The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers has organized more than 900 Cingular Wireless employees in Bothell, marking the first time...

Share story

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers has organized more than 900 Cingular Wireless employees in Bothell, marking the first time the organization has successfully unionized a significant number of employees in the technology industry.

“We’ve been working tirelessly for eight years,” said Marcus Courtney, president of the group, known as WashTech. “It’s huge for us.”

Founded in 1998 by Courtney and other Microsoft contract employees, WashTech intended to organize divisions of the largest technology companies in the state, including Microsoft and Amazon.com. But, as in the broader technology industry, it has been unable to gather enough support among employees to form a significant collective-bargaining unit.

More recently, WashTech, also known as the Communication Workers of America Local 37083, had kicked off a campaign at Redmond-based AT&T Wireless. It made little progress until Atlanta-based Cingular purchased the company in 2004.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Courtney said that under new ownership, reception by management changed from cold to neutral.

“Cingular is a model employer. It’s a huge change from a company that was very much against the union,” he said.

Anne Marshall, a Cingular spokeswoman, said it’s the employees’ decision whether they want to join a union.

“We’ve had a long relationship with the CWA and Cingular’s view is very neutral when it comes to union membership,” she said. “It’s up to the employees.”

Cingular, owned by BellSouth and SBC Communications, has unionized work forces in its ranks, including some in Washington before it acquired AT&T Wireless. Currently, 72 employees in about 10 retail locations in Western Washington are represented. Of the previous AT&T Wireless employees in Washington, the 925 Bothell customer-service representatives, who focus on business customers, are the first to unionize.

After a 60-day WashTech campaign, a majority voted to join the organization earlier this month. The employees will now be covered by the contract covering other Cingular employees.

Courtney said the benefits include guaranteed pay raises and saving hundreds of dollars in health care. The contract, which expires in 2009, also includes some of the standard benefits of a union, including more job security and opportunities to move into new positions.

The CWA’s overall membership in Washington could swell even more in the next couple of months with two other campaigns under way at Cingular.

WashTech is attempting to organize Cingular’s 124 information-technology employees, who must vote by Dec. 18 whether to join.

And CWA Local 7803 in Renton, with the help of locals in Spokane and Portland, is attempting to organize 184 Cingular retail-store employees in the state. Retail employees are to vote by Jan. 6 on whether to join a union; most of them would be in Local 7803.

Jeanne Stewart, the Renton local’s executive vice president, said the union is meeting with employees during lunch and breaks to discuss membership. She said the contract would improve health insurance and guarantee wage increases.

Employees not represented get paid according to performance. She said that may discourage some who are concerned the union contract could limit future pay increases.

“That’s why there’s a few that don’t want anything to do with the union,” she said.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com