In many ways call centers are the sweatshops of the modern era. Workers in one Asheville, North Carolina call center are trying to organize; however, company officials at Sitel, which runs the call center, are making it difficult for workers to join a union.
Meetings at Sitel normally consist of teams or rows of employees who had a work relationship that at the minimum consisted of knowing and being familiar with one another based on seating arrangements. Group bonding is a well employed dynamic at Sitel and all new hires attend orientation together and are then seated near each other for training purposes. But now, I'm told, workers are being called to meetings that are not consistent with normal procedures:
There was no introduction of employees to one another. One employee prefaced her comments by saying "You can all guess that I am anti-union."
Another employee stated "We have very good benefits here.” she went on to describe an anecdotal event where she claimed that her medical problems were overwhelming. This employee said that between Medicare and Sitel's benefits, she did not have to pay much out of pocket. The supervisor then asked the room "You all do know that Sitel pays a portion of your medical bills, don't you?"
I just want to point out that this employee seems oblivious to the fact that Sitel's benefits are not that good, as Medicare is required to cover what Sitel's benefits do not cover. What would this employee have done had she not had access to Medicare? Sitel's benefits evidently would not have covered her medical expenses.
My sources stated that before this meeting there was an alleged whisper campaign that if a union moved in the site would be closed. In the meeting:
The supervisor in the meeting made sure that when an employee spoke the words "[Sitel] would close down," she would state, "I never said that.” However, what she would say was, "[I]f there was a strike we wouldn’t have enough people on the phone to meet service levels and we could lose accounts." And, "[I]f we were forced to raise wages we could not remain competitive in the market and would not be able to win any new accounts to service."
Site closing is strongly implied.
In my first post about the issues at Sitel, the source article stated that there was only one bathroom for 150–200 women. A Sitel worker explains that the real issue is not that there is only one bathroom:
“[T]here is more than one restroom [in the building] for women. The issue is that a number of women work on that end of the building and it is about 150-200 feet to the restroom. [A number of] women are physically challenged and [are unable to] walk that far. You only get a few minutes to [use the restroom] anyway or the “floor walkers" will actually come looking for you and tell you to get back on the phone. There are a few major "central" computers where every action taken by every employee is digitally recorded – I am told all manner of bells and whistles go off automatically should any individual exceed the allotted time for breaks, hold time, talk time or computer work in "after call" time.”
According to John Murphy, the IBEW Region 2 Organizing Coordinator, the issue at Sitel is one of human rights and dignity—anti-union forces at the company have warned employees that just visiting the website Callcenterunion.org could mean that they have joined the IBEW. Callcenterunion.org is a site that only provides information to Sitel workers who want to organize.
Sitel employees in North Carolina have a long road to unionization; however, contrary to popular belief, even though North Carolina is a “right to work” state the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) still applies:
Under the NLRA, you have the right to:
- Organize a union to negotiate with your employer concerning your wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.
- Form, join or assist a union.
- Bargain collectively through representatives of employees’ own choosing for a contract with your employer setting your wages,benefits, hours, and other working conditions.
- Discuss your wages and benefits and other terms and conditions of employment or union organizing with your co-workers or a union.
- Take action with one or more co-workers to improve your working conditions by, among other means, raising work-related complaints directly with your employer or with a government agency, and seeking help from a union.
- Strike and picket, depending on the purpose or means of the strike or the picketing.
- Choose not to do any of these activities, including joining or remaining a member of a union.
Under the NLRA, it is illegal for your employer to:
- Prohibit you from talking about or soliciting for a union during non-work time, such as before or after work or during break times; or from distributing union literature during non-work time, in non-work areas, such as parking lots or break rooms.
- Question you about your union support or activities in a manner that discourages you from engaging in that activity.
- Fire, demote, or transfer you, or reduce your hours or change your shift, or otherwise take adverse action against you, or threaten to take any of these actions, because you join or support a union, or because you engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection, or because you choose not to engage in any such activity.
- Threaten to close your workplace if workers choose a union to represent them.
- Promise or grant promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to discourage or encourage union support.
- Prohibit you from wearing union hats, buttons, t-shirts, and pins in the workplace except under special circumstances.
- Spy on or videotape peaceful union activities and gatherings or pretend to do so.
I want to revisit what John Murphy said: This is about human rights and dignity.
No one should have to put up with being chased down for having a long bathroom break and everyone should have the right to organize without interference.
An update from someone who knows NC labor law:
No break or lunch is required under law except if a minor under the age of 17 works over 6 1/2 hours, he or she must record 1/2 hour lunch break by law.
OSHA rules are circumvented because there is another restroom albeit a football field's length away.
Also: at Sitel your personal metrics dictate raises and advancement.