Thursday, March 13, 2008

Union Made

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.
She went to the union hall when a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys come 'round
She always stood her ground.

Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union.
Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union,
I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.
Woody Guthrie

I used to sing my kids to sleep with that song. That and several other Woody Guthrie tunes such as “Deportee” “Pastures of Plenty” and “Riding in My Car.” They liked the melodies and were too young to understand a lot of the words so it worked out just fine.

I believe in unions. If you don’t, think about the fact that you have a forty hour work week, certain benefits, the ability to legally pursue job claims, unemployment insurance, pensions and a host of other things we all take for granted. It would be the rare company that would offer you these things out of the goodness of their capitalistic hearts.

That’s why the story I am about to tell you is at once ridiculously stupid and ironical heartbreaking.

I was taking my dog out into the yard the other day when my phone rang. I decided to let the machine get it so I could finish up with my dog. When I got back inside, I played the message. Somebody had called and hung up. So I looked at the caller I.D. Seems somebody from AT&T had called me. Curious, I used the reverse phone directory and found out the call was from AT&T in Indianapolis.

“That’s odd” I thought. Three days before I had written a blog on Ball State University’s bogus report on the state of telecom in Indiana under statewide franchising. In that blog I skewered AT&T, so why on earth would they be calling me? And why, praytell, from AT&T’s Indiana headquarters?

I waited about fifteen minutes and then I called the number. Nobody answered. It rang and rang and rang. You’d think somebody would have an administrative assistant who could pick up the phone. So I used my cell phone and voila! A fella picked up the phone lickety split.

I said “Someone called me from this number.”

He said “Yes, could you hold on for a second?” He put me on hold. I found it strange he didn't ask who was calling given my cell phone doesn't show my name.

After about 40 seconds he came back on the line and he proceeded to identify himself as a lobbyist for the Communications Workers of America (CWA). I was still thinking that this was weird but then he told me the purpose for his call. He was responding to my inquiry to another union fella a week earlier about jobs created in Indiana since statewide video franchising.

I said “The Ball State University report says 2,200 new jobs were created in Indiana since statewide video franchising, 1,650 of those were from AT&T, can you verify that claim?”

He said “Yes, that’s true. Indiana has led the nation in telecom reform.”

Now I’m thinking where in the world I have heard that before, about how Indiana has led the nation and all…oh yeah! The Ball State report. He said it just like that. Indiana has led the “nation.” Not the country, or the way, mind you, but the nation.

But weren’t about 600 jobs or so created in the wireless business call center?

“Yes,” he replied.

“Well, what does that have to do with video franchise reform?”

He made it clear that those jobs were created as a result of statewide video franchising, that they were a “thank you” from AT&T to the state of Indiana because Indiana had led the nation in telecom reform. AT&T could have put those jobs anywhere he said, but they brought the wireless business call center to Indiana because Indiana had led the nation in telecom reform. Yes, Indiana had led the nation in telecom reform.

“They were a thank you?” I said. “Sounds more like a bribe to me.”

The union fella told me several times that I could call the President of Indiana AT&T, Mr. George Fleetwood. He went on to tell me how awful Comcast and Verizon were and how great AT&T was. He talked about how CWA would do anything to bring union jobs to Indiana.

“Well you might not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” I said. “For instance, do you know that AT&T has been offering service in Bloomington for a year now and they still are not carrying the PEG channels?”

He let me know that was Bloomington’s fault.

“You might want to call George Fleetwood,” he told me.

A couple of days later I took the union fella’s advice and I called George Fleetwood. I had to leave a message. The next day, AT&T’s public relations person and I had the conversation I was supposed to be having with George Fleetwood. It was about the jobs. How could they say that statewide video franchising was responsible for creating all those wireless business call center jobs? Well, because Indiana has led the nation in telecom reform, just like the Ball State report said it did.

I had to go back and look at the original piece of legislation. Sure, Indiana led the nation by completely de-regulating telecom, including wireless. But if that had been the goal all along, de-regulation of wireless in order to bring all those wireless union jobs to Indiana, why did they have to gut local video franchising? Did CWA jump into AT&T’s pocket because they hated Comcast so much? Did CWA have any idea what the statewide video franchising bill would do to PEG in Indiana? Did they even care?

I guess they didn’t care, but they should have.

Somebody tell me where a union, any union, ever gets coverage on television, much less has its own half hour or hour long television show. The answer is Public access television. Without it there is no union programming. I did a query of access stations and found out that CWA uses Public access facilities and channels across this country. CWA could have its programming on the AT&T system in Bloomington if it wanted, but that’s not going to happen because there are no access channels on the AT&T system in Bloomington.

The firefighters, the nurses, the sheet metal workers, the teamsters, the teachers, the hotel workers, the state employees, the musicians, the mechanics, the railroad workers…you name a union and somewhere in this country they have a show on Public access.

I have no doubt that the CWA prides itself in working for justice. But I guess I just wish CWA would fight a tenth as hard for the survival of Public access as Public access has fought for CWA’s right to be seen and heard. What is missing in this discussion is that CWA needs to be on the side of the access community when it comes to dealing with AT&T or the cable operators, because both CWA and the access community would be eliminated by cable or Ma Bell, given half a chance.

Here’s the link to the Union Maid song if you’ve never heard it.

And here’s George Fleetwood’s phone number if you want to use it: 317-265-2123.
Tell him CWA suggested he be called.

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