Was $25K okay for tower tech foreman who claims he was terminated because of his union advocacy?

In Featured News by Wireless Estimator


The Tower Climbers United union has secured a win, as S.T.S. Communications has agreed to a settlement to withdraw an allegation of a wrongful termination against a tower foreman who was advocating for the union. In a decisive move, S.T.S. has committed to paying $25,000 as part of this resolution, possibly to avert a lengthy legal battle, even if they thought they could win. Unlike civil lawsuits, prevailing parties in NLRB complaints can’t recover attorney’s fees. More than 90% of NLRB unfair labor practice cases end in a settlement. 

The Tower Climbers United/C.W.A. union (TCU/CWA) has recently issued a press release celebrating a significant triumph following the successful resolution of a dispute with Swartley Tower Services Communications, Inc. (S.T.S. Communications) on behalf of Roland Bachelder, a tower climber who faced discrimination and termination due to his active support of the union movement.

The press release highlights that a settlement of $25,000 was reached “…after TCU/CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge against S.T.S. Communications with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that Mr. Bachelder had been subjected to discriminatory treatment and unjustly terminated as a consequence of his union activities.”

Furthermore, it emphasizes, “The NLRB acknowledged the merit of these allegations and subsequently issued a formal complaint against S.T.S. Communications, ultimately leading to the financial settlement. This acknowledgment by the NLRB underscores the validity of our claims.”

Despite this, a legitimate grievance may contain inaccuracies, which become apparent once the issue is escalated to the point of being judged by the NLRB. Yet, such occurrences are rare, as the NLRB notes that 90% of all complaints are resolved once the involved parties come to a mutual agreement.

It is essential to note that due to the confidentiality of the complaint documents, which can only be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the exact findings of the NLRB’s investigation remain undisclosed.

In cases where an employee or union files a charge against an employer, the NLRB reviews the matter impartially, weighing the facts obtained during the investigation. The NLRB maintains a neutral stance, not inherently favoring either employees or employers. However, in instances where the evidence even slightly supports the employee’s claim, the NLRB may issue a complaint against the employer for the alleged violation.

Following the complaint (8(a)(3) Discharge (Including Layoff and Refusal to Hire) issued on April 11, 2023, related to the charge filed on June 23, 2022, S.T.S. Communications had an opportunity to refute the charges and provide additional information, which they did on May 1, 2023.

The union’s statement highlights Bachelder’s extensive experience as a tower technician, progressing from a tower hand to a foreman, with a history of positive performance evaluations from S.T.S. management. It also underscores his active involvement with TCU/CWA since February 2021, during which he openly advocated for the union movement both at the workplace and on social media platforms, including Facebook groups followed by management personnel.

The termination of Bachelder on June 14, 2022, allegedly was due to this statement he made on June 10, 2022, to a manager, “We all need to unionize already.”

WAS $25k OKAY?

On August 4, 2023, a negotiated settlement between Bachelder and S.S.T. led to an NLRB Regional Director’s order, which required S.S.T. to make the $25,000 payment. Subsequently, Bachelder and C.W.A. withdrew the charge against S.T.S., and the withdrawal was formally approved by the NLRB on August 24, 2023.

Claude Cummings Jr., President of the Communications Workers of America, expressed, “This settlement is not just a victory for Roland but a win for every tower climber. It underscores the necessity of upholding the rights of dedicated workers who construct and maintain America’s communication infrastructure.”

It is worth noting that the resolution may also be considered a victory for S.T.S., as no violation of labor laws was found due to the amicable resolution. Lengthy litigation could have far exceeded the $25,000 settlement amount, with no guarantee of recovering attorney’s fees even if they had prevailed.

The C.W.A., which funded Bachelder’s charge filing and representation, likely considered the possibility that S.T.S.’s response to the complaint could have had a significant impact on the case’s outcome.

Had irrefutable evidence been obtained demonstrating a violation of Bachelder’s right to advocate for a union, resulting in his termination, the potential compensation for wrongful termination could have included substantial back pay, reinstatement, and, in some instances, civil penalties against the employer.

Tom Reeves, a tower climber and TCU/CWA member, commented, “In our industry, occurrences like this are all too common. Tower climbers often risk their safety while working on the towers, yet they face termination for speaking out, even if it violates labor laws. What sets Roland apart is that he had the support of a union, which ultimately secured a settlement to provide for his family.”

Reeves further noted that before the Tower Climbers Union was established, technicians often had no recourse in similar situations. Nonetheless, any employee can individually file a complaint against their employer if they believe the company is infringing upon their employment rights.

Most private sector employees are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which does not apply to government employees, agricultural laborers, independent contractors, and supervisors (with limited exceptions).

While Bachelder held a supervisory role as a foreman, the definition of a supervisor under the NLRA hinges on the authority to perform at least one of these specific actions, such as hiring or promoting employees, transferring or disciplining employees, and making decisions related to employment actions closely tied to these responsibilities.

S.T.S. Communications, a wireless construction subsidiary of Swartley Bros. Engineers, Inc., established in 1928, is headquartered in Souderton, PA. The company did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.

A spokesperson for the CWA declined to answer why it took the union five months to publicize the August 2023  agreement to dismiss the charge against S.T.S.

It is unknown if the CWA’s in-house headquarters counsel Nneka Maceo’s time and expenses representing Bachelder will be compensated from the settlement or if the CWA on occasion absorbs the cost in order to promote union membership growth.