Fiber-Optic Workers at OFS Fitel Picket Over Low Pay, Dangerous Working Conditions Ahead of Contract Expiration

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Members of CWA Local 3263 have been bargaining for a fair contract for weeks; OFS Fitel refuses to raise starting wage above $16 per hour for their highly skilled and dangerous work;

Deteriorating warehouse conditions, grueling hours, and low pay have resulted in a nearly 60% turnover rate;

Potential strike could impact supply chain as broadband buildout happens across U.S.

Norcross, Ga.: On Friday, members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 3263 and workers at the OFS Fitel, LLC optic-fiber manufacturing plant in Norcross, Ga., held a picket demanding the company bargain in good faith to reach a new contract agreement that addresses inadequate pay and dangerous working conditions. CWA Local 3263 members passed a strike authorization vote earlier this month, and their contract expires today, May 31.

As the backbone of the broadband industry, a strike would have severe impacts on the supply chain as crucial broadband buildout happens across the U.S. Contracts are also being bargained simultaneously for workers, members of CWA Local 1400, at another OFS facility in Sturbridge, Mass.

“The work we do manufacturing fiber-optic cables is not easy. It takes a lot of training, skill, and is incredibly labor intensive. Yet OFS treats us like we’re disposable,” said Isaac Coleman, President of CWA Local 3263. “We know how important the nationwide broadband rollout is. It’s one of the reasons we take so much pride in the work that we do. The wages OFS is offering to new hires, which are desperately needed due to already high turnover and increasing demand, is insulting. The company cannot expect to attract skilled talent for $16 an hour when workers can easily make that much or more working in much less dangerous and physically demanding jobs. No one wants to strike and it remains a very last resort, but the option is on the table if OFS does not fulfill our need for a fair contract.”

OFS workers are highly skilled, and the labor intensive nature of their work can be incredibly dangerous. However, the starting rate for new employees remains as low as $16 an hour. OFS uses a two-tier wage system that ​​creates different pay and benefit structures for long-term employees and new hires. While some workers have remained at OFS for 20, 30, or 50 years, wages for new hires lag by nearly 13%, causing high “churn and burn” turnover of nearly 60%. Members’ last contract was bargained in 2016, before rampant inflation began to rattle family households.

“This bargaining is an opportunity for OFS to recognize the value of our members' contributions to the company and our broadband infrastructure. Instead, they have chosen to ignore the workers’ demands and continue to undermine their rights on the job,” said Lisa Bolton, Vice President of CWA’s Telecommunications and Technologies sector. “Our members are fed up and ready to fight for what they deserve. OFS needs to step up and treat these essential workers accordingly – with respect and dignity.”

Despite OFS Fitel being owned by the highly profitable Furukawa Electric Co., the OFS Norcross plant is not well maintained, with workers citing falling ceiling tiles, dangerous 20 year old machinery, nonoperational elevators, extreme temperatures, and more.

“These workers do grueling, highly skilled work that is essential to the broadband build-out taking place across the country,” said Richard Honeycutt, CWA District 3 Vice President. “There is no excuse for OFS to refuse to give them the contract they deserve. On top of working through a pandemic, these workers face dangerous conditions within the facility that OFS has failed to address. We stand by our members as they call on OFS to implement safer working conditions and a fair wage.”

“It is troubling to hear that OFS is denying these essential workers a fair contract that guarantees adequate pay for highly skilled work and safe working conditions,” said Dennis Trainor, CWA District 1 Vice President. “These workers are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to fight for a fair deal and I want to assure you that CWA District 1 is standing with our Local 1400 as well as Local 3263 members in unity and solidarity. Putting workers in harm's way is never acceptable and after everything our essential workforce has been through in these past years, it’s time that employers are serious about putting safety first.”

“Solidarity with CWA Local 3263 picketing at the OFS Fintel optic-fiber manufacturing plant today! These highly skilled workers have been subject to dangerous warehouse conditions, grueling hours, and low pay,” said State Senator Nikki Merritt (D-Ga.). “They are the backbone of the broadband industry, and I am calling on the company to bargain in good faith on a new contract that addresses their safety concerns and adequately compensates them for the crucial role they play. Supporting union workers should be a priority for Georgia businesses, and it is my hope that OFS Fintel will come to the table for an equitable solution before the union contract expires on Tuesday.”

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About CWA: The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech, and other fields.

cwa-union.org @cwaunion