- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2005

More than 3,000 union members are expected to rally today outside the White House to energize a shrinking labor movement that is recovering from a polarizing fight that led four unions to leave the AFL-CIO this year.

As unions struggle to add workers and regain clout, an organizing campaign by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) stands out as arguably the most successful effort in years to boost membership.

The union has added 13,500 Cingular Wireless workers since July and has not stopped there.

“Cingular is the most important organizing campaign in the last five years,” said Stewart Acuff, AFL-CIO organizing director.

Workers joining the union are former AT&T; Wireless employees who became part of Cingular when it bought its competitor in February 2004. An organizing campaign by the Service Employees International Union this month to add 5,300 janitors in Texas marks labor’s other milestone.

In November alone, more than 2,000 former AT&T; Wireless workers at call centers in Paramus, N.J., and Cerritos, Calif., and 325 retail outlets in Texas, Oregon and Indiana joined the CWA.

In September, 418 customer-service representatives and analysts at a call center in Lebanon, Va., joined CWA Local 2204 in Roanoke.

“I’m 57 years old and it’s the first union I’ve ever belonged to,” said Carlies Casey, a customer-service representative at Cingular’s call center in Lebanon and a former AT&T; Wireless employee.

Former AT&T; Wireless workers find wages and benefits comparable at Cingular, but collective-bargaining agreements define pay scales so that raises are less subjective and provide employees with a grievance procedure to protest a supervisor’s decision.

The union has attracted its new members without any resistance from the company. Cingular Wireless agreed in July to remain neutral while union organizers made their pitches.

“We’ve had a long-standing, mutually beneficial relationship with the CWA. We’re totally neutral and leave it up to the employees to decide. We don’t hinder them, but we don’t assist them,” Cingular spokeswoman Alexa Kaufman said.

Cingular has taken a neutral stance on organizing since 2000, and the company extended its neutrality pledge to cover AT&T; Wireless workers after the acquisition of its rival.

The organizing drive has been so successful that the union hasn’t had former AT&T; Wireless employees at a single workplace decide not to join the union, said Ed Sabol, CWA’s organizing director.

“This campaign is almost a scientific study that proves it’s all about employer opposition. Take that out of the equation, and organizing is a different world. If you have a situation where fear and threats are removed from the workplace, I think this is how every organizing drive would end up,” Mr. Sabol said.

There are many workplaces where the union hasn’t tried to sign up workers.

“I guess that at some point the campaign has got to slow down, and at the end of the day there will be a small number of workers who decide not to join, and that’s fine,” Mr. Sabol said.

The CWA now represents 35,000 workers at Cingular, and about 44,000 of the estimated 62,600 workers at the cell-phone company are eligible to join the union. The union represents about 700,000 media, public-service, airlines, manufacturing, telecommunications and information-technology workers.

The union is using a card-check approach to sign up workers, a method that allows workers to join a union once a majority sign cards asking for representation. Unions continue to press for legislation allowing them to use card check universally, but now they need an employer’s approval.

Employers typically oppose card check and want unions to use elections sponsored by the National Labor Relations Board.

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