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Switching to Credo II

September 14, 2011

[Part of my series Living in America - Chronicles of a Resident Alien]

Does “America’s only progressive phone company” walk the walk? In a recent blog post, I praised Credo, the mobile phone service that bills itself as “America’s only progressive phone company.” The post subsequently appeared on www.labourstart.org, the global site for progressive labour activists.

After a brief appearance on LS, the editors removed the piece and kindly advised me that they had had a complaint about it. As the LS message read, Credo’s “pro-union credentials are rather questionable.”

I left the original post on my site partly because it contains useful information about the kinds of policies being promoted by the decidedly unprogressive Tea Party Patriots, a political group that Credo opposes publicly. However, I also feel that the LS complaint deserves an airing as does the Credo response to such charges.

Here’s the story:

I had seen an advertisement offering a chance to switch to Credo in Mother Jones, a progressive magazine that I have read since it began in the mid-1970s. I trust it. I also noted that ads for Credo had appeared in The Nation, a much older progressive magazine that I also trust. The ads invited readers to dump their current cell phone service, saying that the big companies (AT&T and Verizon) were supporting the Tea Party with big donations.

Wow! Here’s an opportunity to take some real action, I thought. Put my phone money where my mouth is. So I took the plunge and cancelled my service from Verizon, noting that it had donated $46,000 to the Tea Party. I also noted that AT&T had donated 10 times that amount to the right-wing group.

I wanted to share the good news so I contacted LS and they were happy to help in the sharing…until they got complaints. Credo was talking the talk, they argued, but it wasn’t walking the walk. They also referred me to an article by Steve Early and Rand Wilson posted to www.talkingunion.wordpress.com back in September 2009. Both writers are associated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) which has organized the workers at AT&T Mobility.

Early and Rand note that CREDO and the National Resources Defense Council spearheaded a rally against a right-wing festival in West Virginia in 2009. They urged people to protest against the main sponsors, Massey Energy and Verizon Wireless (VZW). It was the kind of action that progressives appreciated.

The article pointed out that both sponsoring companies are anti-union and noted that only 50 out of VZW’s 50,000 workers are organized. They further noted that Verizon management often has been cited for unfair labour practices.

“But there’s no small irony in CREDO ‘calling out’ Verizon Wireless. Credo itself is also completely non-union! And not only does it knock, with good reason, VZW, it also takes regular aim at AT&T Mobility, the one wireless company that is unionized.”

The writers note that Credo ‘resells’ long-distance service through “the notoriously anti-union Sprint. Now it’s doing the same thing with wireless, marketing itself as a bankroller of every kind of rights movement, except the workers’ rights one.

Meanwhile, it tries to get progressive customers to switch, not just from VZW (a move long recommended by labor) but from AT&T as well, where more than 35,000 technicians, customer service reps, and retail store personnel belong to the CWA.” Early and Wilson then encourage people to “sign up for AT&T Mobility and show your support for its unionized workforce.”

I was shocked to read these criticisms and embarrassed that I had boasted of my switch to a company that didn’t seem to live up to the philosophy it promoted in its advertising. So I immediately wrote to Credo’s complaints department in San Francisco and to Michael Kieschnick, president of Credo Mobile.

Here’s what the complaints department told me:

“In the past we have been very supportive of CWA’s organizing campaigns at Sprint. We have written to Sprint’s President urging him to respect his employees’ right to organize. Should new campaigns develop, CREDO Mobile will be an active participant and will keep the pressure on Sprint to promote fair labor practices.

“AT&T is the only long distance or wireless carrier in the US who is unionized. At the outset, we attempted to establish a relationship with AT&T to lease their lines, but they were unwilling to work with us.

“CREDO Mobile is on record in favor of worker’s rights and liveable wage issues and against anti-worker judges such as Southwick or anti-union legislation such as the 2005 California initiative to restrict uses of union dues.

“We are adamantly in favor of the right of workers to organize. Our philosophy is that all employees should be represented by a union of their choice, or none if they prefer. At this time our employees have not chosen to unionize.

“We fund organizations that promote workers’ rights – such as Jobs with Justice, the National Employment Law Project, National Labor Committee Education Fund, Nine to Five and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, to name a few. Additionally, in our funding for civic rebuilding in Iraq we have included protections for trade unionism as key to democratization.

“Through our activism, we have helped our members deliver pro-union, pro-worker messages to decision makers in the San Francisco hotel lockout (in conjunction with Unite HERE), the national struggle to protect overtime pay for workers (with the AFL-CIO), the Gallo Wine boycott (with the UFW), the post 9-11 fight to put the federal government in charge of security screeners (with SEIU), and of course raising the minimum wage.”

Those sound like convincing fact-based points to me and they made me feel a little better. Then I did some preliminary research, digging into the defence contracts won by AT&T and Verizon and I felt even better.

In an item on the recent Verizon strike, Liberation News notes that Verizon “is a key player in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It was the 19th largest federal government contractor in 2010. Combined revenue from these contracts in 2007, 2008 and 2009 amounts to $2.3 billion in military contracts, and $1.6 billion in civilian federal contracts.” The LN site lists several agencies, including the Defense Logistics Agency, the Navy, the Defense Department, and State Department. http://pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/verizon-strike-over-contract.html

AT&T also enjoys lucrative defence contracts. The corporation’s own site has a section on “Defense Agencies” that it assists so they “can focus on defending our nation’s interests, here and abroad.” These include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp and National Guard. http://www.corp.att.com/gov/defense_agencies/

I expected and verified that AT&T, Verizon and, yes, Sprint are all supporting the military-industrial complex to some extent. I’ll continue to dig and report back on my findings. Meantime, I plan to stay with Credo for a while.

Does that mean I don’t support working people and their unions? Of course not. But I don’t think it’s wise to unquestioningly accept the criticisms against Credo either. Does the company have some work to do? Yes, it does and I thank LS, Early and Wilson for informing me.

Here are some actions that will help keep me a Credo subscriber:

• Revisit the Sprint link. Despite Early and Wilson’s exhortation, I’m not sure that AT&T is such a great option. However, it seems like the only way Credo can support unionized phone workers at this time.

• Ensure that Credo workers have the unhampered chance to unionize. It sounds like a ripe organizing opportunity for the CWA. If there is an organizing drive, tell us you support it.

• Rethink the advertising messages. Why not be straight-up honest about being a non-union workplace? If wages and working conditions are topnotch for Credo employees, let them tell us.

• Continue to offer your members the opportunity to choose where your donations will go. Maybe AT&T, Verizon and Sprint allow their clients to have a say in where their investments go, but somehow I doubt it.

If I find that Credo’s non-union status and its use of Sprint overrides its efforts to support progressive causes and draw attention to the Tea Party and other forces working against unions, I’ll switch again. The problem then, as now, will be choosing the company that does the least damage.

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