Sound & Comm Unit Soundly Rejects Tentative Agreement

NECA must increase wage package, drop its Occupied Premise language

They kept streaming in.

Nearly 200 members of the Sound & Comm unit, or nearly one out of every four unit members, attended a standing-room-only contract vote meeting on Thursday, August 17th. The meeting started late due to the large number of Sound & Comm members who needed to sign in.

Of the 174 members who voted, 173 members saw the negotiating committee’s Tentative Agreement (TA) for what it was: simply not good enough.

The high vote turnout was significant for a unit membership that has been given precious few opportunities to participate, or even be informed, in its own contract negotiations.

The Sound & Comm unit has been working under an expired contract since July 31st. Negotiations between our union and the Puget Sound chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) began over two-and-a-half months ago on June 7th. Since negotiations started, there have been no surveys sent to gather member input and no updates requesting their feedback. Many members say they only found out about the vote meeting through other vigilant coworkers.

Negotiations have not been easy, according to the negotiating committee. NECA has stubbornly resisted our union’s proposals, at first rejecting all of the union’s proposals outright during the second bargaining session (except for Tentatively Agreeing early on to a 3-year contract).

So when the negotiating committee was eventually offered $6.75 over 3 years by NECA, they understandably must have felt like they had made progress. When added to the fact that member opinions were not collected in advance, this could explain why the entire five-person negotiating team unanimously recommended that members vote “yes” on the TA. This recommendation the membership soundly rejected, with nearly equal unanimity.

Since the recently elected Business Manager added extra members to the negotiating committee, the committee has dropped key issues that the former unit’s Business Rep and his negotiating committee members had proposed.

The union’s dropped proposals included a pay differential while working in downtown Seattle to help defray the cost of parking and guaranteed upfront travel pay when working outside of the 35-mile zone.

The biggest issue for members at the contract vote was the insulting wage package (a measly $6.75 over 3 years) and a change (for the worse) in the already weak Occupied Premise language. NECA wants to be able to schedule Low Volt members during swing and graveyard shifts, for 4-day-10-hour (4×10) shifts at a flat rate. This would mean a giveaway on top of what has already been given away before. Currently, employers can waive the 17.3% and 31.4% pay differentials for Swing and Graveyard shifts if they claim that the shifts are due to occupied premise. If employers claim occupied premise, they only have to pay you 10% differential. With the TA language, the employer would be able to schedule occupied premise shifts as 4×10 shifts and get rid of all pay differentials entirely. The contractor would still get their 40hrs from you, and on the cheap.

A Change in Leadership Also Needs a Change in Practices

Our newly installed union leadership notified the Sound & Comm unit about the contract vote meeting in three ways; they mailed a small, easy-to-miss, 6” x 4” size postcard over the weekend, and they sent a robodial and “robo-email” less than 48 hours before the vote.

Many members received none of these communications. A tiny white postcard is easily overlooked as junk mail. And many members have not been added to the robodial and email list. This is unfortunately not different from the method of operating by the former unit leadership, which would repeatedly rebuff member requests to send negotiations updates out to all unit members.

Before June 7th, only one meeting to prepare members for negotiations was hosted by the Hall — on Mother’s Day weekend. No surveys have been sent to the over 650 members to encourage member participation, either before contract negotiations started or after.

“I came because I received a text from a coworker,” said more than a few unit members. This is as much a shining example of the power of members to mobilize each other, as it is an advantage for NECA over the negotiating committee and the union leadership for failure to effectively connect with hundreds of Low Volt members.

Given the lack of communication from our leadership, a near 25% vote turnout is nothing to sneeze at.

As the folks at Labor Notes have pointed out, members get a contract that they can be happy with when their leadership keeps them informed and engaged. Jason Ide, the president of Teamsters Local 814 in New York City, writes:

Surveys can:

  • Get members involved. Contract campaigns ask more of the members at every juncture, from wearing buttons all the way up to walking off the job. Asking members to fill out a survey is an easy first step that will help set the tone for wide participation in your campaign activities
  • Gather contact information. Working cell phone numbers and emails are the foundation of any contract campaign. If you can’t reach your members, you can’t take action.
  • Assess your strength. You should track how many surveys you get from each department, shift, or building, and use the data to assess where you are strong and where you need to do more organizing. If you can’t get members to fill out a survey, you certainly won’t be able to get them to wear a button or strike.
  • Identify and evaluate leaders. You should also track what percentage of their group each steward, business agent, or committee member delivers. The people who can motivate their co-workers to fill out a survey now will be the most effective at motivating those same co-workers to take bigger actions later.
  • Show unity. If you craft your survey correctly, you will have some questions that most members answer the same way. You can use the results at your union meeting as evidence of unity—building members’ confidence in each other.

The Tasks of the Negotiating Committee: Engage, Inform, and Empower the Membership

Going forward, the negotiating committee must work on the areas described above to successfully negotiate a strong contract that members can support. Otherwise, the leadership’s own practices could stymie our success. A few small things they could do right now:

  1. The negotiating committee could email the recently rejected Tentative Agreement to all Low Volt members who have given the union their email address. Members need to know what was voted down to be more informed about what has changed (and what hasn’t) at the next contract vote.
  2. The negotiating committee could post the recently rejected TA on our union’s Facebook page and website so all members can access it.
  3. The negotiating committee could create an online poll that Low Volt members can access to clarify what they’re willing to vote for, not just what they’d vote against.
  4. The negotiating committee could send out an update after each negotiation session to keep members up-to-date.
  5. The negotiating committee could make copies of the next TA available to all members days before the next contract vote so that members have more time to read, think about, and discuss the issues with our coworkers.

Next Steps: We Need an Active Rank-and-File

The best contracts are won when members get involved. The Caucus of Rank-and-File Electrical Workers (CORE46) is a grouping of local electrical workers who want to strengthen our union for the betterment of our members. We believe solidarity and action are some of the most important ways to do this.

Inside Wire members, support your fellow Sound & Comm union members. What happens in their contract will set the terms for your own negotiations next summer.

Low Volt members, there’s no more important time than now to start coming to unit meetings and voicing your opinion. This new contract will affect your life and livelihood for the next three years and many more years to come.

IBEW members, let’s demand $15 over 3 years for the Sound & Comm contract, and an Occupied Premise language that matches the Inside Wire contract.

Contact the Sound & Comm Business Rep, Mark Samuelsen (253-395-6528), to let him know: $15 over 3 Years No to NECA’s Occupied Premise Send NECA Packing!