Labor Update: South Slope Phone Cooperative Locks Out Workers

no trespassing

Update: November 7 – The following media statement is available on
http://southslope.com/news-a-media-room

Statement from Justyn M Miller, South Slope CEO

“We are pleased that our employees represented by the union will be joining us at work on Monday. Although South Slope’s proposal was not approved, we will implement our Final Offer and continue to negotiate in good faith with our union representatives. Contrary to previous reports, South Slope never proposed to lower the hourly wages for current employees in their current positions. We believe the proposed changes to the contract address our competitive industry and regulated telecommunications environment. Our cooperative members are our primary focus and we will continue to provide excellent service.” 

Update:  Contract was rejected, but South Slope has allowed employees to return to work.  LINK

South Slope Uncooperative

Last Friday morning, 55 CWA workers at the South Slope Phone Cooperative in North Liberty, Iowa, were locked out of their jobs after the South Slope Cooperative contract with Communications Workers of American contract expired at midnight October 31st. CWA represents 55 workers in Outside Plant, Clerical and IT departments.

South Slope CEO Justyn Miller had announced to the employees last week that they would be locked out when the 31st contract expired until the membership voted on the Company’s Last Best and Final Offer which was scheduled for Sunday, November 3, 2013.

South Slope employees still showed up for work on Friday as scheduled despite the Company threat to lock the workers out. However, when dozens of workers showed up for their shift early Friday morning, CEO Justyn Miller, met them at the parking lot and told them they were “trespassing” and to get off the property.

The ratification vote scheduled for Sunday November 3 was then unanimously voted down by the workers.

On Monday, November 4, the workers intend to return to South Slope to their jobs – we will post an update once we know whether or not they were allowed to work.

BACKGROUND

The Union Bargaining committee is concerned the two tier pay structure being demanded by the company will negatively impact employee morale and the ability to attract and retain qualified employees. Among other non-starters in the company’s final offer, South Slope has proposed a 30% decrease in pay from existing wages for new hires or existing workers who transfer into new titles. This equates for newly hired workers to take as much as an $8 an hour pay cut (equals to $16,000 cut in average annual pay for full time workers).

Despite the presence of a Federal Mediator, the talks became contentious as South Slope insisted on forcing its proposals on the workers rather than negotiate fairly.

CWA recently filed charges against South Slope with the National Labor Relations Board for Bad Faith Bargaining and the unwarranted suspension of a union supporter. Prior to the contract expiration on October 31, South Slope also refused to continue bargaining or to extend the contract a few days in order to accommodate the ratification vote. South Slope workers previously authorized a strike, however they had notified the company they were willing to extend their contract or work without a contract until a legal vote could be held.

South Slope’s Board of Directors has made no public comments related to the lockout, neither do they serve on the negotiating committee which is composed of local company managers and their hired attorney, James Peters out of Cedar Rapids.
The union first sent notice to bargain in June, and they two sides first met September 26th. After meeting only a few times in October, and after a Federal Mediator attending the last negotiations, the company offered their last and final offer despite the fact that there are more than twenty outstanding proposals unsettled.

Among the issues is a company proposal to eliminate dues deduction – a proposal seen by many as a way to bust the union and which Governor Walker had pushed through the legislature in Wisconsin in 2011, a move that was met with weeks of protests in which hundreds of thousands of people protested in and around the State Capitol. Parts of that bill are still being litigated.

Kay Pence, Representative for CWA, commented that bargaining with this company has always been a challenge, but the current proposals are “ridiculous”. The company is clearly trying to “bust the union” she said, citing incidents in which basic requests for information like company profits and operating procedures have been difficult to get.  The company also has one non-member employee circulating a decertification petition.

The union has worked with the company in recent years in order for it to grow and make significant fiber optic improvements. In fact, the union workers took a wage freeze in the last contract with a wage opener only in the last year.

Annual report last year showed that South Slope remains a profitable company. IN FY 2012, company made $792,000 in profits. In FY 2011, made $1.1 million and in FY 2010 earned $1.4 million. Most of the recent losses however are due to the massive investment in fiber optic upgrades to keep the company competitive in the ever-expanding telecom, internet and internet television markets.

Current workers are offered one percent wage increase and have agreed to health insurance changes in exchange for these wages. But the two tier proposal is not grandfathered so current workers taking a different position in the company are not guaranteed their current wages.

The company has 30 managers, 55 bargaining unit members.

Please call CEO Justyn Miller (wearing jeans in the video) and ask him to respect his workers and bargain in good faith his office number is 319-626-2211 cell 319-936-7505 or email Justyn@southslope.com

For more information, contact: Mary Kay Pence, CWA Representative, mpence@cwa-union.org and 515-333-8965.

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