Manuel Antu is a member of CWA Local 6143 in San Antonio, Texas. He’s been a premises technician for almost a decade. Miguel is passionate about building a strong labor movement that fights for climate justice and expanding access to high-speed internet in low-income communities throughout Texas.
Why is access to high-speed internet so important?
I go into an array of homes and the way I see it is that the internet very much is a kind of structure. The internet is infrastructure. We didn’t know back in the dial-up days how vital the internet would become. But it’s in everything these days.
There are parts of town that are just now getting internet access and you can tell people are really excited to get access. The pandemic really highlighted how important access to the internet is. You basically can’t live without it at this point.
How did you get involved with your union?
When I got hired, the union staff came to my center and they gave me a blue union card and welcomed me. When those guys came around, everyone’s spirits lifted. I had never been a part of a union before, didn’t even know what a union really was, but I was definitely drawn to it.
Early on in my job, I had this meeting with management due to an issue that came up. My union representative was there to support me while I made my case. Afterwards, the union representative said I handled myself and argued well. He asked me to be a union steward. I went on to be a shop steward for six years. Last December, I got sworn in as a chief steward—which helps run all of the AT&T centers in San Antonio.
Why is being a union member important to you?
Oh boy, I’d need a whole day to answer that.
My favorite story is from one day when my best friend and I talked about how important unions are. Even though his shop isn’t unionized, he got excited and told me that he was going to take those tactics and principles of a union to his coworkers. A big issue they deal with is that they can be assigned to pretty much any duty at any time. Often, when they’re short staffed, these workers are pulled from the positions they’re hired to and temporarily reassigned. All without additional training or support.
They’re pushing back against this kind of stuff now. They come together and tell management that they should be doing the job they’re hired to do. And then that opens the door to allow them to address other issues like overtime pay and adequate staffing.
Union means collectivism and coming together to deal with management. Union means progressing towards what the working class deserves.
Looking now towards climate issues, how do you see the climate crisis affecting your work?
I’ve always worked outside and been exposed to the elements. Even more so with this job. We work a lot with copper and other metals and those metals are affected by the climate itself. You have to calculate different variables like temperatures when looking at [internet signal] readings in the field and the heat can make these materials harder to work with.
And it’s not just heat, it’s also the cold. When we had that winter storm in February 2021, we weren’t prepared for something like that to happen. We couldn’t work in those conditions or respond to issues in the field. And when that snow started to melt, it continued to cause issues and equipment failures. We had to find workarounds or deliver bad news to the customers. And that in turn, ended up putting a bad taste in people’s mouths.
The Texas Climate Jobs Project recently released a report on the state of Google Fiber in Texas, which found that contractors working on behalf of Google Fiber in Austin and San Antonio were named by federal regulatory authorities in dozens of safety and wage violations. Why is a report like this important?
It’s hard not to take a union approach to [the findings of this report]. These should be union jobs. These jobs should be bargained for and there should be more union jobs as a result.
Another important aspect about [this report], is that with union work, training and safety standards are vital to doing the work right. I’ve heard horror stories about [non-union] contractors showing up and not doing the work right. You can see the difference between someone who is union trained and someone who isn’t. That also means we’re given the opportunity and resources to succeed, whereas the contract workers aren’t.
Those companies who use contract workers promise everything under the sun to their customers and then the workers can’t deliver. They’re set up to fail.
This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.