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Comcast Subpoenas Officials in Md.

Pro-Union Montgomery Council Members Queried in Firm's Dispute With Fired Worker

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2004; Page B05

Two Montgomery County Council members who supported a campaign by employees of Comcast Cable Communications to form a union have been subpoenaed by company attorneys in a federal labor relations case involving a Rockville man who says he was illegally fired by the firm.

Comcast attorneys sent broad subpoenas this week to council members Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), seeking documents related to their support last summer of 300 employees who were considering joining the Communications Workers of America.


Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal was asked to provide documents relating to his support of emplyees who were considering joining a union. (File Photo)

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Both members accused the company yesterday of intimidation tactics.

"It is an effort to send a message to elected officials, 'You better butt out of our business,' " Perez said. "They want to send a message to employees that if you get involved in union organizing and you try to get elected officials involved, we will make every effort to make sure you are a failure."

Comcast attorney Christopher J. Rusek, who sent the subpoenas, declined to comment yesterday.

Darcy Rudnay, Comcast's vice president for corporate communications, said, "It would be surprising if any elected official would feel that they are intimidated by anyone in our organization." She declined to comment further.

Associate County Attorney Clifford L. Royalty said he plans to file a motion today on behalf of Perez and Leventhal with the National Labor Relations Board in Baltimore to have the subpoenas quashed on the basis of "legislative privilege," designed to protect elected officials from having to disclose contacts with constituents.

"It's a heavy-handed litigation tactic," Royalty said, adding that it is rare for council members to receive such subpoenas.

Last summer, Perez and Leventhal, strong supporters of organized labor, wrote letters to Comcast Montgomery Cable employees telling them they had a right to decide whether they wanted a union. Perez also wrote to Comcast executive Ralph J. Roberts in support of the employees.

The employees ultimately decided not to vote on whether to form a union. In March, Comcast fired the worker who had spearheaded the organizing effort, Stephen G. White.

White, a line technician whose story was highlighted by AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney during a speech to the Democratic National Convention last month, has filed a complaint with the labor board. Comcast has about 16 open unfair labor practices complaints before the board, according to Patricia Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the agency. Five of those cases involve Maryland residents who claim that they were punished for trying to form a union, according to the board's documents.

White's hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for Monday, the day the subpoena requests that Leventhal and Perez hand over all documents in their possession related to White. The subpoena specifically requests all documents related to payments or any gifts the two council members or the council may have given to White or any Comcast employee.

Perez said he is dumbfounded that Comcast would make such a request because he has never given a gift or made a payment to a Comcast employee. Leventhal, who is on vacation, declined to discuss the specifics of the subpoena because he has not read it.

"I am not afraid of Comcast, and I don't think their employees should be either," Leventhal said. "I think they are trying to intimidate me and Tom and their employees."

The case involves Comcast's decision to fire White. The company cited poor job performance for his dismissal, but Mark Wilson, White's attorney, said his client was fired for his union organizing efforts.

After refusing to stop talking about unionization, even after the membership called off a vote on the matter last summer, White received warnings for poor performance late last year and early this year, according to labor board documents.

Wilson said White was fired March 1 after a manager overheard him talking about the unionization efforts.

"This is an effort at scaring employees," said Wilson, an attorney for the Communications Workers of America who says Comcast is trying to "harass" Leventhal and Perez.

Last year, employees of Comcast Montgomery Cable, which serves more than 200,000 homes, said managers had singled out pro-union workers and harassed them by periodically disrupting their home cable service. Employees also told union leaders that Comcast managers spied on them by driving past their homes to see who attended organizing meetings.

Company officials denied both accusations.


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