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WHO LOST THE MEXICAN ELECTION? Pg. 12 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES SEPTEMBER 2, 1994 $1.75 BY BILL ADLER San Francisco MURPHY BROWN, meet Maria Valle. Murphy Brown, of course, is the social conscience of prime-time television. Portrayed by Candice Bergen, Murphy is a working single mother with a journalistic passion for righting wrongs. Maria Valle, a 22-year-old native of El Salvador, is also a working single mother. Until recently both Bergen and Valle worked for Sprint, the longdistance telephone company. Bergen is the.,company’s celebrity hawker, presumably earning millions of dollars. Valle was a $7-anhour hawker for Sprint’s Latino telemarketing subsidiary here, called La Conexion Familiar. La Conexion, a start-up company Sprint acquired in 1992, sells longdistance service primarily to “newly arrived immigrants.” Its operators answer all calls in Spanish and much of its workforce, including Maria Valle, speaks limited English. Bergen still pitches for Sprint. In July, though, the company fired Valle, along with all 234 of her coworkers at La Conexion Familiar, rerouting the calls they handled through Sprint’s Dallas customer service center. Maria was among the 70 percent of La Conexion employees who had petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a union election. The election campaign, organized by the Communications Workers of America, likely would have been the first successful union organizing effort at Sprint Long Distance, the nation’s third largest long-distance carrier. \(Some of the holding corn pany’s local telephone companies are workforce, and the dangerous precedent thereof, Sprint Long Distance sent a loud and fiber-optically clear message to its 20,000 employees nationwideit would shut down La Conexion Familiar. “Your position will cease as of this date,” management said over a loudspeaker and in a letter hand-delivered to employees on Thursday, July 14. The union election had been sched uled for eight days later. Working conditions were ripe for a union victory. Employee complaints ranged from being denied earned commissions to abusive and humiliating personnel policies. “It’s a stressful business to begin with,” said Myra Arriaga, a 22-year-old telemarketer. “And they made it worse the way they controlled us.” Arriaga said employees were discouraged from using the bathroom. “People were afraid to log off [the computer] to go,” she said. “They told us to wait until the last possible moment and then to put our hand up, like we were all children. And they told us to cut down on fluids so we wouldn’t need to go so much. But you talk on the phone for eight hours every day, you need water.” You need protections too, like a grievance procedure and a discriminationfree workplace, which is why most of the workers were ready to vote for union representation. “There was strong support,” said Marie Malliett, president of CWA Local 9410. “Workers were wearing Tshirts, pro-union buttons, and were openly declaring their intentions to vote ‘yes’ on July 22.” The precedent La Conexion workers would have set was apparently too disturbing for Sprint Long Distance, a company apparently hellbent on preserving its nonunion status nationwide. In its “Union-Free Management Guide,” Spriiit counsels its executives that of the company’s many challenges, “one of the most serious we face is the threat of union intervention in our business.” The guide allows that Sprint “recognizes the right of our employees to join and belong to a union. More importantly, it recognizes the rights of our employees to not join or belong to a union.” The abrupt closing sent some workers into shock. At least one woman fainted and required hospitalization, many burst into tears, and some seemed “very confused,” Continued on pg. 6 Breaking La Conexion Sprint Long Distance Pulls the Plug on Its Latino Employees