NCI v CWA Op-Ed Series
This is the fourth of a six-part series of articles (click for direct link to Part 1).
It’s the story of my yearlong experience as an employee of the National Captioning Institute (NCI), a live television caption provider. During that challenging year (which started in October of 2015), I participated in the attempts of some of my fellow NCI workers’ to bring in a union called the Communications Workers of America (CWA). This led to NCI dismissing me from my job for what CWA claimed was an unlawful reason, which then led to a court hearing in front of a federal judge where I was represented by a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lawyer.
What was at stake?
A judgment in our favor meant that NCI had unlawfully fired me because of my union involvement and I’d get my job back plus a public apology plus any back pay I was owed.
A judgment against us meant it was okay that NCI fired me because I was indeed a egregiously disloyal worker who didn’t deserve to keep his job.
Only time (a whole lot of time) would tell.
Part 4 – Fear of the union and building a solid case.
While my union-provided legal team collected information and built up our case, those of us who still wanted CWA to help us negotiate a contract tried to spread the word.
We soon discovered why even that basic task was becoming more difficult than ever.
NCI’S LITTLE PLAN WORKED
My final three weeks captioning shows for NCI were a bit awkward.
Everyone else in the office building had been re-hired remotely and were busy getting ready for the move. They all sort of knew the story of why I hadn’t been kept on and my situation became the uncomfortable elephant in the room.
The firing had definitely accomplished what my union rep had said was its intended purpose, which was to create a sense of fear and panic around any talk of the union.
I began noticing this during the union info phone calls I’d try to make.
No coworkers were returning the phone messages I was leaving or the texts I was sending to talk with them about the union.
Others in our group were having an equally difficult time getting a hold of their people and this didn’t surprise our union rep one bit.
He reminded us that these workers were scared.
They just saw that being involved in the union could cost them their job so why would they pick up their phone?
Of course, we found out much later at the May 2017 hearing that there was another major, in-house reason for their reluctance.
More details on that later.
Of the people I did manage to talk with, one loved the idea of a union but had just given his notice. Another wanted to find out more before he decided, and though I offered to get him whatever info he still needed to know he declined to return my calls after that.
A third guy actually made me book an ‘appointment’ (his word) to talk with him about the union, which I did for the following Sunday.
When I called, the guy put me on hold for several minutes and then proceeded to explain why he’d never join a union because if he didn’t like the conditions of where he worked he’d simply find another job.
The other inhibiting factor for the initial pro-union movement at NCI was the presence of the Facebook rat.
Once there were enough obvious leaks to clue us into the fact that he or she existed, communications via that ‘supposed to be private’ group began to wane.
NCI’s little shut-down-the-union plan was working.
Meanwhile my National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) legal team got to work.
BUILDING OUR CASE
First, I had to give one of the NLRB associates my deposition. For several hours, we went over all the details of my employment and the firing and she used those notes to type up and print out a dozen single-spaced pages that she sent over to me for approval.
Then I had to meet with the NLRB lawyer who’d be representing my case for the federal hearing and we hashed out everything that I needed to know and say when the time came. He seemed casual but competent and fairly confident that our case was a solid one but he made no promises except that he’d do his best to win.
And then we all waited.
The hearing wasn’t scheduled to take place until May of 2017, so from my last day of work in September 2016 I had about seven total months of waiting to do, which I filled with lots of daddy time and writing sessions.
We were back to living off my wife’s income, though the first two-and-a-half months I received my unemployment insurance money.
When unemployment ran out, CWA put their money where their mouth was.
The union actually began sending me a weekly relief check (and will continue to throughout this entire process). It’s nothing like getting a ‘fat’ NCI check, mind you, but it’s enough to buy some groceries and gas and still have a little to put towards rent.
Whenever I thank my union rep for this generous benefit, he turns it right back on me.
“No, thank you for being willing to lose your job to bring CWA to where it’s needed.”
WHICH TRUTH IS TRUE?
He’s right, that is what happened, at least from my point-of-view, and that’s exactly what my NLRB lawyer will try to prove to a federal judge in a court of law.
His job will be to use my deposition testimony along with the digital evidence from NCI he had obtained through court orders to counter whatever evidence and testimonies their side will deliver and show the judge that NCI unlawfully fired me because of my association with the union.
And that NCI did this by using an over-inflated reaction to a relatively non-serious incident as an excuse to get rid of someone who was a known supporter of the union in order to scare the rest of the workers from joining.
Something that’s very unlawful to do.
But I knew that NCI would fight back hard.
They were going to paint me as a flawed employee who was incapable of passing his IOA tests in a reasonable amount of time.
Someone of questionable character who proved to be egregiously disloyal the first time he ever worked from home.
Of course we fired him, they’d say, he’s lucky we kept him for as long as we did.
This job isn’t for everybody, and certainly not him.
That’s the truth NCI will fight for, but that doesn’t make it true.
My lawyer and I will explain my truth to the judge.
About the unfortunate circumstances of our interrupted training.
And how we still managed (with hard work and help) to pass the IOA tests despite that, an achievement which my boss had claimed would inspire those newbies who might struggle after us.
And how NCI fired me for doing something that nobody had ever made clear was an offense, let alone a job ending one.
And how according to my direct supervisor, I had been doing my job well and was a good worker and was a decent addition to NCI.
And in May 2017, a federal judge will hear both of these truths and decide which one of us is completely full of beans.
NEXT – PART 5: The hearing’s held and the rat’s exposed
The judge finally hears our case.
Both sides get a chance to testify and in the middle of it all, the identity of the NCI Facebook rat is exposed.