Unless you live in an area code far, far away, you probably know about the thousands of Ameritech customers in Michigan waiting days — and in some cases weeks — to have their phones repaired or service installed. To help the beleaguered phone company satisfy customers, some Detroit-based former employees have offered to lend a hand. Earlier this month, about 15 fired Ameritech repair technicians asked — via their attorney — that the company reinstate them, according to an Oct. 6 letter provided News Hits. These same folks — along with their union, Communications Workers of America, Local 4100 — filed a class action lawsuit against the company in 1998 for allegedly firing, demoting and/or forcing employees to resign because of their race and/or poor health. Both sides are arguing the case before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Edward Thomas, who will decide whether to certify the lawsuit as a class action, which may include about 400 workers.
CWA local Vice President Renzie Williams says that reinstating the technicians will help end phone service delays. Each technician can handle an average of six service calls a day. This may sound like a drop in the bucket considering that about 38,000 customers around the state need their phones repaired or service installed, according to Ameritech’s Michigan figures. But, as Williams says, “every little bit helps.”
He says that when Ameritech started cutting back on hiring technicians after purchasing Michigan Bell several years ago, the union predicted that thousands of customers would eventually be without service — and Detroit would be first to feel the pinch.
“If I had a job and a customer was out of service for a week I was mad because that customer slipped through the cracks. Now, that is the norm,” says the 21-year employee.
Williams says Ameritech has been cutting back on techs throughout the state, but Detroit was hit hardest because its phone lines are older and require constant repairs.
“If they listened to the techs and listened to the union … a lot of this could have been avoided,” says Williams.
Ameritech Michigan spokesperson Dave Pacholczyk would not respond to the union’s allegations, but provided News Hits data showing that Detroit customers wait an average of four days for phone service installation compared to 25 days a month ago; and phone repairs take two days on average now compared to two weeks a month ago.
Whether the company will rehire the 15 Detroit techs is not clear. According to attorney Jeanne Mirer, who represents the workers, Ameritech Michigan asked for specific names of those seeking reinstatement, but made no promises to rehire them. Amy Metz, who represents Ameritech Michigan, would not comment, saying it is inappropriate for legal settlements to be negotiated through the media. And perhaps she is right. But wasn’t it media attention that helped force Ameritech’s parent company, SBC Communications Inc., to address this disaster?
What hasn’t been in the media — at least until now — is that since SBC bought Ameritech last year, relations between workers and the company are improving, Williams says. “Right now the company is in such disarray … they are soliciting union input on everything,” he says.
Better late than never.Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org