Union organizes hundreds of Greensboro telecom workers

by Jordan Green

While textile jobs in the central North Carolina Piedmont continue to atrophy, telecommunications workers in Greensboro are celebrating some recent labor victories and planning new labor organizing efforts.

The Communications Workers union won the right to represent hundreds of workers at two Cingular Wireless call centers in September when the union submitted so-called ‘“interest cards’” signed by a majority of the employees expressing the desire for union representation. One of the call centers is on Pisgah Church Road; the other is nearby on Wireless Drive.

Employees began organizing in early 2004 at a time when the call centers were under the ownership of AT&T Wireless, according to a newsletter published by Communications Workers Local 3607 in Greensboro. When Cingular Wireless acquired AT&T Wireless in February 2004 prospects for unionization brightened because the new owner was bound by a card-check agreement with the Communications Workers, said Gary Hunter, president of Local 3607. With a card-check agreement, the need for an expensive and cumbersome election was averted.

‘“Initially there was some pushback,’” Hunter said. ‘“Once they came under the Cingular Wireless neutrality agreement we backed off. We set up in the break room. It was a painless campaign. I wouldn’t say they’re union-friendly, but they’re definitely not anti-union.’”

The two call centers employ more than 700 workers, Hunter said. The union is currently engaged in an internal organizing drive to sign up individual members, with about 300 already enrolled, Hunter said. The Communication Workers’ September organizing victory could potentially double Local 3607’s membership. Hunter said that in addition to the Cingular Wireless workers, the Greensboro local represents 400 to 450 workers at Bellsouth Telecommunications, Bellsouth Utilities, Bellsouth Advertising & Publishing, AT&T and Avaya.

‘“Our personal belief is that if we don’t start educating more people and bringing more people to the union our influence is getting less and less,’” Hunter said. ‘“One of our goals is to get a more steady emphasis on organizing at our local.’”

Hunter declined to identify Greensboro workplaces the Communications Workers plan to organize in the future.

‘“We’re in the very, very early stages,’” he said, ‘“and I don’t want to raise alarm bells and start a campaign against us before we even get started.’”

-Jordan Green