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Workers at Tower Safety in Phoenix, Ariz., a company that offers cell phone tower climbers an array of trainings and certifications with an emphasis on safety, won voluntary recognition and joined Communications Workers of America (CWA). This is the first group of workers to form a union in the industry.
“The team at Tower Safety is setting an example for workers across the industry who deserve dignity, respect, and safety,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “For far too long, cell phone tower climbers have been taken advantage of by the big telecom companies who avoid responsibility by subcontracting the work. Workers are often provided with outdated equipment to perform highly dangerous duties without adequate training and very little pay and benefits. We are looking forward to working with Tower Safety and other partners in the industry to ensure tower climbers have a voice on the job.”
Dubbed as “the most dangerous job in America,” tower climbing involves scaling towers to perform inspections and tests, handle repairs, and install equipment ranging from antennas, amplifiers, and fiber optic cable to lighting systems. In addition to their work taking place hundreds of feet off the ground, tower climbers must also haul, up and down a tower, all the tools and equipment needed to perform their job. The dangerous nature of this work coupled with lack of adequate training and equipment has led to a number of safety hazards, including deaths and injuries of workers.
Over the past 5 years alone, there have been 33 reported deaths at wireless tower sites. The major carriers who build and own the towers often farm out the maintenance work to small contractors and subcontractors making it virtually impossible to hold them accountable. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that deals with workplace safety, has conducted several investigations that have clearly shown insufficient training and faulty equipment as common causes for worker deaths and injuries. Yet OSHA has failed to sanction a single major carrier for safety violations to date. Despite the contributions of tower climbers to the industry and the dangers they face at work, they rarely receive fair compensation or any benefits. These workers deserve better.
“Our mission is to produce well trained and highly skilled tower climbers certified to operate the latest equipment and safely execute their duties,” said Kathy Gill, founder of Tower Safety. “Tower Safety strives to address some of the main problems facing climbers and the industry today. This includes curbing workplace fatalities and injuries by providing proper training and resources with a strong emphasis on safety for tower climbers of all levels. By voluntarily recognizing the union, we are enabling workers to advocate for their rights on the job. We will continue to work with the union, as well as industry leaders, company executives, experts, and regulators, to ensure that the contributions of tower climbers are valued and their safety is prioritized.”
In the age where 24/7 access to a cell phone connection has become a necessity, they are the ones risking their lives going up towers come rain or shine to make sure we stay connected. CWA is committed to continue to support workers in this industry as they organize for better working conditions, fair pay, and a voice on the job.
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.