There has been a fair amount of recent debate regarding the unionization of the Sitel call center here in Asheville. Located on Hendersonville Road, the site is one of the top three largest employers in the area, a trait which has garnered public appreciation from a wide range of state and local politicians. As their 15th anniversary rapidly approaches in the upcoming weeks, unrest seems to lie within the doors of this massive building.
For many years now, North Carolina has been the least unionized state in the U.S. with only a 2.9% rate during 2011 according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and the western region of the state has the smallest portion of unionized employees to add to that percentage. But, through recent actions taken by several Sitel employees, working in tandem with the International Brotherhood Electrical Workers (IBEW), a campaign has been launched against what the accusers are calling, unfair business practices.
In August of this year, several local papers and a slew of affiliated websites began reporting on the terrible ways Sitel employees were being treated, many of them citing interviews with current or prior employees. The story took off, and even resulted in protesting outside of the building itself, before protesters were asked to leave by the property owners. After the initial reaction by both the community and those associated with the business, information began to surface that many of the allegations reported in those articles were misleading, or all together false. Papers and websites reported the use of co-ed bathrooms, a windowless building, and an almost overwhelming amount of micro-management.
Another one of the main concerns put forth by pro-union employees seems to be wages. Sitel does employ the majority of associates at a minimum wage position, however chances for advancement, as well as pay increases are offered on a semi-regular basis. Matt Oakley, a current employee offered up his opinion. “Could wages be better? Sure. Who doesn’t want to make more money? What people refuse to realize is that the increase of wages could significantly decrease our ability to stay competitive in today’s market.” This argument is not totally unfounded, as many popular economists, have asserted that while unions may provide increased benefits for their employees, they harm the overall economy. Analysts have said for years that a rise in wages or benefits produced by unions prevent a company from investing, whether those investments be in more employees, or attempts to gain more clients, the overall growth of the company is hindered.
A slew of other complaints have been brought up, covering a wide array of topics, but it seems that the campaign to unionize has been met with some resistance. Those employees against the unionization of their business have taken measures that they hope will prevent these events from ever coming into fruition. “We are getting more organized. Petitions are floating around, people have been debating on Facebook, we have stickers, and a lot of other material. We have even asked the other side to hold an after-hours open forum debate,” stated current employee Robert Meadows.
Pro-union scrutiny has shown itself to be quite plentiful. Over a period of several weeks, Sitel sought the help of a “union avoidance firm”, which is not at all an uncommon measure to take by businesses in these positions. Websites and individual proponents of a union have taken to the message boards, claiming that the associate brought in by the company was not qualified to speak on the issues due to religious beliefs, socio-political stances, and other unaffiliated topics. “… employees were allowed to ask any questions they wanted. We were also given a brief history on unions in the U.S., during which we were told about some of the good things unions have accomplished. I don’t think that the class was one sided at all since the woman teaching it even talked about good things she had done were during her time working as a union organizer,” stated a current employee, who asked to remain anonymous, “I think this whole union attack is nothing more than a smear campaign used in order to downplay the testimony from someone who is actually qualified to talk on this issue. I’ve seen a fair amount of sensationalism from the union supporters. Many of them have nothing more than gut feelings and knee jerk reactions when it comes to the issues. Rarely do they back up their points with actual facts.”