question for Nathan

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Tue Aug 22 12:44:51 PDT 2000

On Tue, 22 Aug 2000, Eric Beck wrote:

> "The expedited organizing that Verizon agreed to covers only a quarter of
> the wireless unit employees."
> I assume the writer is talking about the card-check provision. I haven't
> been able to find anything on the IBEW, CWA, or Verizon websites that
> confirms or denies this. Is this true, or is he being obfuscatory? If it is
> true, why only a quarter? And could the union have done better?

The union could have done better but they did better than it sounds. Verizon Wireless is a combination of the wireless operations of three companies - Vodaphone, Bell Atlantic and GTE. GTE's wireless workers are already covered by a neutrality agreement so none were needed for those workers. And there are odd legal issues in trying to get Bell Atlantic to impose card check on the Vodaphone workers. To make this a bit more complicated, GTE and Bell Atlantic are merging their whole companies into a fully integrated corporation now to be called Verizon, while Verizon Wireless will be a subsidiary of that larger Verizon company - with Vodaphone being a minority partner of the Verizon Wireless subsidiary.

But that said, the agreement is a compromise in that this particular agreement covers only workers in the core Bell Atlantic region (while GTE wireless workers in other areas are covered by an earlier agreement with them), leaving a chunk of workers outside the card check agreement.

However, this agreement is pure card check, meaning that where 55% of workers in a unit sign cards, the union is established with full bargaining rights. No delay, no chance for the company to mount an anti-union terror campaign before the election. Almost all the other Bell and AT&T agreements have what is called "expedited election", meaning quick two-week elections with official neutrality by the company. This latter situation is good but card check is far better.

And understand how unprecedented this is- I don't think any other industry in the country has a card check agreement covering such a large geographic area as this Verizon agreement, especially not in an industrial area (in this case wireless) where the union negotiating the agreement represents only 50 workers currently.

One reason the geographic limit is not seen as that bad a compromise is that the union will have its hands full just organizing the area negotiated. It would be nice to hope that all the GTE and Bell Atlantic wireless workers will be organized so quickly, but the reality is that with a bit more union density in the industry, the next contract will probably be soon enough to move on to the remaining workers. And the union can always go in without card check, however nasty that can be, especially if they can organize a lot of the covered wireless workers and get them decent contracts.

Why the compromise is hard to say - I don't have any special knowledge of what was on the table and what was being traded around at that particular juncture - but there were and still are a number of issues that are also crucial that were addressed, such as relocation of workers, maintaining Internet installation jobs as union jobs, and fighting overtime stress. All of these have to do with expanding union jobs directly and indirectly.

All that aside, the real mark of this contract is that now all the major Bell companies and AT&T are covered by neutrality and organizing agreements that include most of their presently non-union workers. CWA has organized and signed new contracts for workers in wireless, cable and new competitive local phone services under these agreements - avoiding the delay and hell of NLRB election processes.

And the strike has put a lie to the idea that unions are just "old economy" institutions with no place in the new economy. A lot of commentators woke up and realized that almost every email message and every web download is transported across wires or lines maintained by union workers or (now) workers who will hopefully soon be in a union.

Combined with the Boeing ("no nerds, no birds") strike, the WashTech organizing campaign (also CWA) among Microsoft and other tech workers, the organizing in Silicon Valley and a number of other efforts, unionization is being put back on the table and in the consciousness of tech workers up and down the income scale. There's a long road ahead but a number of big steps have been made to reviving the union movement in these growing industrial areas.

-- Nathan Newman

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