NEW YORK, N.Y.—“It’s been three years with no money. It’s tough,” says Jason, one of the 1,800 workers at the Spectrum cable-TV company who’ve now been on strike for more than 1,000 days with no sign of management offering a palatable deal. He’s gotten some electrical and data work through their union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3, but it’s not steady, and the pay and benefits don’t match up with what he had at Spectrum.
“A lot of families lost their homes,” he says. “A lot of people died from stress.”
He doesn’t want to give his last name. Troy Walcott, the Local 3 member who was lead organizer of a rally at City Hall Dec. 23, to mark the walkout’s 1,001st day, says strikers are reluctant to talk about their hardships in public—foreclosures, losing medical coverage, having their savings for their kids to go to college wiped out. Some of the about 150 strikers and supporters who turned out wore black Santa hats to symbolize what organizers called “1,000 days of coal.”
“We’re still out here struggling,” he told the crowd. “A lot of people have forgotten.”
One reason for that, he said afterwards, is that the city’s leading local-news TV channel, New York 1, is owned by Spectrum, and “they won’t say a word about us.”
Local 3 members walked out in March 2017 after Spectrum, which bought the city’s cable-TV franchise for $57 billion in 2016 from Time Warner, demanded to change workers’ health benefits to a high-deductible plan and replace their pensions with a 401(k) plan. “There’s been no movement on anything for the past year. The company’s still pushing decertification,” Local 3 business agent Derek Jordan told LaborPress. “Spectrum’s just a bad company.”
Spectrum, which has continued to operate by hiring strikebreakers, is trying to have Local 3 decertified as the union representing its workers. A company spokesperson did not answer questions about the state of the negotiations.
“Spectrum’s diverse and skilled technicians have been delivering great service to more than 1 million New York City customers,” he said. “We are committed to providing our 11,000 New York employees with highly competitive wages, excellent health-care and retirement benefits, and training and career growth opportunities.”
The rally was organized by rank-and-file Local 3 members, with the union leadership supporting them but staying in the background. “We wanted it to be that the members are putting something together,” says Walcott.
The demonstrators sang parodies of Christmas carols, with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” adopted as “Four foreclosed homes, three starving dogs, two many past-due bills, and spit on worker rights and dignity.” The version of “Jingle Bells” opened with “Stealing from New York/ In some deceitful ways” and the chorus directed the traditional kids’ parody at Spectrum executives—“Rutledge hell, Kevin smells, Quigley laid an egg.”
“Joy to the world, when scabs are gone,” they sang. “Let’s bring back Local 3.”
The main hope the workers have now is that the City Council will vote against renewing Spectrum’s franchise when it expires in July. “Christmas in July is coming,” City Councilmember Costa Constantinides (D-Queens), one of a dozen-odd elected officials who spoke. “Spectrum has been on the naughty list for a long time.”
“It’s not as if the city doesn’t have leverage to force Charter to do the right thing,” said Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Queens), referring to Charter Communications, Spectrum’s parent company. “The city has failed you. We have failed you.”
Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn) told LaborPress before the rally that the Council was “exploring options” and seeking legal advice on whether something could be done about the franchise agreement.
Barry Grodenchik (D-Brooklyn) called Spectrum’s actions “a full frontal attack on working people” and said there was “no way on God’s green Earth” he would vote to renew the franchise. The Council has the power to approve franchises, he told LaborPress later, and “this company has thumbed their nose at New York City.”
Former City Comptroller John Liu got applause when he called for cable TV to be publicly owned and use union labor.
One model for that, says Walcott, is Chattanooga, Tennessee, where EPB, the city’s publicly owned electric-power company since the New Deal era, now also provides cable-TV and high-speed Internet service. Another possibility, he adds, is some combination of public and worker ownership.
“For elected officials like me who talk a big game about supporting working people, it’s about showing up,” Brannan told LaborPress. “That these guys have been on strike for 1,000 days without getting anything, it’s disgusting.”