Most Comcast workers in region vote union out

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Most of the 1,000 Comcast employees in the Pittsburgh region have voted to toss out the Communications Workers of America as their bargaining representative with the giant cable company.

Votes cast last week and Monday by Comcast technicians and call center workers were counted yesterday morning at the National Labor Relations Board office Downtown with observers from both the union and company present.

The union retained the right to represent a group of 59 technicians at a Comcast facility on Rodi Road in Penn Hills but lost elections to continue representing about 800 other employees stationed throughout the region.

A 57-to-57 tie vote among technicians based in the South Hills will likely be appealed by the union. Ties usually favor the employer, but two ballots in this case were challenged and therefore uncounted.

The results, which will not be official for a week, were a blow to the union's efforts to organize the largely nonunion cable television business particularly since Pittsburgh had the biggest concentration of union members in the industry prior to the decertification campaign.

Philadelphia-based Comcast, which inherited CWA-represented workers when it combined with AT&T Broadband last November, has encouraged decertification elections across the country and likes to boast that only 3.2 percent of its 60,000 employees were union members prior to decertification elections here.

This past summer, the union was decertified in Nedham, Mass., Portland, Ore., and Elyria, Ohio. Decertification elections previously were successful at Comcast locations in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Modesto, Calif.

The CWA's worst defeat yesterday came from the company's Corliss Street call center, where workers voted 170 to 45 to decertify the union. The results were much closer among Corliss-based installers and repair technicians who voted 188 to 172 against the CWA.

In Washington, Pa., customer service workers turned out the union by a 5-0 vote while technicians there voted 35 to 17 in favor of decertification. Technicians in Coraopolis voted 6-2 against the CWA.

Marge Krueger, a CWA official who led the drive to retain the union, said she was surprised by the results and was planning to file appeals with the NLRB. She alleged Comcast tainted the election by marching a contingent of 50 security guards into the Corliss tech center prior to the close vote there. Comcast said it was responding to vandalism.

Krueger also alleged that Comcast illegally induced workers to vote for the company with programs promising advancement and higher pay. She said managers also were seen soliciting employees to vote no on election day.

The CWA began recruiting cable workers in this region when the cable system was owned by TCI, which sold the business in 1999 to AT&T Corp. By August, 2002, the union had organized about 3,500 AT&T Broadband employees in various locations under an expedited election process agreed to by it and AT&T. That number fell to 2,700 prior to the past week's votes.

Krueger, who fears Comcast will make greater use of outside contractors to do installation and repair work with the union gone, said the CWA would continue to support its Comcast backers.

Comcast spokesman Brian Jeter said the company would "make every effort to implement our employees' decision quickly" keeping in mind the seven-day waiting period and the possibility of union appeals.


Staff writer Jim McKay can be reached at jmckay@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-1322.


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