said of a 2012 move by the company that restructured the employees’ pay scale.
After nearly two more years of on-the-job challenges, diminishing paychecks and more erratic changes to their compensation scale, workers reached out to the IBEW. Following a dynamic and fluid organizing campaign, Hernandez and 84 of her co-workers voted overwhelmingly May 22 to join Tampa Local 824 in an NLRB-certified election.
Fifth District Lead Organizer Kathy Smith said that the new unit is “ecstatic” about the win. “They’re very ready to start the negotiation process,” she said.
A day in the life of a sales representative is demanding, said Hernandez, who will have been with the company for four years this November.
“You need to have discipline to do this position because you’re really working hard,” she said. “We need to reach at least 30 to 35 residents a day.”
That tight schedule means that the workers spend almost no time in the office with other co-workers doing the same work, Smith said.
“Because they’re always in the field talking with customers, some reps had never even spoken to each other,” she said. “But once the organizing campaign got off the ground, it was another story.”
Despite differing shifts and staggered schedules, workers were able to meet on Sundays, supplemented by conference calls and email communication.
Hernandez also helped establish a phone tree system for the workers spread out across the south Florida region – with offices in Redlands, Davie and Hialeah – to quickly share updates.
While solidarity was growing at the meetings with the workers and organizers, it took on a new meaning once other Comcast locals from throughout the U.S. lent their support to the campaign.
“We had our volunteer organizing committee on conference calls with other employees from around Florida, as well as Boston, Chicago and beyond,” Smith said.
Fifth District Regional Organizing Coordinator Carmella Cruse said this helped bolster the camaraderie with the workers. “It was instrumental. We had as many people as we could lending their support to send a message to these sales reps: ‘You are not in this alone.’”
Comcast rolled out many expected anti-union tactics – captive audience meetings, intimidation and heavy-handed one-on-one discussions with employees. But clear communication and inoculation from IBEW organizers helped defray many threats.
“They had different people come in and say a lot of negatives about the union,” Hernandez said. “But luckily, I had done my homework, and I would challenge them on stuff I didn’t think was accurate. Many of us felt like there were a lot of lies in the meetings.”
Hearing from Comcast organizers and employees who had gone through their own campaigns in other cities also allayed fears, Cruse said.
“We had members from all over who have been through recent campaigns, organizers, even retirees coming to meetings and participating in phone calls,” she said. “Comcast didn’t have a surprise attack against these workers because the sales reps were prepared and knew what to expect.”
In addition to improving working conditions and wages, employees are also aiming to get a grievance procedure and successor clause language in their contract, in the event that Comcast subcontracts their work to another company.
While the employees mobilize for negotiations, Hernandez said that Comcast’s effort to drive a wedge between the workforce ironically brought them closer together.
“I really didn’t know the people who worked on the other teams, but now we’ve all united,” she said. “We get along really well, and we are one.”
Workers and organizers thanked the following locals for their support in the campaign: Downers Grove, Ill., Local 21; Miami Local 359; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Local 759; Boston Local 2222; and Middleboro, Mass., Local 2322. Special thanks was extended to Lead Organizer Steve Smith, Florida State Organizing Coordinator Rodney Alvarez and Local 2322 member and Comcast tech Brian Almeida.
At any given time, numerous IBEW campaigns involving Comcast workers can be active. For those fellow employees nationwide looking to improve their conditions on the job, Hernandez said, “It can be done.”
“This is a chance to have a voice,” she said. “I really encourage other areas – especially the direct sales representatives – to organize. Right now, we’re 85 strong. But the more reps we get, the bigger our voice will be.”
Homepage Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user D.C.Atty
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