In 2008, Uverse was formed in Michigan. The Prem Techs were there to do a job, a job which they performed well. Like all of us, they were scheduled by seniority; the Prem Tech with the most seniority picked his schedule from a list of available tours provided by the Company. All was well with this system, which was mutually agreed to by the Union and the Company. The Company’s needs of the business were served and the employees were able to put some predictability in their lives. We know this as “work-life balance.”
In the summer of 2010, the Company informed the Union that seniority scheduling “was not fair.” So, since the Company was all about “fairness” (insert gagging noise here), it was going to start scheduling Prem Techs using the Computerized Scheduling Group, or CSG. In order to solve a problem that no one knew existed, “schedule fairness,” CSG would randomly assign the Prem Techs to a schedule that would rotate every week; thus, it was assured that no technician could predict their lives ever again. This, coupled with management’s proclivity for changing a worker’s schedule with a mere 48 hours’ notice, only added to the horror. Even field managers could not understand this system, or even explain what the rotation was or how someone could predict what tour they would end up with from month to month.
Naturally, our Union immediately began grieving this issue. Unfortunately, management refused to address our concerns using this process and we were forced to bring it to the bargaining table. This we did and were successful in bringing back contractual language inserting seniority-scheduling in Appendix F of our new collective bargaining agreement. Weeks passed. Weeks of Prem Techs and the Union asking, “Where is our seniority scheduling?” Management murmured a few pleas asking for more time because, “It was very difficult, the Midwest is the only contract in the nation where Prem Techs have seniority-scheduling!” They also, wearing looks of polite boredom, met with locals across the Midwest to “..seek our input..” on how seniority-scheduling should be implemented. After receiving our input and listening to our concerns, they immediately set about ignoring everything we told them.
Today, Uverse management rolled out their plan: a schedule 15 weeks in length that when printed out and posted on the wall measures more than four feet long. Each person’s schedule comprises 15-separate tours with never the same weekly schedule two weeks in a row. The 15-week nightmare is a mix of day and night tours with different off-days scattered throughout. The holiday weeks are completely blacked out because management doesn’t know what days in those weeks Uverse will be open. This means that no matter what 15-week schedule you “pick by seniority,” you still can’t be sure if you’ll be able to go see family over Thanksgiving. Or, if they come see you, you might be working while they wait for you to come home. On top of all this, management still reserves the right to change any of your weekly tours when they so desire.
We at the Union immediately set about protesting through the normal channels. After all, we have ratified a new contract and grievance strikes are no longer on the table. But the Prem Techs did not get the memo! They had become tired of AT&T’s butter-won’t-melt-in-our-mouth sanctimonious BS about how much they “value” their employees. It was clear from the utter disdain and casual disregard the Company showed toward the lives of their employees and those employees’ families that something else was needed besides the lengthy grievance process.
So, today the Prem Techs in Michigan finished servicing their customers’ needs on their first job this morning. They then returned to their garages, parked their trucks and told management, “We aren’t going to take this. We are refusing to pick up another job today until management commits to hearing, and fixing, our issue!”
Management. Freaked. Out.
They immediately threatened the Prem Techs with termination. They tried guilt-tripping Prem Techs about “customer service.” Bribes were offered and lies were told. All to no avail. Managers began to quote of Article 5 of the contract, the “no-strike” clause. Sadly, the managers forgot to read it because if they had, they would have known to call the Union hall and tell the president that he was required to tell the Prem Techs to go back to work. This cooperation, required by the contract, may have averted the problem. Instead, none of the local presidents were called! In some garages, this situation went on for hours before management thought to involve the Union.
Once the Union became involved, we were required to tell the Prem Techs that the contract required them to go back to work. They said no. Actually, they said, “Hell, no!” So, we took their answer back to management. Management then offered to schedule an immediate conference on the scheduling issues that had so infuriated the Prem Techs. In every garage, manager went to the Prem Techs and asked them to go back to work, stating that if they did so the Prem Techs would not be disciplined. At that point, the Prem Techs got in their trucks and went back to work. Except…
In Grand Rapids and Holland, the Prem Techs had a question: What if we don’t? The answer: They were all put on a verbal warning for insubordination and given 10 minutes to be out working. When management came in 10 minutes later, the Prem Techs were still there. They were then put on written warning and given 10 minutes to get back to work. The Prem Techs stayed. When management came back, all 30+ Prem Techs were still at the garage and all 30+ suspended for the day. They received their suspensions and went home to their families.
These Union brothers and sisters felt a stronger message needed to be sent. They felt the Company needed to know just how important this issue was to ordinary working people. Work-schedules are so important that they were willing to sacrifice to drive home the point. Important not just to them, but to the people who depend on them. Their spouses. Their children.Their churches, school teams, bowling teams; it doesn’t matter. These Prem Techs don’t want to be “valued.” Things are “valued.” Commodities such as cattle, sheep and hogs are “valued.” They, and all of us, want to be respected.
I think they earned it today.