The tower industry’s record of being union free is finally coming to an end with the announcement yesterday by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that it has successfully organized the workers at tower training provider Tower Safety in Phoenix, AZ. The CWA covers workers in the communications and information industries, the news media, the airlines, broadcast and cable television, public service, higher education and health care, manufacturing and in high tech.
Inside Towers reached out to a number of industry trade associations and major towercos who all responded: “no comment.”
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CWA President Chris Shelton issued the following statement: “The team at Tower Safety is setting an example for workers across the industry who deserve dignity, respect, and safety. For far too long, cell phone tower climbers have been taken advantage of by the big telecom companies who avoid responsibility by subcontracting the work. Workers are often provided with outdated equipment to perform highly dangerous duties without adequate training and very little pay and benefits. We are looking forward to working with Tower Safety and other partners in the industry to ensure tower climbers have a voice on the job.”
The President and Founder of Tower Safety, Kathy Gill, said, “Our mission is to produce well trained and highly skilled tower climbers certified to operate the latest equipment and safely execute their duties. Tower Safety strives to address some of the main problems facing climbers and the industry today. This includes curbing workplace fatalities and injuries by providing proper training and resources with a strong emphasis on safety for tower climbers of all levels. By voluntarily recognizing the union, we are enabling workers to advocate for their rights on the job. We will continue to work with the union, as well as industry leaders, company executives, experts, and regulators, to ensure that the contributions of tower climbers are valued and their safety is prioritized.”
CWA cited tower work as “the most dangerous job in America,” and stated tower climbing involves scaling towers to perform inspections and tests, handle repairs, and install equipment ranging from antennas, amplifiers, and fiber optic cable to lighting systems. “In addition to their work taking place hundreds of feet off the ground,” the union release stated, “tower climbers must also haul, up and down a tower, all the tools and equipment needed to perform their job. The dangerous nature of this work coupled with lack of adequate training and equipment has led to a number of safety hazards, including deaths and injuries of workers.”
Over the past five years alone, according to the CWA, there have been 33 reported deaths at wireless tower sites. The CWA said the major carriers who build and own the towers often farm out the maintenance work to small contractors and subcontractors, “making it virtually impossible to hold them accountable.”
The union said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency that deals with workplace safety, has conducted several investigations that have “clearly shown insufficient training and faulty equipment as common causes for worker deaths and injuries. Yet OSHA has failed to sanction a single major carrier for safety violations to date. Despite the contributions of tower climbers to the industry and the dangers they face at work, they rarely receive fair compensation or any benefits. These workers deserve better,” the union said.
By Jim Fryer, Inside Towers Managing Editor