Santa Clarita resident Robert Arkow is suing two unions, including one he belongs to, over robocalls to his cellphone.
Santa Clarita resident Robert Arkow is suing two unions, including one he belongs to, over robocalls to his cellphone. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

After enduring a barrage of robocalls during election season, a Santa Clarita man declared, "I'm sick of this crap," and is suing labor unions - including his own - for calling his cellphone.

"This is a wholesale scourge of our privacy," said Robert Arkow, 62, a veteran communications electrician for the city of Los Angeles.

"I want it to stop, and the only way you can beat them up is to hit their pocketbook," he added. "Make them pay."

Federal law has prohibited robocalls to cellphones for two decades, but Arkow has seen plenty of violations over the years. In fact, he has become a crusader of sorts against robocalls and telemarketers.

Over the past decade, he has sued close to 50 companies for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and received about $20,000 in awards and out-of-court settlements.

He says he doesn't sue them for the money but to make a point.

"I don't do this for a living," he said. "But I honestly believe people could actually make a living doing this."

His activism against telemarketers also helped contribute to the creation of the national Do Not Call list in 2001.

His latest targets are the California Labor Federation and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 45 (to which he belongs). He is demanding $4,500 in damages plus legal fees in small claims court for calling his cellphone to pitch Proposition 30, the state tax measure on the Nov.


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6 ballot.

"My telephone shouldn't be bombarded with machine- dialed calls from people I don't know telling me stuff I don't want to hear," Arkow said.

"Most people just hang up, but I don't do that anymore," he added. "If they're going to annoy me, they better make sure they're in compliance with the law, or I will take them to court."

Trial is set for Jan. 17 in Chatsworth.

The labor federation's communications director Steve Smith declined to comment on the lawsuit but explained the robocalls invited union members to a "tele-townhall meeting" on the benefits of Prop. 30, which would raise $6billion to fund education and other services.

"Most union members understand that when there are major issues or elections that might affect them, their union will be in contact," he said.

"Most are very appreciative because they like to be completely educated on issues that affect working people."

He downplayed the annoyance the robocalls may cause.

"Literally it takes less than a minute, so it's not as though somebody is on the line for four or five minutes, taking up precious time," he said. "If they're not interested, all people have to do is hang up."

IBEW's business manager Elaine Ocasio declined to comment.

The Federal Communications Commission issued an enforcement advisory to political campaigns in September, laying out robocall rules under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991.

"Prerecorded voice and autodialed calls (including live calls, prerecorded voice messages, and text messages) may NOT be delivered to cellphones, pagers, or other mobile devices without the prior express consent of the called party," the FCC said.

An exception is granted when the robocalls are for emergency purposes.

Robocalls to landlines are allowed, so long as the callers quickly identify themselves.

"The FCC does not have enough money nor manpower for enforcement, but Congress passed a law that made it easy for private citizens to go to court," Arkow said.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said most political campaigns now resort to robocalls to reach voters.

"It's much less expensive and less time consuming than calls from actual human beings," he said. "But a voter is much less likely to be persuaded by a so-called robocall than they might be after a conversation with another person."

Steve Largent, president of the wireless industry trade group CTIA-The Wireless Association, complained to the FCC about political campaigns reaching out to voters through their cellphones. 

"Just weeks into the primary season, wireless carriers have experienced a significant increase in consumer complaints and inquiries made to their customer call centers regarding unwanted text messages sent by political campaigns," Largent wrote.

"Some consumers have reported receiving unwanted text messages in the middle of the night, between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.," he added.

christina.villacorte@dailynews.com

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