Labor law casualty: Patriotism

If you work at Verizon, don't hang the American flag on the outside of your cubicle wall. You can, however, unfurl Old Glory on the inside of your cubicle. The flap came to light after a Verizon Business worker returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan to find a supervisor had removed his American flag and Massachusetts state flag from the outside of his cubicle walls.

Terry Skiest, who works for a small Verizon Business office in Acton, Mass., and served three tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, hung the flags on the outside walls because there wasn't enough room to hang them inside his two-person cubicle.

When Skiest returned home in November from his third tour, he found the flags removed and placed inside his cube, a union spokesman said.

Skiest, recounting the story in a video, says that when the flags were taken down, a co-worker was told by a supervisor they "could be considered propaganda or offensive to some people."

The union contends that Verizon Business adopted a draconian policy against displaying personal items in public areas to prevent the posting of pro-union fliers. The union is attempting to organize about 2,500 non-union Verizon workers, including Skiest, who are part of the former MCI, which Basking Ridge-based Verizon bought in 2005.

The policy enforcement came about only after the National Labor Relations Board "cited the company for prohibiting distribution of union materials while permitting anti-union solicitations," the union said.

Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey said, "It's not a question of can you display [the flag]; it's where it can be displayed."

According to Hoey, the company, which does fly the American flag in common areas at its locations and supports workers who take military leave, considers Skiest's flag to be a personal item. As such, he said, it can't be displayed in the so-called common area of the company, which would include the exterior of a cubicle.

Skiest's flag "was not removed from the building; it was relocated from the common space to his personal space," Hoey said.

Hoey also blamed the labor union, which he accused of "manipulating the facts." Hoey said the Skiest matter occurred four months ago and that the labor complaints filed by the union left the company with little choice.

"The union put us between a rock and a hard place," said Hoey. "As a result of those complaints, we have no choice but to strictly enforce the policy."

Rand Wilson, a spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, countered that Verizon is "so obsessed about preventing Verizon Business workers from unionizing that they can't see the difference between union activity and a guy's pride in his service to his country."

The organizing efforts come as Verizon and its unions gear up for contract negotiations this summer (as many as 10,000 New Jersey Verizon workers are covered by union contracts). And the union isn't about to let the Skiest flag flap disappear. To that end, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America have sponsored a Web site www.putuptheflag.org complete with a poignant video featuring Skiest, who describes his flags and how they were taken down.

"Obviously, the union has invested some resources to support this guy," said the CWA's Wilson, adding Skiest was "very reluctant" to take his problems to the union. "He wanted his flags put back up, but nobody would listen to him."


1 comment:

Rand Wilson said...

About 20 Verizon workers from across Massachusetts braved a snow storm and traveled to Terry’s office in Acton, MA on Friday, Feb. 22 to show their support for his right to display the American and Massachusetts flags outside his cubicle at work.

Pictures from the Feb. 22 rally and of other people showing their support for Terry are at: http://picasaweb.google.com/randwilson.aflcio/RallyToSupportTerrySkiest

Also on Feb. 22, thousands of Verizon workers across the country wore American flag stickers and decorated their cubicles and vehicles with flags to show their solidarity and outrage about VZB’s policy.

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