Comcast Cable Communications agreed yesterday to reinstate a Rockville man who says he was illegally fired for union organizing activities.
Under a preliminary settlement approved by the National Labor Relations Board, Comcast will rehire Stephen G. White into his old job as a line technician, with back pay and benefits, to avoid a formal hearing before the board.
White, who says he was fired in March for spearheading an effort to get 300 Comcast employees in Montgomery County to unionize, will also have several prior oral and written warnings related to his job performance stricken from his company record.
The deal means White's hearing before the NLRB, scheduled for Monday, will not go forward. Comcast attorneys had subpoenaed Montgomery County Council members George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) and Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) in the case.
The two council members protested, saying the company was trying to harass them for supporting the employees' efforts to join the Communications Workers of America last year.
Comcast spokesman Mitchell Schmale said the company acted appropriately when it fired White for poor performance but wanted to avoid the "time and disruption" of going to court.
"Comcast has never fired or disciplined an employee for participating in union organizing activities," Schmale said in a statement.
Comcast does not have to admit any wrongdoing, according to the agreement, but White's attorney said his client feels vindicated. "It is a great settlement for Comcast employees and Stephen White," Mark Wilson said. "It helps them understand they do have rights at work and the government will assist them."
Comcast faces additional complaints from area employees who say they have been intimidated and illegally dismissed.
The NLRB plans to hold a hearing Monday on complaints that Comcast illegally fired four employees in its Lanham office when the workers tried to organize colleagues to join the Teamsters.
Before the workers were fired late last year or early this year, NRLB investigators found that Comcast supervisors "created the impression of surveillance of union activities" and "interrogated" the employees about their support for the union, according to NLRB documents. The supervisors also "threatened" employees by inviting them to quit or gave them "onerous working conditions" if they refused to drop their organizing efforts, according to the complaint.
"I made the decision the charges were meritorious and merited a hearing," said Wayne Gold, director of the NLRB's Baltimore region.
Schmale declined to comment on that case.
National labor leaders said yesterday that the Comcast cases in Maryland are part of a broad effort by the company to deter employees from organizing.
"Comcast, in terms of its anti-union bias, goes so far as to disrupt its own operations in order to get people not to join a union," said George Kohl, director of research for the Communications Workers of America.
Across the country, Comcast has about 15 unfair labor practices cases before the board, according to an NLRB spokesman.
Andy Levin, director of the Voice of Work Campaign at the AFL-CIO, said Comcast often decides to settle a case before it goes to a hearing, as it did with White. "The reason they do it, they know they already succeed in scaring other employees," Levin said. "Now, they are cutting their loses."
Kohl said Comcast also uses "scorched earth tactics" to try to scare elected officials and labor advocates from speaking out in favor of employees' right to organize.
Besides Perez and Leventhal, Comcast attorneys involved in White's case also sent broad subpoenas to Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, both Washington-based advocacy groups that supported the employees' efforts.
Fred Azcarate, executive director of Jobs with Justice, said he suspects that Comcast was trying to get back at the organization because it distributed a report this summer detailing the company's efforts across the country to stop unionization efforts by employees.