FCC Approves Plan CWA Says Could Endanger Telecom Pole Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Brushing aside rafts of complaints from individual workers, their union and a group of lawmakers, the Republican-named majority on the Federal Communications Commission approved a plan the Communications Workers say could make work on telecom poles dangerous.

The 3-1 vote, engineered by Trump-named FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former top counsel for a telecom company, also opens the way for untrained, non-union workers to affix anything and everything to the poles, CWA says.

“Despite the overwhelming opposition to the proposal from the people who know the most about the problems it would create, the Republican-controlled FCC voted to approve the one-touch, make-ready (OTMR) plan,” CWA said after the Aug. 2 ruling.

Pai claimed OTMR would “speed access to utility poles to promote broadband and 5G wireless service deployment,” commission spokesman Mark Wigfield said. “Access to poles must be swift, predictable and affordable.” Pai also claimed it would cut costs.

The FCC said the new “attacher” will be able to “move existing attachments and perform all other work required to make the pole ready for a new attachment. OTMR speeds and reduces the cost of broadband deployment by allowing the party with the strongest incentive -- the new attacher -- to prepare the pole quickly, rather than spreading the work across multiple parties.”

Pai said new attachers could tack on $12.6 billion worth of fiber optic cables to poles. The FCC’s also said it would override state and local bans on “that inhibit” new broadband infrastructure or “rebuilding or restoration of broadband infrastructure” after a disaster.

”OTMR endangers workers and could send CWA members’ work -- done by skilled employees who know the equipment and have extensive training -- to unskilled, untrained, low-wage contractors,” the union said. It marshalled union members, broadband advocates and the public to file protests with the agency, in vain.

"A nationwide OTMR policy would allow companies that want to add equipment to a utility pole to move existing equipment. A local OTMR ordinance in Louisville, Kent., has been disastrous, with dangerous mistakes made by contractors. Pole attachment work is complex, and if done incorrectly, can cause electrocution or poles to fall,” for example.

One public commenter, an AT&T facility technician, a CWA member in nearby Brandenburg, “reveals a firsthand account from a location where the OTMR policy has already been put into place,” the union noted.

“I am a facility technician for AT&T. Our metro council in Louisville passed an OTMR ordinance locally. I have already seen questionable and unsafe attachments to our poles.”

“I work on these lines every day. Imagine putting a ladder up 20 feet in the air on a wire that has not been secured properly. It can only end badly.”

“Our job is dangerous enough without adding other untrained unregulated hands to the equation. I would ask you consider all of these concerns before making a decision that may get someone seriously injured, or worse,” he warned. Others among the 1,300 comments were similar.

“In addition to the serious safety risks, the proposal also would invalidate sections of private contracts negotiated by CWA and its members’ employers, affecting thousands of workers,” the union said.

Besides the individual comments, CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt delivered a 9,600-signature petition against Pai’s plan to the agency the day before the decision. Honeycutt and CWA Local 3310 member Chad Melton also met with Pai, Commissioner Brendan Carr and staff from the offices of the agency’s two other commissioners about problems with OTMR.

“OTMR risks public and worker safety,” said Honeycutt afterwards. “And it gives our work -- work with good, family-supporting wages and benefits -- to unskilled, untrained low-wage contractors. We’ve been actively fighting OTMR policies across the South and now we’re making our voices heard at the FCC.”    



Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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A Friendly Reminder