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New York Worker Hopes Union Vote Sends 'Ripple Effect Through Verizon Wireless'

By Josh Long
May 21, 2014 - News

Retail employees at six Verizon Wireless stores in Brooklyn, New York, last week voted to become members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media union in the United States.

The employees join the 40,000 Verizon workers and 80 Verizon Wireless technicians who are represented by CWA, the union said. Retail workers voted 39 to 19 for union representation, according to CWA.

“We walked in the footsteps of our brothers and sisters who fought before us. We banded together in the face of adversity and combatted fear with hope," said Bianca Cunningham, who works at the Bensonhurst store. “We look forward to Verizon Wireless workers stepping out of the shadows and joining the 40,000 strong in CWA who work at Verizon to continue to fight for the middle class."

In an article today for Labor Notes, a media and organizing project, Cunningham said the wireless industry largely lacks union representation outside of AT&T. According to CWA, more than 40,000 workers at AT&T Mobility are organized.

“I hope the stand we’ve taken here in Brooklyn sends a ripple effect through Verizon Wireless nationwide, and possibly even through the other major carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile," Cunningham wrote.

Verizon Wireless is the largest U.S. wireless carrier with 73,000 employees, 2013 revenues of $81 billion and 102.8 million retail connections at the end of last year.

“We’re disappointed that 39 employees felt this way," Verizon Wireless spokesman Torod Neptune said, commenting on the vote to join the union by the Brooklyn workers.

The CWA claims U.S. wireless carriers, including Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA, have opposed attempts by their workers to organize as a union.

Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) consolidated cases filed against T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS Communications in complaints that alleged the mobile-phone giant unlawfully discharged workers who engaged in union practices and issued rules for workers that are overly broad and discriminatory. The cases stem from complaints filed by CWA.

A hearing had been scheduled in Wichita, Kansas, but the parties reached a settlement, CWA announced May 8. According to the union, the settlement involved Joshua Coleman and Ellen Brackeen, two T-Mobile workers. Coleman was fired last year after engaging in union activities and Brackeen was disciplined after she attended on her own time a final shareholders meeting of MetroPCS before the company merged with T-Mobile, CWA said.

The NLRB also contends that T-Mobile managers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have discouraged workers from engaging in union activities partly through interrogation and threats – in violation of the National Relations Labor Act.

T-Mobile said it had no comment on the settlements in Kansas.  

According to T-Mobile's annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, fewer than 20 of its roughly 40,000 full-time and part-time employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Some MetroPCS employees in Harlem, New York, have union representation, and about a dozen T-Mobile technicians in Connecticut are union workers as well, a CWA spokesman said last month.

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