New York, NY – A group of striking Charter/Spectrum workers holding the picket line for nearly a year-and-a-half have introduced a new business plan to break the corporation’s stranglehold on cable-TV service in New York City and replace it with a new worker cooperative that benefits everyone.
It took the group of about 50 strikers just three months to assemble the comprehensive business plan, which they maintain could be enacted with limited disruption to New York City cable-TV subscribers
“The best time is now,” striking IBEW Local 3 member Troy Walcott, 39, told LaborPress this week. “If [the city] were to deny [Charter/Spectrum’s] Franchise Agreement now, for the stuff they’re doing in the city, [Charter/Spectrum] would still have two years that they have to service the city; during which time we could be building out our network to make the transition as seamless as possible and have as little disruption as possible.”
Charter/Spectrum’s existing Franchise Agreement with the City of New York expires in 2020, but a New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications [DoITT] audit of the agreement completed earlier this year, determined that “because of Charter’s overly broad interpretation of the term ‘located in the City’, Charter failed to engage in practices with respect to its vendor selection that demonstrate compliance with the requirement set forth in Section 17.4 of the Franchise Agreements.”
Additionally, the DoITT audit also noted that an “Administrative Law Judge at the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] found labor law violations on the part of Charter that constitute a default of its obligations under Section 17.1 of the Franchise Agreements.”
A new audit set to begin by September 1, will determine if Charter/Spectrum — the number two cable-TV provider in the nation — is actually in compliance with the terms set out in its Franchise Agreement with New York City.
Charter/Spectrum is in hot water across New York State for allegedly failing to complete the buildout it agreed to as part of its buyout of Time-Warner Cable in 2016, as well as falsely advertising subsequent connection speeds to the public, and providing shoddy service.
Walcott, IBEW Local 3 shop steward at Charter/Spectrum’s College Point facility in Queens, argues that as members of a design and survey team tasked with bringing cable-TV to areas of the city lacking service — he and his fellow strikers are perfectly suited to succeed Charter/Spectrum on city streets.
“We know the system because we built it,” Walcott said. “The system was already crumbling and the infrastructure needed to be redone. This is something that’s going to have to get done anyway. We’re saying, instead of letting them do it, let’s start doing it and rebuilding it ourselves — the people that are actually going to build it anyway.”
Although the 18-page “New York City Communication July 2018 Business Plan”is limited to the five boroughs and Bergen, New Jersey, Walcott says it is a “proof of concept” that can be expanded statewide.
We know the system because we built it. The system was already crumbling and the infrastructure needed to be redone. This is something that’s going to have to get done anyway. We’re saying, instead of letting them do it, let’s start doing it and rebuilding it ourselves — the people that are actually going to build it anyway. — Striking Charter/Spectrum Worker Troy Walcott
Mayor Bill de Blasio has long advocated for brining “universal broadband” to New York City by 2025.
On the March 13, episode of LaborPress’ “Blue Collar Buzz” podcast, DoITT Assistant Commissioner Kate Blum lamented a reality that only offers New York cable-TV subscribers a choice between Optimum, Verizon and Charter-Spectrum.
“New Yorkers Needs competition,” Blumm said. “At the heart of this matter, there’s a competition problem if these companies have so much power because there’s so little competition.”
Blum also noted Mayor de Blasio’s goal of bringing universal broadband to New York City by 2025, but acknowledged, “That’s too far out for the Spectrum workers who are on strike right now — we need… they need a solution that the city can’t provide at the moment to this labor dispute.”
The mayor already expressed support for the concept of a worker cooperative telecom at town hall meeting held last fall in Queens.
“We are interested in more competition going forward, for sure,” Mayor de Blasio told Walcott. “We definitely would like to hear if there’s something we can do with the workers themselves, that’s a really interesting idea.”
In 2015, the New York City Council allocated $1.2 million for the development and cultivation of worker cooperatives. That was followed by $2.1 million in 2016, and $2.2 million in 2017.
Chris Fasulo, another striking IBEW Local 3 member who has been trying to keep his family afloat the last year-and-a-half, applauds the idea of creating a new worker cooperative to succeed Charter/Spectrum.
“I think it’s a great idea if it competes with Spectrum or takes over if Spectrum loses the Franchise Agreement,” Fasulo said. “It will bring cheaper pricing to millions of households, better customer service & fair wages for employees.”
The proposed cable service cooperative will offer subscribers a range of familiar packages capped at $100 for all residential services.
Walcott has 20 years with the cable company, but was unaware of worker cooperatives until he started looking for solutions to help striking workers and dissatisfied customers.
“The citizens of New York City are going to be the ones that help me put it together because I believe they want this,” the Bedford-Stuyvesant resident said. “The swell from the community will be enough to push the elected officials to start this moving forward and get done what we needs to get done.”
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. Please check back for further updates.