It took eight weeks and the help of
a federal mediator, but negotiators for striking New York Local 3 members finally
got a chance to sit down with Charter/Spectrum officials on May 23.
Oscar-nominated actor Matt Damon (right) stopped to offer support for Local 3 members during their rally outside Charter/Spectrum’s Manhattan headquarters on May 18.
Local 3 business representative Derek Jordan said the two sides will continue to use a federal mediator in hopes of moving toward an agreement, but they remain far apart. No new talks are scheduled, he said.
“The mediator went back and forth with each party to get an idea of our issues and what resolution, if any, could be reached,” Jordan said. “This all came to an end when the company submitted proposals that were somewhat regressive from the original ones and still included eliminating the contributions to the pension and medical plans. The mediator continued discussions with both parties in separate rooms, but nothing was resolved.”
It was the first meeting since about 1,800 workers went on strike on March 28 after Charter/Spectrum officials refused to budge off demands that would have slashed pension, health and 401(k) benefits.
Charter/Spectrum also is seeking to outsource bargaining unit work to contractors. The company has blamed its own employees for shortfalls in its system that has led it be one of the country’s worst-rated companies in terms of customer service.
Hearings to determine if New York City renews its franchise agreement with Charter/Spectrum began May 30 and Local 3 had representatives there, Jordan said. The agreement expires in 2020.
“As you are undoubtedly aware, under the terms of your agreement, you have an important obligation to city customers,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wrote in a letter to Charter/Spectrum Executive Vice President Tom Adams. “With your workers on strike, thousands of New Yorkers are at risk of having their service disrupted.”
Local 3 members are receiving plenty of public support, including from Academy Award-nominated actor Matt Damon, who joined them during a rally outside of Charter/Spectrum’s Manhattan office on May 18. Public Advocate Letitia James, the second-highest ranking elected official in New York City government, wrote a letter co-signed by about 30 other local politicians to Charter/Spectrum officials last month, urging them to return to the bargaining table.
Yet, the company has refused to do so until recently, and it is being sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for failing to upgrade its internet speeds to promised levels. Local 3 says its members have been disciplined because of that, even though company officials knew they were using outdated equipment that made such upgrades impossible.
Charter/Spectrum took over cable operations in New York City and part of northern New Jersey when its merger with longtime city cable provider Time Warner Cable was completed in 2016. CEO Tom Rutledge earned about $98 million last year, making him the highest paid CEO in the country.
Jordan said the company’s refusal to negotiate has been frustrating, in part because it doesn’t seem to care how it is perceived by employees and the public. Charter/Spectrum was ranked 28th nationally out of 30 pay-TV companies in customer service by Consumer Reports last year. Some Local 3 members have expressed disappointment at the strike’s length, he said.
New York Local 3 members waive the IBEW flag and express their hopes for a fair contract during a rally outside Charter/Spectrum’s Manhattan headquarters on May 18.
“The whole idea is to get everyone back to work,” Jordan said. “It’s not just members who are on strike, but their families are also out on strike. It’s
affecting a lot of people.”
Most have stayed emotionally engaged, he added. The May 18 rally was their second demonstration outside Charter’s New York headquarters. They demonstrated outside a Charter/Spectrum store on Staten Island May 20 and continue to man picket lines across the city. They also held a rally with hundreds of supporters outside Charter headquarters in Stamford, Conn., in late April.
“We’re out here … to protect our medical and pension plans, along with protecting our union brothers and sisters,” Local 3 member Anthony Basile told the Staten Island Advance.
Company officials have said they are offering workers a raise, but Local 3 officials say proposed changes in contributions to pension, 401(k) and other benefits would end up costing employees’ money. Charter/Spectrum also wants to make substantial cuts in overtime pay and has refused to address the disciplinary issues.
“No one wants to put the company out of business,” Jordan said. “Our members have to work there. But there was a time when you knew it was a career. You couldn’t wait to get to work. Now, people dread it because they have just made it so difficult. As one of our members said, we just want a little respect.”
Charter/Spectrum has brought in replacement workers from around the country, a move that Local 3 and some local politicians believe is a violation of its franchise agreement with the city. Jordan said Local 3 has been told that some customers are not allowing those replacements to perform work.
Jordan said Local 3 members told him Damon was walking in Manhattan May 18 and saw the protest outside of Charter headquarters, asked what was going on and met with a few Local 3 members and had his picture taken. He’s been a longtime supporter of progressive causes.
“He just happened to be passing by,” Jordan said. “He stopped and said he supported us. It was a great feeling for our members.”
Veteran character actor James Cromwell, who won an Emmy in 2011 for his performance on “American Horror Story,” also has appeared on the picket line in support of Local 3 members.
“We would much rather be partners with companies we do business with, but Local 3 members are battling a corporation that has little regard not just for its employees’ welfare, but also for the customers it serves,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “That’s disheartening, but it it’s a battle we can win. Now is the time for every IBEW member to stand with them and tell Charter/Spectrum to use some of its excessive profits to negotiate a deal that is fair for working families.”