The Electrical Worker online
September 2013

N.Y. Local Takes on U.N. Union Busting
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In his 35 years as a broadcast technician at the United Nations, Vinnie Butler has seen history in the making. Butler and his co-workers, members of New York City Local 1212, provide radio and broadcasting services to the U.N. headquarters building overlooking the East River in Manhattan.

From Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's famous "shoe banging" incident to South African leader Nelson Mandela's first speech to the global body, IBEW members have brought some of the U.N.'s most famous moments to the world.

"All video, all editing, all broadcasting out of the U.N. building is done by us," says Butler, who serves as Local 1212's assistant business manager.

But U.N. management unilaterally shut the door on the IBEW June 30, replacing the 49 career broadcast workers with an out-of-state nonunion contractor. Members who want their jobs back will be forced to give up their bargaining rights, along with having to take a cut to their wage and benefits package.

All employees had their official IDs and parking passes stripped from them.

"After years of good faith negotiations regarding benefits, seniority, [and] working conditions … with the U.N., we are told our members will have to re-apply for their jobs without any guarantees for re-hire and the U.N. is refusing to pay severance to the terminated workers," wrote Local 1212 Business Manager Ralph Avigliano in a letter to U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

U.N. management's move comes after years of union concessions. In 2011, they removed 17 positions from the bargaining unit, costing those workers their right to collectively bargain.

Since the organization's founding in 1945, Local 1212 members working for the U.N. were employed by a series of broadcasting contractors. When the last one went bankrupt in 2009, members continued working, voluntarily giving up their pay until a new company could be secured.

"There was a brotherhood there and a sense of fairness," 35-year U.N. veteran Mark Robbins told the Labor Press. "We were the wheels of the U.N. We never let it down. Ever."

One of the U.N.'s missions is to promote "rights at work and encourage decent employment opportunities," but sadly this is only the latest anti-worker move by the organization.

Ban eliminated dues check-off for employees, and unilaterally made changes to pay schedules without consulting with its staff union. And union elevator operators were unceremoniously ejected from the building earlier this year when management hired a nonunion firm to take their place.

And earlier this summer, management walked out of negotiations with its staff union after workers refused to give up their right to collectively bargain.

"We believe the early walkout by management demonstrates a lack of flexibility required for a negotiation and an irresponsible use of resources, both of the organization and of those unions that paid to send delegates to the meeting," writes United Nations Staff Union President Barbara Tavora-Jainchill.

Workers at the U.N. are not covered by U.S. labor law, so Avigliano is asking the State Department and members of Congress to put pressure on Ban to bargain fairly.

"After 65 years, I can't believe that the United Nations would go so far to violate its own stated goals regarding workers' rights," says Avigliano.


The United Nations terminated a five-decade relationship with New York Local 1212 this summer, replacing IBEW broadcast technicians with a nonunion contractor.

Credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Ashitaka San.