CWA Local 7800

April 2014

Greetings all, I want to mention the Slide in Oso and my thoughts are with those folks as it is devastating to those communities and families impacted by the slide.

As I have indicated before we expect the year to be busy I have a lot to discuss this month. We have the ongoing vacation issue at MV which I thought was resolved until next year but turns out maybe not. We have been asking about contractors at CenturyLink and now we have additional hard surpluses and voluntary offers. I attended a training put on by District 7 primarily regarding movement building and why it is important…. Lots of issues going on and will try to address them.

At MV the company put out a letter dated on March 20th and while doing so indicated the union had signed off on it. That is not quite accurate. What I agreed to is that the company can recover their employees on expectations at any time. Specifically we had a conversation regarding what appeared to be some Connector drivers altering their routes in some cases by over 20 miles of unnecessary driving and the company felt they might be doing so to add more work time to their day or in other words to avoid getting back early from their bid time.

I certainly understood why the company would be concerned about that and agreed they could recover their employees on that piece of it. My concern is technically the company could make an argument the drivers are “stealing time” and could be terminated without warning under that circumstance. I would rather have the expectation covered with the employees then have the employees disciplined. During that conversation though I also stressed that many drivers were under the impression that as long as they are back to yard “on time” and not claiming overtime that the company would not be looking or questioning what routes they were driving and or if they were the most direct and efficient. I told the company if they were going to recover this expectation that they should address that perception as well. Clearly that was not the case and they did not mention that. That is all I agreed to nothing else in the letter.

Two parts of the letter I disagree with and have scheduled a meeting with management to discuss. The breaks piece of it while they are basically quoting state law in regards to “mini-breaks” they have seem to neglected the part of our contract that states breaks will be given in complete blocks of time where possible and the drivers are not required to monitor radios or other communications while on break or lunch. It seems the company has the expectation that if on call and waiting that time should be considered break among other things. So we discuss that. I also have disagreement with the language regarding the “emergency” bathroom breaks. I have asked and not received and answer yet but what is the process for a non-emergency bathroom break and what constitutes and “emergency bathroom break” I have not received an answer….. I think that could be in violation of Washington State law but really want to hear their explanation.

Many of you may remember a few months back several drivers were given Final Warnings for what the company perceived as lengthy restroom breaks and we grieved those and all those final warnings were reduced to verbal discussions. It looks like they still want to monitor folk’s usage of the bathroom… kind of sad and annoying I think. If we can’t get recourse on this issue through discussion with management then we very well may file a complaint with the state and let them figure it out.

I reported out last month that we were going to put the vacation changes on hold at MV until next year and that this year things would remain status quo... as they have been doing it, the exception was that on the Connector side they had already bid for specific vacation dates so we agreed to let that schedule stand. In a few cases though we had to look at because folks bid to use vacation time previous to when they would actually earn it under the current system and some accommodations had to be made on both sides on how to address and fix those problems. I thought we had it all resolved and the changes would go into effect in 2015 but even this week had management tell me that 2014 was a transition year. Even though we signed jointly and put out to the workgroup a memo 3 weeks prior that no changes would be made until 2015. So we will discuss that as well because we have promised to get more information out throughout the year on what to expect those changes to look like so the drivers have an opportunity pre plan and understand the full benefits of these changes.

So as is typical with MV and what seems to be a never ending issue is the communication between their managers and the mixed and even conflicting answers they give the employees. I wish I could wave a wand to somehow get the communication be the same and accurate for all but clearly I can’t so we simply must correct them when the information is inaccurate or confusing. We will continue to work on doing that as these scenarios come up. I will say though that we at the union are not always perfect in that regard either and sometimes information between the stewards and this office gets relayed differently or we understand things differently so I will try to be more clear in those communications as well.

At CenturyLink not even sure where to begin…. First I guess the Safety Shoe requirement has been delayed a month to May 1. In the meantime I have spoken to a rep from Red Wing shoes to see about a discount for CenturyLink folks and we have a meeting set up for next week. Not sure how that will work out as I simply asked can you just send me what you have and apply a discount? But they want to meet so I will do that and forward any info that comes from that.

We had a surplus in the IT Department that was declared 90 days ago and have 3 folks who will be ISPP’d off the payroll. These 3 folks have 40, 40, and 39 years of service. I had brief conversation with them last week and they all seem to be looking forward to their lives after “the phone company”. I want to wish them best wishes and hope they enjoy retirement because clearly they worked a long time for it. Good luck Gayle Stevens, Doramaria Curry, and Susie Judd.

We also had several folks who left under VSPP in many departments unfortunately I don’t have all their names in front of me but do want to recognize Jeannine Denning as she has been an active steward for the Local on the Peninsula and a member of the Safety Committee for years. I appreciate all the work she has put in over the years representing our members and wish her a happy retirement as well. I spoke with her as well and she said even in retirement if we need something over there give her a call and shell be happy to help.

In our last contract a lot of discussion took place around contracting. This has been an issue for years and has only compounded with the merger of CenturyLink. CenturyLink has repeatedly made it clear they like to contract work and they do a lot of it. We of course have seen for years it would become a problem especially when they separated construction from I&M. The company has made clear contracting on the construction side of the house is something they want to do as much as possible.

There are limits to how much they can do. They can do up to 20% companywide so from a local perspective this is hard to track I don’t know what they are doing outside of our local area… Hell to be honest I don’t know what they are doing in the local area… I have the right to ask the company to provide me information regarding contracting but to be honest I believe sometimes they “forget” to tell me stuff.

Management in construction has agreed to meet quarterly to discuss and for our last meeting they stood me up. They said they forgot to put in calendar even though we agreed to the date 3 months prior and I confirmed the appointment the week before. They never showed for our last meeting which was scheduled in February and they have not rescheduled even though they said they would send me some dates to meet on.

There seems to be some disagreement on contractors doing “Hot” work. While the contract has no limits on the amount of contracting on non-working cables it does have a 20% cap on working cable. Of course there is also language that says if the contracted work on non-working (or working) cable can lead to a lay off then that work will come back to the group before a layoff would occur.

So the local has been asking the techs for information regarding contracting and asking if folks see it to report it. We were kind of trying to do this discreetly and not put it out publicly. But at this point with the new announcement of VSPP offers and surpluses across the region we need to step up our observation and collection of information so this is an open invitation to all folks weather inside who work orders and see they are assigned to contractors and or if you’re a tech and see someone in our cross box you can stop and ask what they are doing. We as employees have an obligation to protect our assets and if we see someone in there that clearly is not a CenturyLink employee shouldn’t we stop and ask why they are there, who they are, and see a copy of the work order that would give them reason to be there? It’s just protecting our assets…. So I encourage everyone who see’s contractors to ask those questions. It is important to find out the contracting company name and order number at a minimum. The second question to that is the work considered QCC or QC work.

Regarding QC and QCC work this is a whole other can of worms. We know the QCC work is technically not the work that we are guaranteed through the contract. We all know though that we do work on QCC. That work (the QCC) is not part of the contractual limits. But another question has come up as of late and again where I need help from folks in the field and the business offices. We believe the company may be selling services under QCC but actually provisioning those services on QC assets so that begs the question is it legal? Is it technically QCC or QC work? We of course need proof of this so I will ask all of our folks to pay attention to the orders they work or come across or see contractors working to look for that. Any information we gather should be forwarded to the Local. Like I said I can ask for this information from the company but quite frankly I think they “forget” to include all of it. The information gathered and sent to the office should not be done by using company email or fax machines.

I am asking for everyone to pay attention to this but at the same time don’t put yourself in trouble by not doing company work while they are paying you to do that. It is important to note though that the more work they contract the more jobs are put at risk. I’ll repeat what was said at the end of bargaining we now may have a contract but we have several years of fighting ahead of us. It simply gets clearer and clearer each day that we are going to have to fight for our work and our jobs every day with these folks in charge. It will not surprise me that they are continually looking to get work away from the bargaining unit by any means necessary. We do have rights, we do have protections, but we must be vigilant in protecting them and challenging them. If we do nothing the company’s will do what they want and we are the only thing that will stop them.

I wanted to discuss CenturyLink and folks on Short Term Disability. Sometimes folks get denied benefits (imagine that) and have to appeal. I want to reiterate that we have a Benefits Coordinator who can assist folks with their appeal. I think it is important that our members utilize that as an option. I have seen several folks who were denied send in appeal and get denied a 2nd time and therefore have several weeks’ worth of monies withheld form their pay or they have to pay it back. If your appeal gets denied your only option at that point is to actually sue the company and who can do that? I’ve seen lots of folks denied twice but never seen anyone take the company to court about it.

Typically speaking when folks are out on benefits then something is wrong and adding the stress of having to appeal and possibly getting denied is not going help anyone get better faster. Back in the old days the union was notified when someone was denied benefits and when could then be a bit proactive in contacting the member see if they have any questions or need any assistance but the company does not tell us anymore so the only way we will know is if the member calls us.

So if you ever find yourself having to do an appeal please go ahead contact us so we can get you in contact with the Benefits Coordinator to assist. By the way it still doesn’t guarantee you won’t lose the appeal but if it were me I would like to have a second pair of eyes look at it and offer an opinion on it before I submitted it.

At the membership meeting in February it was brought up by one of our Area Vice Presidents that attendance at those meetings is low and we should do something to increase the participation. While I agree it is low and I would like to see an increase I also indicated that I would prefer to see folks participate in other ways volunteering for community events, partnering with our allies on common causes etc… So I will pose the question here what would you need or want in order to come to the membership meeting? What could we do to get more folks to attend the meetings?

Along those same lines it occurred to me that we have not scheduled an All Stewards meeting for a couple of years. I will say the last All Stewards Meeting was not well attended. We typically have those meetings in the evening but now with the MV folks we have several Stewards that work in the evenings so the other option is to do it on the weekend. I think I would like to schedule one in June but again will ask for feedback from our Stewards would you come if on a Saturday afternoon or evening?

The same applies for some of our committees. We have not been totally active in these groups nor have we me met on a regular basis. Given we are out of contract negotiations at the moment it may be a great time to look at those committees and see what we can do in those groups to expand them and continue to provide valuable information to our membership. I know that a couple committee chairs would welcome someone else new to the helm and to lead those groups.

When I first took office we focused on the Bargaining, Strike, and Mobilization but now that most of Bargaining is over let’s see what we can focus on. Legislation is always important we currently have only a few folks on that committee so lots of room and a real need as we go into an election season.

Community Services can use some more volunteers as I think in the community there is still plenty of need and dozens of things we can do to give back to the community we just need to know that folks are willing to volunteer and go do some good.

We will need some folks on the Safety Committee and I would like to see that co-chaired with someone from MV and CenturyLink. It is quite clear to me neither of those companies are compliant at the moment for what the State requires so I would like to task a committee to work on that with the company. I’d like to say I could do myself but honestly it keeps getting put lower on my to do list so it would be better to have the committee work on it directly before I again move it lower on my list. It needs to happen.

I wanted to give another update on the building. As you know we reported the building was sold. They have approached us and indicated they would like us to move upstairs into half the space and share the common areas. I don’t have a problem with that. Although it still does not address parking and there would be really no handicap access to that floor. We sublease part of our current space to the Newspaper Guild and they don’t believe they will be moving with us but will be taking advantage of another opportunity so we no longer will have that income to supplement our costs. It is an option although we still haven’t really been proposed a monthly cost to this although the suggestion is it would be the same monthly rent…. They still have not really identified though if we would incur additional costs such as utilities, cleaning, and other things currently part of our lease.

While I do think it would be simpler to move upstairs I am not completely convinced that is the best decision. I still think getting out of downtown is a wise decision and I do believe if we don’t move today we will be forced to within the next 5 to 10 years when they destroy this building for some other development. I would just as soon find a place now.
I know the board is comfortable with the decision to stay and I get that it and I am not necessarily opposed to it but at the same time not so comfortable with it either. I think when we have a hard and actual proposal it may be easier to make a decision. Frankly not so sure the new owners will not try to add other costs that would change the assumptions being made by quite a bit.

I attended a training this week put on by District 7 and the training was basically about building a movement. It is quite clear today in this country that employers are out to pay less and less, provide fewer benefits, and basically do what they can do for money to go to shareholders and executives. Now while I will agree those are important I have to ask at what price? At what cost to our families and future generations? Every other week I read how someone’s pension is being attacked, where company’s no longer offer pensions to new employees. Medical benefits are becoming less and less even with the Affordable Care Act corporations are looking at how to provide the least amount of insurance for the least amount of cost to them while still staying compliant with the law. At most contract negotiations companies introduce a two tier system and that doesn’t apply just to CWA that is across the board.

What is clear is union’s alone cannot tackle this problem. We are outspent and outnumbered. But many folks who are not part of unions agree with our principles. In Seattle we see a push to raise the minimum wage. We see the white house now encouraging the same an increase to the federal minimum wage. While at the same time we see the conservatives blocking unemployment extensions, trying to cut Social Security but at the same time asking for hundreds of billions of dollars to increase defense spending and cutting veteran’s benefits at the same time.

Sometimes I just think I only have 5 years to go to get my retirement if I can get that far I can make it... But then I think of my daughter just starting in the work force what options will she have? What guarantees? How can she ever afford a house if most employers only want to pay the minimum wage or at least as close to it as they can get?
What about immigrants? I live in Seattle I know a lot of folks who have come here from Asian and South American countries as well as Mexico documented and undocumented. I talk to them I know their employers routinely take advantage of them even the documented folks or citizens for that matter. Many work well over 40 hours and don’t get overtime as the law indicates they should. Companies routinely try to classify folks as independent contractors so they are not responsible for workplace injuries or L&I taxes and if those folks lose their jobs they don’t qualify for unemployment.

As a society we all should be fed up with this and in this town, in this state, I know we are better than this. I know we all feel people should be treated with dignity and respect. Quite frankly that is not the case. For those of us fortunate to have some protections (and a union that fights for us) we need to take some time and help those who don’t just like the folks before us stood on picket lines and refused to sit on the back of the bus. We can do that and we should.

But we are also under attack it is not just the poor or unskilled being taken advantage of even us union workers with professional jobs and good skills the companies are trying to screw us over as well. We keep fighting. We may be slowing them a bit but we are losing. It is no secret. Do we just pick up our stuff at the end of the day and go home?

Sorry a bit long winded to make a simple point labor alone cannot reverse this trend. We must work with others on common issues. Currently as part of labor I have built relationships with the Blue Green Alliance, Sierra Club, Cascade Bicycle Club, and while these groups don’t always agree on every issue we can work together on common issues. We are working on issues such as the “coal” train and the Bellingham waterfront.

We have relationships with APRI and CBTU who have strong relationships with the council of churches, who work with nonprofits to provide food and housing for those who need it. So you see it really is all one big loop. We help them they help us. I think we already have folks working with nonprofits so I would like to hear from you maybe we can get others from our local to help with your organization and in return that organization can help us when we need it.

Going to wrap this up for now obviously we have lots of things going on and I look forward to the feedback from the questions I have posed in here.

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