Union loses close vote at Comcast facility in Chicago

June 8, 2011

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(Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)
IBEW’s Dave Webster says Comcast scared workers.

A union has narrowly lost a closely watched election among some Comcast workers in Chicago. They voted 92-79 against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 21.

Two days of balloting, which ended Wednesday, left 189 workers at Comcast’s facility in the Pullman area without collective bargaining. Those employees include installation technicians, maintenance technicians, warehouse workers and payment agents.

“Our employees exercised their legal right to vote and decided not to unionize,” Comcast said in a statement. “We respect their decision.”

This is IBEW’s third election defeat at the Pullman facility since 2003.

Local 21 organizer Dave Webster said Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator, ran an effective anti-union campaign. “They scared [the workers] about union dues and they made them think they wouldn’t be part of the big happy family anymore,” Webster said after the balloting.

The vote, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, had significance beyond the Pullman workers.

“Comcast is a global employer and the telecommunications industry is growing,” said Robert Bruno, who directs the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois. “If the IBEW is able to establish a beachhead, it could raise standards at the company. If that rippled through the industry, it would be the same dramatic impact that unions had in the car and steel industries and other manufacturing.”

Nationwide, unions represent an estimated 2 percent of the Philadelphia-based company’s workforce. That’s apart from the media conglomerate NBCUniversal, in which Comcast acquired a majority stake this January.