Earlier this month, Verizon retail workers at locations in Lynnwood and Everett, Washington successfully voted to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Now the company has fired Jesse Mason, a worker at the nearby Seattle Northgate and Aurora Village locations. He contends his sudden separation from the company was an illegal attempt to prevent more stores from organizing, and has, with the help of the CWA, filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the company with the National Labor Relations Board.
Mason, who previously worked with AT&T (which is unionized under CWA), started at Verizon in August and had received no prior disciplinary actions — in fact, he told Engadget, he was one of the top Specialists at his branch. It wasn’t until his annual review that he started to wonder if maybe unionization could be a path toward making Verizon more equitable.
“They were like, ‘Well, you’re newer to Verizon, therefore because you’re new your raise for the whole year is going to be 1 percent. It is not negotiable,” he told Engadget. Performance notwithstanding, 1 percent did little to offset the cost of living in the greater Seattle area, or the country’s soaring 8 percent inflation rate. “When you’re giving people a 1 percent raise, that’s the same thing as giving them a pay cut,” he said.
What solidified his decision to reach out to CWA was seeing the nationwide push by Starbucks workers to organize. In specific, attending a rally in his area sometime in February.
“A week after the Everett and Lynnwood vote went public, that they pulled me aside and told me that they were launching an investigation,” Mason said, though he was unable to go into details on the nature of the investigation pending his ULP, “But it was about something very minor and easily correctable.” What made this stranger, was the speed and lack of adherence to internal processes in his case. “There’s some progressive discipline, like verbal warning, and a written warning and a final, final warning,” he said “With me, the next shift that I worked after I was at the watch party to celebrate those stores unionizing, they said that the result of the investigation was my immediate separation from Verizon.”
Mason claimed to have never been given any of the documentation related to the investigation. Verizon did not respond to a request for comment.
In between the union drive going public a few miles away at his sister stores and Mason’s firing, he also claimed Verizon flew in several company higher-ups — something a worker at the Lynnwood and Everett locations also alleged happened after going public. One manager, according to Mason, pushed misinformation regarding the cost of union dues to CWA, despite such contracts being publicly available.
CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens has called Mason’s firing “a clear tactic meant to intimidate other workers,” and it’s difficult to argue that Verizon’s actions may have a chilling effect on organizing efforts in the area. Still, Mason said he’s fully confident the NLRB will find in his favor and reinstate his job with backpay. But the among of rigamarole in the meantime shows the limits of the agency’s power.
“I think that this case really shows some of the weaknesses of the NLRB currently, not just being understaffed, but that even if I do get my job back, it’s not like one of those lawsuits where someone slips and falls and they get millions of dollars in settlements,” Mason said. “There’s no real consequence for this kind of retaliatory union busting.” He added wryly, “I think it’s a bad idea, because it’s only going to have me work on union stuff full time until I’m back there.”