ASL VIs testify about company union busting before NLRB

A Video Interpreter sign to signify where a Deaf, Hard-Of-Hearing or Speech-Impaired can communicate with a hearing person via a Video Relay Service.

A Video Interpreter sign to signify where a Deaf, Hard-Of-Hearing or Speech-Impaired can communicate with a hearing person via a Video Relay Service.

Giving testimony in a National Labor Relations Board hearing this month, four ASL video interpreters provided evidence of just how far Purple Communications was willing to go to stop workers from exercising their legal right to form a union.

At the June 10 board hearing, Judith Kroger and Ruth Usher from Purple’s Corona call center and Bob LoPara and Angela N. Emerson from the Long Beach call center testified about illegal behavior by Purple Communications during their union-organizing drive last November.

They outlined the company’s illegal handbook work rules and management’s complicity in allowing an anti-union petition to be circulated on work time in work areas, as well as threats and promises made by CEO John Ferron and other top management in meetings where employees had to listen to anti-union rhetoric.  Purple Communications spent over $90,000 on hiring an anti-union firm to advise them during the organizing drive, according to a report filed by the company.

The hearing was a result of objections to the election and an unfair labor practice charge filed by CWA on behalf of the employees at both call centers, who believe their efforts to organize a union failed due to the climate created by management during the month-long campaign.

The case about illegal handbook rules restricting electronic communication was brought by the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. Although current case law allows employers to restrict email usage, the law is based on a 2007 case that the regional offices have been challenging.

NLRB attorney Cecelia Valentine advised the judge that the regional director believes that the 2007 law is illegal and plans to appeal the decision to the full NLRB Board in Washington, D.C. However, recent developments may prevent a full board from being seated, hindering this and thousands of other important labor law decisions.  Read more about that here.

“This will really come down to how the judge reads the law regarding threats of bankruptcy and closure, and the promises of more benefits if Purple was given ‘more time’” before employees voted in a union,” said CWA organizer Pia Basudev.

The case will also hinge on how clearly the testimony of the four VIs is found to support the allegations of labor law violations, and how credible the judge views management’s witnesses, Basudev said.

“Standing up to your employer for what you believe in is not easy,” said attorney Lisl Duncan from Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, in a statement to the VIs who testified. “I have seen far too many cases fall flat because workers couldn’t or wouldn’t come forward. You all should be very proud.”

More than 225 certified American Sign Language interpreters employed at Purple Communications call centers in California, Arizona and Colorado voted in November to unionize, becoming the first video relay service providers in the nation to do so. Purple Communications interpreters provide on-site interpreting, video relay, text relay and video remote interpreting services.

The employer was represented by attorney Bob Kane of Stradling, Rocca, Carlson and Rauth. Testifying for the employer were Sam Farley, manager of the Corona Call Center; John Ferron, CEO of Purple Communications; and Tanya Monette, Vice President of human resources for Purple Communications.

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