Asheville, NC - SITEL workers and community members came out on the afternoon of Sept. 5 for a lively picket, supporting SITEL workers’ right to organize. Picketers held signs opposing SITEL’s union busting practices. One read, “United we bargain – divided we beg.”
SITEL operates 29 call centers in the U.S., as well in 25 other countries. The corporation is notorious for low wages and poor working conditions. At the call center in Asheville, brave workers are taking a stand and organizing a union drive with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). “We face a corporation known for its rabid anti-union stance. SITEL is a global poverty broker that strategically opens sites based on a predatory business strategy of exploiting vulnerable labor populations for profit,” says Ken Ashworth, an employee at the facility.
What began as a struggle over grossly inadequate restroom facilities has developed into a yearlong struggle for respect, better benefits and good wages.
“My wife Shana has worked for SITEL for over three years now, and still only makes $9.50 an hour,” said Ed Williams. “It’s bad enough that we have to decide if we feed the family or pay for gas for her to get to work.” As a slap in the face, rather than increasing workers' wages so they do not have to make such hard choices, SITEL has an employee sponsored food panty for its workers. All the while the CEO receives bonuses of $750,000 a year.
“We organized the picket today because SITEL is trying everything it can to scare us from organizing,” says union organizer Sarah Buchner. “They have brought in ‘union avoidance consultants’ to hold captive audience meetings as a means to spread misinformation and create fear about the role of unions.”
Rebecca Smith and Pat O’mara, who identified themselves as ex-Teamsters, are ‘union avoidance consultants.’ SITEL is paying them over $3,000 a day to try to convince workers that a union will not help them and create divisions between the workers. They are lying to the workers, and they are bought and paid for by SITEL.
On Sept. 5, during the shift change from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., SITEL workers, together with dozens of friends, family and community supporters, held a picket outside the call the center to show the company that they knew exactly what unions are for - organizing and fighting back.
Not long after the picket assembled, SITEL management called the police, hoping they could scare the picketers into silence. In the face of this scare tactic with threats of arrest, the union supporters stood their ground. After a long discussion between leading workers, IBEW representatives, the city attorney and the police, the police finally admitted that the workers had the right to picket on the sidewalk off SITEL’s property and the demonstration continued. As cars passed they honked in support and drivers raised their fists in solidarity.
In August, SITEL settled several unfair labor practice claims, one regarding maintaining and enforcing an illegal social media policy. The full text of the settlement can be read here (http://organizesitelasheville.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/sitel-posts-settl...). Notice of this has been posted on bulletin boards at the Asheville location and on the company intranet nationwide.