New York, NY – Despite 10 months on strike and tough-talking rhetoric from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and others — telecom giant
Charter/Spectrum refuses to back off on its demand workers give up their union medical plan and defined benefit pension fund. All of which begs the question: doesn’t anybody out there have a stick big enough to crack CEO Tom Rutledge and his corporate confederates?
Never mind that employees have paid for the benefits, participating in the union medical plan and defined benefit pension fund for more than 40 years, the answer appears to be a resounding, “no.”
“Every time there was a contract and the settlement was three-percent in each year and they needed to put in a percent to maintain the medical or improve the pension, they took it out of that package,” IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson recently told LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz. So, these members have paid for these benefits for over this 40-year period. And now, you got a company that comes in and basically says, ‘We know what’s in your best interest.’ And of course, when a company tells you what’s good for you — you should run the other way.”
Anywhere between 1,700 and 1,800 Spectrum technicians and other employees walked off the job back on March 28. That number has significantly dwindled almost a year later, as some members have decide to retire, cross the picket line, or given up on the idea of ever again going back to work for Spectrum.
According to Erikson, the strike has cost the union over $4 million. Charter/Spectrum — the multi-billion-dollar telecom that gobbled up Time-Warner in 2016 for roughly $55 billion — has repeatedly rejected union offers to end the punishing strike.
The last offer to be rejected occurred on December 20, leaving families struggling to maintain healthcare coverage and jungle disappearing unemployment benefits during the holiday season.
“We basically moved significantly to a point where we protect our members and they can protect new hires,” Erikson said. “And so, I put that out there — after a 20-minute conversation that has been misrepresented by the company to the employees that were there — they rejected the proposal. And at that point, you really don’t have anywhere to go. So, the strike is going to continue.”
IBEW Local 3 has since appealed to the AFL-CIO to put Charter/Spectrum on its national boycott list. Chargers against the nation’s second-largest cable company also remain pending at the National Labor Relations Board, and IBEW continues to organize and distribute pledge cards at Charter locations in 41 states.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s fraud lawsuit against Charter/Spectrum still appears to have legs, while a number of other attorneys general in states, including California and Illinois, are reportedly considering similar action; and the New York State Public Service Commission has ordered an official audit.
When recently asked about the ongoing strike, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James called the situation “unfortunate” because striking workers represent the disappearing middle class.
“I urge Spectrum to come to the table and resolve the issues,” James told LaborPrss last week. “The question is whether or not Spectrum receives any subsidies from the state and or local government. I seriously doubt that the federal government is going to assist us at this point and time. So, that’s really the issue — we’ve got to find some sort of stick, if you will, to bring them to the table and negotiate with these workers once and for all.”
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also spoke about taking a stick to Charter/Spectrum during the 12/3/2017 episode of Blue Collar Buzz.
“Probably the most import stick that we have is that we invest in many of the corporations,” DiNapoli said. “So, when we see a labor issue — and the Charter/Spectrum situation is one of them — we engage with the corporation as a shareholder, and say that we are very concerned that the value of the company is compromised when you do not have labor peace. I wish I could report to you that our reaching out, and our sending a letter has changed the dynamic — it hasn’t. But we’re still pushing.”
What could change the dynamic, according to IBEW Local 3, is addressing a monopolistic system in New York that deprives customers of a real choice of telecommunication providers.
“To not have the choice really weakened our position,” Erikson said. “Certainly, union members in New York City — public sector, private sector, and our membership, of course — would have all canceled Charter in a heartbeat if they had a lot of options. We need to work on that.”
Even without a viable stick to take to the telecom giant, Erikson says IBEW Local 3 continues to fight hard for workers.
“We’re doing everything we can here to try and sustain them through a difficult period with a company that, I’m not sure is ever going to give up, but will forever be branded as the poster child of corporate greed and union-busting in the City of New York,” the IBEW Local 3 business manager said. “I don’t think they’re going to survive that, at the end of the day.”