February 3, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
More than 200 people packed SEIU Local 1199’s Manhattan union hall Feb. 1 to y support the about 280 Brooklyn Cablevision workers who’ve been trying to win a contract from the company for two years.
Cablevision and its CEO and co-owner, James Dolan, have refused to give them a contract since they voted to join the Communications Workers of America in January 2012. In January 2013, the company fired 22 workers who’d asked for a meeting with management. “About an hour later, they herded us into a room and told us we were being permanently replaced,” installer/serviceman Clarence Adams told the rally. (The 22 won their jobs back six weeks later thanks to public and political pressure, he said afterwards.) Cablevision also gave raises to its nearly 17,000 nonunion workers in 2012, while denying them to the Brooklyn unit.
“They have no choice but to recognize us,” CWA Local 1109 president Tony Spina told LaborPress. “We just can’t get a contract. We’ve been at the bargaining table for two years and still no contract. Our goal is to keep the pressure on.” Cablevision, says the CWA, “has spent millions of dollars on executive compensation and union-busting attorneys—far more than it would take to settle a fair contract.”
The rally featured speeches by a dozen-odd elected officials, including Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), Public Advocate Letitia James, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and several state legislators and City Councilmembers, including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Rev. Al Sharpton closed it, telling the crowd that “roaches run when you cut the light on” and “the beggin’ days are over.”
Demetrius DeBiase, a baggage handler at Newark Airport, and fast-food worker and organizer Naquasia LeGrand also spoke, with LeGrand saying that whether you’re “frying chicken, cleaning airplanes, or fixing somebody’s cable, you deserve a living wage.”
Tech 22, a hip-hop quintet starring some of the laid-off Brooklyn workers, performed, with a woman singing “one day longer, one day stronger” over a slow R&B jam, followed by the men chanting “Where the papers at? We need a contract” and “We ain’t quittin’ till the papers get written.”
“No matter what tactics corporate America uses, we will not waver,” Local 1109 chief shop steward Lawrence Hendrickson said, rousing the red-clad crowd when he added that unlike the Dolan-owned Knicks and Rangers, “the Brooklyn CWA will not lose.”
The CWA has an unfair labor practices complaint against Cablevision pending with the National Labor Relations Board. Final evidence will be presented to an administrative law judge Feb. 18, Hendrickson said after the rally.
“Dolan has stalled long enough,” said Irene Abraham, a Verizon worker who brought her 9-year-old daughter to the rally.