June 24, 2013
By Stephanie West
New York, NY – The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has launched a campaign blitz with a new TV ad, online ads, and a newspaper ad targeting Cablevision-Optimum CEO James Dolan for his company’s illegal, anti-union practices. The ads label Dolan as a “threat to workers everywhere” for attempting to undermine the nation’s labor board, and call for New York City and New York State to stop giving tax breaks and other special public benefits to his companies.
“James Dolan believes his billions of dollars have bought him his own rules and that he doesn’t have to follow the same laws as everyday New Yorkers and other business owners,” said Chris Shelton, Vice President of the Communications Workers of America District 1. “It’s time for our city and state to stop showering special benefits on a corporate outlaw who has shown a blatant disregard for our nation’s labor laws and the civil and labor rights of his company’s workers. New Yorkers need to know that billionaires like James Dolan are not above the law and should pay their taxes and follow the law just like everyone else.”
In response to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) authorizing multiple complaints against Cablevision-Optimum and its owner, the company has recently sought to undermine the authority of the federal agency by challenging its standing in court. It’s one of several litigious attempts by the company to avoid accountability. The NLRB trial on the complaints is scheduled to start on July 8 and Dolan is expected to testify because of the complaints being brought by the board against his personal actions.
The Dolan-owned Madison Square Garden (MSG) – a $4.4 billion company – continues to receive a property tax exemption that has cost city taxpayers over $350 million. MSG has paid no property taxes since 1982 when the Koch administration granted it the tax break to keep the Knicks and Rangers in New York City after they threatened to leave the city. The late Mayor Koch, as well as others involved in the agreement’s negotiations over 30 years ago, believed the tax break was for a temporary period of 10 years and not in perpetuity.
In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg called on the company to surrender the tax break and called it an “undeserved giveaway.” In 2008, the New York City Council voted 40 to 3 in support of a resolution calling for an end to the property tax break.
Dolan’s Cablevision-Optimum company also benefits from a city franchise agreement that gives it a virtual monopoly to provide cable television service in many neighborhoods. Its franchise agreement with the City clearly states that “Franchisee shall recognize the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing in accordance with applicable law.”
The company’s illegal firing of 22 Brooklyn workers in January and other complaints leveled at it by the NLRB indicates its violation of the franchise agreement. Over the last 20 months, the company has run a shamelessly destructive anti-union campaign since its nearly 300 Brooklyn workers overwhelmingly voted in January 2012 to become the first in the company to join a union.
Background on the labor dispute
In April, the National Labor Relations Board authorized the issuing of complaints against Cablevision in two separate cases – one in the Bronx and one in Brooklyn – that have now been consolidated. Cablevision and its CEO James Dolan have been charged with intimidating and spying on workers, illegally firing 22 workers and bargaining in bad faith. CWA has also launched an effort to persuade the NBA to choose Brooklyn, rather than the Dolan-owned Madison Square Garden, for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game.
The company’s anti-worker activities have been the subject of multiple protests outside of its Brooklyn garages by upset community members, condemnation by all four major Democratic mayoral candidates, and a City Council hearing on whether it had violated its franchise agreement with the City of New York. Several weeks ago, the company’s actions and the federal labor issues they raised were the subject of a forum held by members of Congress’ Education and the Workforce Committee in Brooklyn.
CWA has called for the City to hold the company accountable for breaching its franchise agreement, and to require it to bargain in good faith with the union. The union has also called for the city and state to stop giving companies owned by James Dolan, the owner of Madison Square Garden and Cablevision, tax breaks and special benefits.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent a letter to the NBA in February urging it not to hold its All-Star Game at MSG, so as not to reward owner James Dolan for the egregiously anti-union behavior of Cablevision-Optimum.