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Rick White and CWA Win Big in Fight for Rights

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Rick White is a longtime CWA supporter who worked for IBM Corp. in New York State for more than 28 years before his work was transferred to Endicott Interconnect Technologies.

In December 2002, White was fired after he responded to an anti-union attack on a public Internet forum. Now, the National Labor Relations Board has told EIT to reinstate White and restore his nearly three years of lost earnings.

The NLRB, in a 2-1 decision, said that White's comments were protected speech under the National Labor
Relations Act and that White was fired illegally.

It looks like he'll have another fight on his hands, as EIT will likely appeal that decision in federal court, and that could mean another three or four years until final resolution. But White is ready for it, with CWA standing with him. "CWA has been there for me. I can't thank the union enough for that," he said.

White had been on the job at EIT just a few months before he was fired by the owner who was irritated that, on his own time and from home, White had logged onto an Internet forum and defended the need for a union at EIT.

Actually White has been talking union for years. A second generation IBMer, he followed his father into the company and worked his way up to electrical engineering technician.

"I liked my job. But I learned that in some ways, especially in manufacturing work, IBM wasn't much better than some other local operations, exposing workers to chemicals, forcing excessive overtime and having no respect for employees. I began to look at alternatives. Maybe if we had a union contract, we could negotiate and make it better," he said.

White became an early supporter of IBM Workers United in 1976, a workplace organization founded to represent manufacturing and other workers at the Endicott plant.

"I really didn't come out of hiding until the CWA Alliance@IBM opened its Endicott office in 1999. That's when I made it public knowledge that I believed IBM employees should be unionized."

Alliance@IBM, CWA Local 1701, represents thousands of members across the IBM system. CWA doesn't yet have bargaining rights at IBM, but Alliance members are using collective action now to win real change, until they gain their right to bargain a fair contract. The Alliance has been very successful in raising such critical issues as outsourcing, offshoring, pensions, retirement health care, and more.

In September 1999, Alliance members testified at a Senate hearing on IBM's plan to unilaterally change pensions and retiree health care, and IBM was forced to back down on some changes that would have resulted in some longtime workers losing more than half the value of their retirement savings. Since then, Alliance@IBM has been an effective voice for IBMers.

White spent a lot of his own time talking to employees, passing out flyers, wearing and giving out union buttons and supporting the Alliance, he said. "I got my first sign-up from someone who had been anti-union his entire life and was ready to retire. What changed his mind was what IBM was doing to pensions and retiree health care."

EIT made a lot of promises to employees when it took over IBM's operations. In November 2002, the CEO said he would turn EIT into a billion-dollar-business by 2007. "He told us that he respected our talent and expertise, and that EIT was a company with great vision," White said. Unfortunately, that vision lasted just two weeks, and then a massive layoff of 200 people was announced.

White and other employees said the decision was a bad one, and White was quoted in the local newspaper, the Binghamton, N.Y., Press & Sun-Bulletin.

"Days after the announcement, people were still in shock," White recalled. He was summoned to the office of EIT's owner, who told him not to talk to the press and "not to trash the company anywhere or anytime," he said.

A few weeks later, from home and after work hours, White logged on to a public forum website about EIT maintained by the Binghamton newspaper to respond to an anti-union message. He was fired on Dec. 19

"I was stunned and shaken. As I went back to my work area to collect my things, I said 'this is not right, this is illegal.' I sat through our union meeting that night with my head reeling. By the end of that night, though, a number of the right people - CWAers - knew what was going on."

"Telling my wife Elin was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I worried that I had destroyed her whole life and her whole Christmas. But over the past few years, she has come to understand fully the union picture. She knows that I have to do this."

White, 56, hasn't worked at EIT since December 2002, but he's been very busy spreading the union message to IBM and EIT workers in Endicott as a part-time organizer for the Alliance. "I talk to employees around town, and as a part-time musician and performer, I have a lot of opportunity to talk about the union. I also spend at least two nights a week telephoning workers to give them the right information about CWA and the Alliance. I encourage them to talk to their co-workers during breaks and lunch hours. I tell them, 'this is about you, you are the union.'"