Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include reaction from Charter/Spectrum spokesperson John Bonomo.
New York, NY – Hundreds of striking workers from IBEW Local 3 and supporters, many from other unions, rallied on East 23rd Street in Manhattan, across the street from Charter/Spectrum headquarters, one year into a strike that originally sent some 1,800 workers out into the cold.
As music from labor songs to Bon Jovi (“the union’s on strike” is a lyric from the band’s “Livin’ on A Prayer”) played on loudspeakers, and passing vehicles from city buses to postal service vans to yellow cabs honked in support, those in the crowd packed behind police barricades raised signs and fists to make their voices heard. The strike has been ongoing since the company demanded the end of the union defined benefit pension fund and the union health care plan, driving workers out into the streets. The union is also concerned about the company’s use of cheap, sub-contracted labor.
“Happy Anniversary!” someone called out. The blue Spectrum flag hanging outside the building fluttered next to an American flag; in the first floor windows, a couple of figures watched the scene unfold, one eating, occasionally laughing along with someone next to him, and a woman held up her phone to film the protest. In contrast to that emptiness and apparent languor, workers across the street were impassioned and imbued with feeling.
“This is union busting 101,” said one who had been on strike for the full year. “The company rep said, ‘Over my dead body’ would they give us medical benefits. They’re refusing anything.” He said another striker who just bought a house when the strike began had to move back in with his mother and father. Another worker, not on strike but in the same union, said, “As they break down part of the union they will go for the whole union – and all working people. An injury to one is an injury to all.” A third, who said he’d been in the Local for 40 years, said, “We’re trained professionals. We all have college degrees, all kinds of training. Training is the key. We’re all big earners, big taxpayers, and pay big cable bills. Senior guys like me train the others – you want professionals in your house; you want the job done right.”
Elected officials including NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Public Advocate Tish James came to the podium to voice support, and were preceded by Chris Erickson, business manager for the local, who informed the crowd, “For 40 years we had a relationship with Time Warner, a good company, with good benefits. Then Charter/Spectrum came in and destroyed the lives of 1,800 workers,” referring to the merger of the companies that precipitated the changes.
As they break down part of the union they will go for the whole union – and all working people.
Said Stringer, “We will shut [the company] down – come to the [bargaining] table and get it done.” The comptroller reminded everyone that in the midst of the strike, CEO Tom Rutledge got a $100 million a pay package; signs in the crowd in the same vein read, “The 99% never got $99 million”. Brewer reminded those present that the company’s franchise review was coming up, and she was on the voting commission. “If they don’t do the right thing we’ll vote them out,” she promised. James, brimming with outrage, said, “If they don’t care about the heart and soul of NYC – the middle class – we’ll kick them out. This is our damn city.” She said that at the time of the merger the company had promised to protect the workers. “They lied.” She also mentioned that the company is being sued by the Attorney General of New York for fraud regarding internet speed, and if found guilty, she said, “we’ll give them the boot.”
Charter/Spectrum John Bonomo spokesperson later argued that the cable giant is in “full compliance with our merger order and the New York City franchise.”
“We are focused on best serving our customers,” Bonomo said in an email. “Our dedicated team of NYC employees is working hard every day to deliver the best TV, internet and voice experience to Spectrum customers. We continue to meet customer demands for installation and repair work, and we’re also investing in even better Spectrum services, including increasing our starting internet speed to 200 Mbps and offering gigabit connections to NYC residents.”
“All we want is a fair contract,” said another striker at the podium. “New York is a union town.” As the strike drags on, those without work wait to see if that will be enough.