Company seeks union security concessions from video sign language interpreters

ASL Interpreters United TNG-CWA Local 39521
Negotiations Update #3​​​​​​​

Jan. 31, 2018

Contract negotiations resumed in San Francisco on Tuesday and Wednesday with a focus on community interpreting and two bedrocks of any labor contract: just cause discipline and the right to arbitrate.

Purple/ZVRS company officials want two workforces: those who do VRS work and those who do community work. The reason they want to do that is so they can say that community work is not governed by the labor agreement, giving the Company all discretion in assigning and disciplining within that realm. They also argue that if someone does community work and engages in gross misconduct, the company should be able to fire that employee from ALL work, even the VRS work.

We are advocating due process for our members, meaning at minimum the chance to require the company to prove its case before firing someone from VRS. We also are advocating for a fair discipline process — based on standard contract terms for grievance-handling and arbitration — for all VIs.

Up to this week, the company has proposed weakening our labor contract’s just cause protections and to chill our motivation to take grievances to arbitration by demanding that the union pay the company’s legal bills and all other costs if we lose a case brought to an arbitrator. They also would be on the hook for our costs in such a “loser pays” scenario — but don’t be fooled. Our costs are far lower than the company’s when they decide to “lawyer up.”

So, we are hanging tough against such aggressive tactics, while showing a willingness to consider reasonable compromises.

In negotiations on Wednesday, we did make some headway, such as getting the Company to acknowledge that grievant and steward time should be paid for in those meetings with management that involve investigations, discipline and the grievance process, including mediations and arbitrations. These small steps will bear out when we come to a final agreement, which is yet on the horizon.

Interesting discussions about “tone” and “attitude” occurred, as well, where both sides pointed out that plenty of non-constructive exchanges have occurred. Our committee proposed that we all commit to participate in a joint steward-management training program in Denver as soon as possible. The management is considering the idea, and although they didn’t commit on Wednesday, we hope they will see the value in taking some concrete steps toward changing our relationship for the better.

We exchanged a couple of different versions of contract terms dealing with the key issues. We continue working with a federal mediator, hoping to clarify where we differ and focus on productive dialogue.

We expect to come together again in San Francisco at the end of February for another two-day bargaining round. As we work on our priorities, we remain committed to fair economic terms – especially in the face of losing bonuses and/or continuity in community interpreting work. And, we will press for workable scheduling and no unfair discipline. We have showed willingness to compromise, and the Company has signaled that there is money for raises of some kind.

Our committee consists of Mah-rya Proper, Sarah Spencer and Liz Keyser in
Denver, backed by union staffers Kat Anderson and Carl Hall, and Tony Mulligan of the Denver News Guild. JoLinda Greenfield participated as an observer, as well.

Representing the company: Francine Cummings, Greg Camp and Sahar Haraz, and Akin Gump attorneys Andrew Turnbull and Lawrence Levien.


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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer