The Right to Organize
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BURNS: My name is Zena Burns. I work in Aramark Uniforms, that's in Sikeston, Missouri

NARRATOR: ARAMARK UNIFORMS PROVIDES CLEAN GARMENTS TO HOSPITALS AND LABS. BURNS' JOB: TO DO THE FINAL SORTING OF THE CLEANED UNIFORMS BEFORE THEIR FINAL DELIVERY.

BURNS: I love my job.

NARRATOR: ZENA BURNS WORKED AT ARAMARK FOR ALMOST A YEAR-- SHE WAS FIRED ON TUESDAY.

BURNS: I was met in the parking lot by a supervisor at my plant and was told that I couldn't go into the building and clock in. Because I was terminated for occurrences which is absenteeism.

NARRATOR: BURNS SAYS THIS CHARGE WAS INCIDENTAL. SHE WAS REALLY FIRED BECAUSE SHE HAD BECOME THE PLANT'S "NUMBER ONE ORGANIZER" FOR SWU, THE SERVICE WORKERS' UNION.

BURNS: We spent a couple of days, me and a couple of coworkers, talking to coworkers after hours, going to their homes, talking on phones. We made up some SWU stickers and pins. We made up some 8 by 10 paperwork to put in our windows on our vehicles that said Joining together and winning, and another one said better benefits, higher wages.

NARRATOR: SOME ARAMARK LOCATIONS HAVE UNIONS, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THEY DON'T FIGHT AGAINST THEIR EMPLOYEES ORGANIZING ELSEWHERE. IN SIKESTON, MANAGEMENT CRACKED DOWN.

BURNS: On the day that we put our pins on, every department was called together, and I was named by name, to remove my pin immediately. I was escorted out and told to put my stuff in my vehicle or I would be removed permanently.

NARRATOR: BURNS AND HER COWORKERS WERE HARASSED DAILY.

BURNS: It's incredible some of the things they've done- you see it on TV shows but you don't believe it can happen to you.

NARRATOR: BURNS WAS DEMOTED, AND THEN ISOLATED IN A CONFERENCE ROOM, WHERE SHE WAS TOLD TO SIT BY HERSELF IN A CHAIR.

BURNS: I could not leave the room for any reason unless the break bell rang. And this went on for three weeks and escalated into them taking the cords off the miniblinds- I wasn't allowed to have the blinds open, and when I tried to open them, they came and removed the cords and everything off of them.

[phone ring] Automated voice: Thank you for calling Comcast

NARRATOR: ACROSS THE COUNTRY, IN OAKLAND CALIFORNIA, WILL GOODO, A FORMER MARINE, TRIED TO ORGANIZE THE COMCAST DISPATCH CENTER WHERE HE WORKED. ONE DAY HE INVITED WORKERS TO A MEETING OF THE CWAčTHE COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA:

GOODO: Somehow Comcast got a hold of that and they had people sitting outside monitoring. So that's when I eventually just told them, man, forget all about it, and the meeting was cancelled

NARRATOR: IN LOS ANGELES, SERGIO REYES WORKED AS A WAITER FOR THE HILTON AT LAX. HE WAS WITH THE COMPANY FOR SIX YEARS. REYES TRIED TO ORGANIZE THE HILTON STAFF INTO UNITE HEREčTHE HOTEL AND RESTAURANT EMPLOYEES UNION

REYES: I was doing some protests and marches. I was going personally, you know, talking inside the homes and talking to them, and uh, directly.

NARRATOR: WHEN THE LAX HILTON GOT WIND OF WHAT REYES WAS DOING, THEY STARTED WATCHING HIM

REYES: These people were' looking after me, it's like, having a security guard behind me every time I walk around and move around.

NARRATOR: WITH THIS KIND OF HARASSMENT, IT'S NO WONDER THAT PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP FOR A UNION.

GOODO: These people aren't going to testify or go public, because they got houses, they got car notes. They're worried about job security. Who's going to pay their bills after they get fired?

NARRATOR: GOODO IS NOT BEING PARANOID. HE WAS FIRED- FOR MINOR INFRACTIONS AFTER HE TESTIFIED ABOUT COMCAST'S ANTI-UNION TACTICS AT THE OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL. SERGIO REYES WAS ALSO FIRED, FOR A SUPPOSED MISCOMMUNICATION OVER A CLIENT'S BILL.

REYES: Today was me that was terminated, tomorrow I don't know how many other people will be terminated from their jobs.

NARRATOR: GOODO, REYES AND ZENA BURNS HAVE ALL FILED COMPLAINTS WITH THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD ABOUT THEIR TERMINATIONS. WILL GOODO IS ANGRY

GOODO: I've never been fired in my life, I've never been arrested in my life. I served my country for 17.5 years. All that stuff talking about Comcast cares, if Comcast cared about me, Comcast would have pulled me into the office and told me, we need to talk about this. But don't set me up to get me fired! That's not right.

BURNS: I'm angry. But instead of really putting all my energy into the anger, I want to focus on my workers that's there. We have very limited access to laws to protect us as individuals in a situation like mine. We have to change the laws or its going to continue. There's right and there's wrong, and this is wrong.

NARRATOR: IN NEW YORK, I'M SARAH ELZAS


This piece was produced for Air America's Workin' It, and aired June 3, 2006. It also aired September 3, 2006 on KLCC and September 3, 2007 on WAMC. It was included on Public Interactive's National Arts page on August 30, 2007.


Producer: Sarah Elzas
Editor: Alexandra Lescaze
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