Chicago Access Network Television (CAN-TV) workers will continue their push for unionization, with Tuesday being a critical day in their drive for representation thanks to a scheduled National Labor Relations Board election.
CAN-TV employees are looking to unionize due to low wages, complaints about working conditions and hours, as well as "feeling disrespct[ed] and marginaliz[ed] by management," according to an announcement.
At a recent press conference and rally, CAN-TV executive director Barbara Popovic gave a statement on behalf of the cable public access television station.
"CAN-TV recognizes the rights of our employees to hold an election, and as an employer we will not take any action to interfere with those fundamental rights," Popovic said.
CAN-TV Operations Coordinator Kevin Smith said that while he appreciates CAN-TV management's decision not to interfere with their unionization efforts, he didn't see it as a huge gesture of support.
"I'm a little bit confused as to what they're conceding," said Smith. "I think it's alright as American workers in an American workplace to have an election like this, but I'm glad they're willing to go along with the process."
Smith explained that while there haven't been any direct acts of aggression towards unionizing, the environment in CAN-TV is somewhat hostile.
"When you have a situation where people feel constantly diminished and undermined, they often feel intimidated to say something, even in the absence of any overt intimidation," he explained.
Another CAN-TV employee, Juan Carlos Hernandez, described Popovic's statement as "adequate for the moment," adding that the majority of employees have signed cards indicating that they want union representation from the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians - Communications Workers of America (NABET - CWA). He said the signatures should be enough.
"Why have an election if we've already in some sense had an election," said Hernandez, who has grown tired of being misrepresented during employee evaluations.
"I was reviewed almost every 90 days," said Hernandez. "These were very unfair reviews. I didn't have another job to go to, or a lot of money in the bank, so I was forced to sign those reviews, even though there were lies on them.
"What are we supposed to do? Take this abuse, these lies? Enough is enough," he added.
Eric Torres Alvarez has been a training coordinator with CAN-TV for 16 years. He attributes the schism between staff and management to social and economic differences.
"I think there's a huge cultural and economic gap between management and us employees in the trenches," he said.
Management receives salary increases, while staff salaries remain more or less the same, according to Alvarez and Hernandez.
"Top management makes an enormous amount of money, and us on the bottom make so little money," Alvarez said.
"Those who make really good money are not particularly interested in sharing that. Us in the bottom haven't been given raises in forever, at least seven or eight years. When we do get raises, they're token, tiny percentages."
Don Villar, President of NABAT (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) CWA Local 41 helped the CAN-TV workers to mobilize.
Villar described it as an amazing grassroots effort and thanked other workers rights' organizations, such as Arise Chicago and Fight For $15, for showing their support.
"They reached out to us in March and here we are four months later," said Villar. "It was an amazing grassroots effort, a very natural flow."
Villar said it's ironic that a group working in social advocacy is in need of support themselves.
"CAN-TV employees spend their workday on social justice issues," said Villar. "They give a voice to people in the city that have no voice. The irony is, they had no voice in the workplace."