January 23, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
Cablevision is pulling out all the stops to stop 285 field technicians from voting next Thursday to join CWA 1109. Both the workers and the company have been through this before as this is the fourth organizing attempt by the workers in the past 10 years. One field technician said the breaking point occurred when the company demanded its workers complete 8 jobs per day without any additional compensation.
According to Tim Dubnau, an organizer for CWA District 1, the company has been intensifying its anti-union campaign by holding forced captive audience meetings four days per week for the past 40 days showing workers anti-union videos and telling the workers unions are corrupt, violent and are only interested in dues monies.
He explained the workers filed for an election in early December with the National Labor Relations Board, but the company demanded for more time, which the workers agreed to or else they and the company would have had to attend a hearing before the NLRB.
Dubnau said a working committee made up of Cablevision workers from three garages has been holding firm and strong despite the company’s intimidation. “The workers are organizing again because they’ve had enough of low wages, terrible health care benefits with high premiums and they’re pissed that the former Chief Operating Officer Tom Rutledge left the company with a $28 million payment.”
Dubnau also noted, “If you take the wages of every Cablevision worker in Brooklyn combined and multiply them by two, the amount still doesn’t equal the exorbitant amount one person earned.”
Chris Calabrese, executive vice president of Local 1109 and lead organizer for the campaign, said the workers earn on average about $40,000 annually and receive no pension. “They do the same work as Verizon and Time Warner workers do, but they are paid about 50 percent less.
Calabrese feels confident that, if the vote was held today, the workers would overwhelmingly vote for a union. But he emphasized that the last seven days before an election are the hardest because the company “comes at the workers will all kinds of pressure.”
“I think they have the strength to win, but you can never trust a company in this situation.” He mentioned that the company, which has proven to deploy a scorched-earth policy to stop unionization before, might fire someone to freeze the campaign or start a vicious rumor to divide the workers.
But another field technician feels the workers will prevail. He acknowledged that he and his co-workers have sometimes been afraid of losing their jobs over the past four months, but said, “If I get fired over trying to organize a union, it’d be worth it.”
Another technician said the workers need a union because the company wants the workers to do more like installing and troubleshooting additional services without compensating the extra work with extra pay. “I want union representation so that we can be treated as human beings and not as numbers.”
He also said, “I don’t feel my wages match my effort. We are severely underpaid and deserve better.”
Calabrese mentioned if the workers prevail, the first priority with the company would be to discuss wages. But a close second issue to discuss is the number of individual contractors the company uses as a competing workforce. “There are three times as many contractors as Cablevision workers in Brooklyn.”
But Calabrese noted the union wants to organize them too because as Cablevision expands and more work possibly goes to the new bargaining unit, the contractors could be the first ones hired because they already have experience.
Jim Maiella, a Cablevision spokesman, who would not answer why the company opposes its workers forming a union in light of the worker’s grievances, said in a written statement that, “In one of the worst economies since the Great Depression, Cablevision employees have great jobs with excellent benefits and the company has not laid off any technicians….In fact, the company is currently hiring and expanding our New York City workforce. Our relationship with our employees is excellent and it’s up to them.”
When pressed on the lower wages Cablevision workers earn compared to other telecom workers in the industry, many of them represented by CWA Local 1109, Maiella wrote, “Absolutely false. Our salaries are competitive with other providers, including Verizon.”