By Chad Nance
“I keep my nose on the grindstone, I work hard every day
Might get a little tired on the weekend, after I draw my pay
But I’ll go back workin, come Monday morning I’m right back with the crew
I’ll drink a little beer that evening,
Sing a little bit of these working man blues…”
– Merle Haggard
Brooks Tolar had worked at ADT Security as a installation tech for almost ten years when on February 13th 2015 he received a call from his employer. On the phone he was told that there would be a meeting regarding ongoing labor negotiations. The company had been trying to force a 30% pay cut on their workers and Brooks, along with 18 other fellow workers had voted to allow the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to represent them in contract negotiations. When the 19 men arrived at work they were greeted by security guards. These security guards led them through the offices into a conference room. There they were told to turn in their keys and that they would be locked out from working until the negotiations were completed. One moth later and there has been no progress in negotiations while Brooks and his fellow employees have been left to try and find a way to feed their children, pay the bills, keep the lights on, and in the Brook’s case, get pre-natal care for the pregnant Mrs. Tolar.
Most of us only know ADT from the sales calls that we get right about the time we sit down to dinner with our families. The Florida-based corporation provides home and business security service to about 6 million customers in the United States. The IBEW represents about 1,000 of its employees nationwide. Other employees are represented by the Communication Workers or the Office and Professional Employees. Since 2010 when ADT was spun off from it’s Swiss based parent company, Tyco International, Ltd, the top brass at the company have pulled in about $31 million collectively. CEO Naren Gursahaney alone has received $17.5 million over the last three years. At the same time they have used tried and true anti-labor tactics to stall negotiations until employees finally give up on ever getting what they deserve and simply quit or, in some cases, have asked to decertify the Union. For some reason, ADT has chosen to make an example of their workers here in Winston-Salem and they’ve added a work lock-out to their arsenal of tricks.
“Sophisticated employers know how to play the game,” said Lucas Aubrey, an IBEW attorney. “Companies will drag out contract talks until some workers start to dissent, then some will call for a decertification.” Nineteen of ADT’s Winston-Salem employees voted in 2013 to join the union, and ADT immediately went into stalling mode. “ADT has dragged out talks for nearly two years, using every trick in the book to prevent us from coming to an agreement.” said Local 342 Business Manager Alvin Warwick.
By law, when the employees voted to be represented by the IBEW in 2013 the clock began ticking- if there is no new contract in a year employees are allowed to vote to decertify. (Withdraw from the union.) During this time, ADT brought on new hires and kept them segregated from the original 19 who had voted to join the union. By the time October 2014 rolled around and there was still no contract the workers were allowed to vote for de-certification. This time the result was a 9-9 split… which current labor law considers a win by the company.
The IBEW filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, challenging the fairness of the vote and charging that ADT had illegally pressured employees during the period leading up to it. The Labor Board agreed, and negotiated with management for a January 14 rerun. This time workers chose the IBEW by more than 2 to 1. A month later they were locked out of work with no pay for having the nerve to want to bargain collectively. On March 8th ADT texted an offer to the locked out employees. According to the workers there were no real changes and it still included a massive pay cut. They voted to reject it.
The step to lock out Winston-Salem’s workers in an unprecedented one. In no other city in America that ADT has negotiated with unionized or non-unionized workers have they used such a draconian tactic. David Haynes, a lead organizer for the IBEW in North Carolina and South Carolina, told CCD that the IBEW has filed an injunction to try to get their people back to work at ADT while negotiations go on. In the mean-time ADT is using outside contractors (several of them are not even North Carolina contractors) in an effort to keep installing new systems. “There is nothing different about this negation that we’ve seen anywhere else except for the lock out.” Haynes said. “I just think that ADT is trying to make some kind of example out of these people.”
“This is a profitable operation in Winston-Salem,” said Alvin Warwick. “Locking out their workers is absolute corporate greed.”
Daniel, another IBEW brother and ADT employee (9 years on), told CCD “We never asked for increased pay. We just told them that we wanted a voice.” According to Daniel the issues that the workers and their Union have with ADT are not simply economic ones. There were issues with the hours that they were being asked to work- including a six month stretch of six day weeks during the period that workers were openly discussing choosing the IBEW to represent them. There are also serious problems with over-time pay and the number of hours demanded. Daniel said that when employees at ADT contact the human resources office they get no response. David Haynes said that ADT has always walked a narrow line with their labor policy. They insure that they comply with the law, but stick to the absolute minimums that they can get away with. “If there is no financial penalty they will just work them until their tongues hang out.”
Daniel said that when he was chosen to be the coach on his son’s baseball team, his supervisor at ADT was unsympathetic to say the least. “I asked for Saturdays off so that I could coach and my supervisor just threw his hands up and said, ‘Oh well’.”
On Tuesday, Union members and ADT workers picketed at the corner of Stratford Road and Hanes Mall Blvd and IBEW members also picketed an ADT‘s shareholders meeting that was occurring at the same time in their home city of Boca Rotan, Florida. The IBEW is planning further actions in North Carolina and in Boca Raton.
There is a hearing coming up that the IBEW hopes will get these men back to work. In the mean time these are human beings, regular folks with children who are doing the best they can in a difficult economy, only made more difficult now by the aggressive anti-labor tactics of their employer. “Their just trying to starve you into something less.” Daniel said. “You just do what you can to keep everyone fed and keep the power on.”
CCD attempted to contact ADT regarding this story, but have received no response.
Video from IBEW introducing locked out ADT workers.