New York Local 3’s fight with Charter/Spectrum is nearing the two-year mark. Members and their allies are far from rolling over, however.
|Wearing a New York Local 3 jacket, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets ready to address a rally in support of workers on strike against Charter Spectrum. Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson is to his right and New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez, a Local 3 member, to his left
Photo provided under Flickr/Creative Commons agreement by the governor’s office.
More than 1,000 protesters and striking workers rallied outside the company’s Manhattan offices on Dec. 5, where they were joined by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The group joined with Local 3 leaders in launching a digital ad campaign that urged consumers to “cut the cord with Spectrum.”
It’s all part of an ongoing battle against corporate greed. About 1,800 Local 3 members employed by Charter/Spectrum as technicians, engineers and warehouse workers went on strike in March 2017 after the company refused to back off proposals that would have shifted most of the pension and health-care funding to employees.
To make matters worse, Charter/Spectrum did so during a period of high profitability. CEO Tom Rutledge was paid $98.5 million in 2016, making him the highest-paid CEO in the United States at the time.
“We are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the working men and women of this state,” said Cuomo, who recently was re-elected to a third term and has long supported the strikers. “I pledge to you today to stand united.”
According to the New York Daily News, Cuomo urged the state’s labor leaders to rally around Local 3 during a recent dinner to thank them for their support during his re-election bid.
He is one of several New York politicians supporting Local 3 in the dispute. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are refusing to appear on NY1, the all-news channel owned by Charter/Spectrum. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand pulled out of a debate sponsored by NY1 in October during her successful re-election bid. The boycott looked to be easing, but was ramped back up after Charter broke off talks on the weekend of Dec. 1-2.
The governor noted the close relationship he and his father, Mario Cuomo, who served as New York’s chief executive from 1983-94, had with Harry Van Arsdale, the late, legendary Local 3 business manager.
“Harry Van Arsdale taught me that the labor movement is about two things,” the younger Cuomo said. “It’s about fairness and it’s about respect.
“And that’s what we’re saying to Charter/Spectrum and every corporation in the state. You have to show your workforce fairness and respect. That means fair pay. It means fair pensions, fair benefits, fair work rules and respect for the workforce.”
Local 3 Business Manager and International Executive Council Chairman Christopher Erikson told the crowd that Charter/Spectrum’s strategy has been to force decertification of the union.
|A Local 3 member has a message for Charter/Spectrum and encourages New Yorkers to support the striking workers.
“They knew that a strike would result in hardship,” Erikson said. “They basically had 1,800 people out of work. They starved them into submission and unfortunately, some of them went back to that company under the implemented terms. Very tough decision, I know that.
“But the fact is, that was the plan from the very beginning. Force the strike and then force decertification of the union.”
A Charter employee has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a vote to decertify Local 3’s jurisdiction, a move that is believed to be privately pushed by Charter management. Local 3 officials have pushed back and insisted that any new agreement covers employees who already have returned to work.
Erikson praised Cuomo for getting the two sides back to the negotiating table, where he said “we made every effort to make an agreement.
“As we got closer, very close, they realized if they make an agreement, then they would lose on the decertification and the workforce would want to have a union contract,” he said. “And what did they do? They walked away from negotiations.”
Local 3 had a largely productive relationship with Time Warner Cable when it controlled the city’s cable franchise for decades, but that meant little after Charter – which has rebranded itself as Spectrum in many areas– completed its merger with Time Warner in May 2015.
Members went on strike after Charter/Spectrum proposed the elimination of the health plan, in which the company paid for most of the costs, for one in which employees shouldered the financial burden. Charter/Spectrum also wanted to eliminate the company’s contributions to Local 3’s pension fund and health-care accounts and move workers to the company’s own plan.
Local 3 officials noted those rollbacks would more than cancel out any increase in wages proposed by the company. Even before the strike, Charter/Spectrum technicians were forced to perform work with outdated equipment and were sent to customer’s homes with company officials knowing they could not fix the problem on the first visit. That made it more difficult for employees to earn raises.
|New York Local 3 Business Manager and International Executive Council Chairman Christopher Erikson said Charter/Spectrum walked away from negotiations because an agreement would undermine its strategy of decertifying the local union.
The company also proposed greater flexibility in hiring independent contractors to perform work.
Charter/Spectrum officials said they have backed off some of their proposals and that reports in New York media that they walked away from bargaining were inaccurate. Not true, said Local 3 business representative Derek Jordan, who has been involved in talks throughout the strike.
“They said they made concessions, but there were no concessions,” Jordan said. “They said they were going to implement their own terms and they walked out on us.”
Local 3’s dispute with Charter/Spectrum is part of a larger dispute the state is having with the company.
In July, the New York Public Service Commission revoked its previous approval of the merger between Charter and Time Warner, ruling the company has repeatedly missed deadlines to build out its network to rural and underserved parts of the state, and ordered it to come up with an exit plan to leave the state.
Charter/Spectrum is facing a deadline of Dec. 24, although negotiations continue and could lead to a resolution that will allow it to stay.
But in order to do so, it must negotiate a fair contract with Local 3,Cuomo said.
“We are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with the working men and women of this state,” he said. “Your fight is our fight. Until you win, none of us wins.”
Click here to read the text and view a video of Gov. Cuomo’s remarks.