When call center employees at San Diego Gas & Electric began organizing to join IBEW Local 465, the union quickly reached out to Local 1245 for assistance.
Local 465 already represents physical workers at SDGE, and the call center workers were hoping to enjoy the same types of benefits that their colleagues have. A previous organizing drive in the call centers had proven unsuccessful, and they knew this drive would also be uphill battle, as the company had made it clear that they would fight any effort that the call center workers made to join the union.
Local 465 needed reinforcements, and as always, Local 1245 answered the call. In early September, a powerhouse team of 1245 Organizing Stewards, most of whom work or have worked in call centers themselves, traveled down to San Diego to support the call center organizing drive at SDGE.
When they hit the ground, they were immediately confronted with aggressive opposition on the part of the employer. They learned that SDGE had hired a union-busting firm, Cruz & Associates, which is notorious for threatening, harassing and intimidating employees who seek to form and join unions.
The Organizing Stewards knew they had their work cut out for them, but they were fully committed to doing everything they could to counter-act the union-busters.
“Our team is doing an amazing job with outreach to the call center workers of SDGE,” Rene Cruz Martinez reported early in the campaign. “We have been making contact with workers that were on the fence, and turning them over to support the union vote. There is still a lot of work to be done, but we can definitely feel the campaign moving [in the right direction.”
“SDGE has 177 call center employees in six different locations – one large headquarters and five branches,” Nilda Garcia explained. “The majority of the support is from the branch workers, but the main call center has more than half of all the employees, and the union busters are really working that building!”
“There are many employees who are fearful of retaliation … and the company has continued to inundate their employees with union busting tactics and ruthless ‘informational meetings,’” said Melissa Echeverria.
The opposition from the company only fueled the Organizing Stewards’ drive, and they worked tirelessly, knocking on doors, holding rallies, and demonstrating their union power outside of the call center locations.
“This experience has been life-changing,” said Jermaine Smith, a newcomer to the Organizing Steward program. “I’ve been able to network with so many great people from the local and international, and educate SDGE employees on the great benefits of joining the union and standing in solidarity with my brothers and sisters. I’m gaining so much knowledge and experience on this campaign.”
Unfortunately, all of their efforts simply weren’t enough to combat the union-busters, who had unfettered access to the workers and seemingly limitless resources. The threats, lies and intimidation on the company’s part resulted in an incredibly narrow loss for the union, with 77 voting in favor of the union, and 83 against.
“We are all proud of the work everyone put in to this campaign,” Cruz Martinez said after the result of the vote were announced. “We didn’t get the Yes vote this time, but we are definitely ready for the next fight.”
Local 465 Business Manager Nate Fairman believes that the company and its union busters committed unfair labor practices and used tactics that are in violation of the law, and the union is challenging the election results with the National Labor Relations Board. They are hopeful that the NLRB will find that the employer did not play by the rules, and will agree to set aside these results and allow for a new, free and fair union election.
View Fairman’s statement here.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director