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Customer Service Reps Rally Around FMLA

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Across CWA this week, locals were marking Customer Service Week with a special focus on the Bush administration's efforts to slash the hard-won protections of the Family Medical Leave Act.

Local activities spotlighted the hard work and professionalism of customer service members, and helped expand solidarity among employees who don't always have the chance to discuss their common concerns.

Members are signing petitions that will be collected and sent to Labor Secretary Chao opposing changes in the law that corporate interests are pushing. Specifically, business groups want to limit FMLA leave to conditions that last ten days or more, instead of the current three days, and also want to force workers to take leave for no less than half a day at a time. These changes go against the very reason the law was adopted in 1993: to give workers some flexibility in the event of their own serious illness or the needs of a family member.

Among some local events:

Members of Local 6171 held a huge fish fry at the Valor Communications call center in Texarkana, Tex., that brought together more than 250 call center and central office workers, technicians, and even some management, reported Joyce Poelstra, area vice president for Local 6171.

Poelstra said Local 6171 members were signing the petitions all week. "FMLA has been a Godsend for working people," she said. "This year, several members of our local have had serious illnesses themselves, or had to care for sick family members. Having this leave available helps relieve some of the burden and the anxiety that they're already facing," she said.

Local 2222 in Falls Church, Va., has its petition drive in gear, with members passing out leaflets and information at the Fairview Park center in Falls Church.

"FMLA gives families the time to deal with sickness or a crisis without the added stress of losing their jobs," said Dolores Trevino Gerber, a local activist. "We can't allow Secretary Chao to remove that safety net."

Across Pennsylvania, activists from Local 13500 were handing out the FMLA leaflets and petitions, plus cake and other snacks to some 3,000 customer service representatives.
On the international scene, Union Network International will hold its first call center conference later this month, with union leaders from countries such as Brazil, New Zealand, Ireland and the Philippines discussing ways to achieve "decent work for Call Centre workers," with a focus on organizing among call center workers and changing temporary jobs to permanent employment.