New York, NY – Struggling Charter/Spectrum strikers, out of work since last March, are nearing the 1-year anniversary of their strike with increasing levels of
anger, outrage, resentment, and fear filling their bellies.
“When we first went on strike, I thought it might go on for a month or so — maybe two months, tops,” Suffolk County dad Peter Schor told LaborPress. “I don’t know what went wrong; how it went wrong; but here we are.”
Schor has been a cable technician for 18-years — originally obtaining the gig when he was just 24, and no on in New York City had ever heard of Charter Communications. The Whitestone, Queens native started dating wife Rosemary in 1997. They married in 2004, bought a house in Comac, Long Island, and started a family that has produced three children, ages 9, 8 and 3.
The punishing 11-month strike has placed a tremendous strain on Schor’s happy marriage, however, as paying the bills and keeping the health insurance active have become increasingly harder to do.
About two months ago, a Charter/Spectrum driver accused Schor of breaking his truck window while on the picket line outside the company’s College Point facility. Cops arrested the striker. Schor maintained his innocence, and the Criminal Mischief charge was ultimately tossed out. But Schor says that brush with the legal system was enough to destroy his shot at even becoming an Uber driver.
“The last 11 months have just been insane — I can’t believe the strike is still going on,” Schor says. “I thought for sure something would have come up by now.”
Staten Island resident Sanela Djencic, 35, has three kids of her own, ages 9, 6 and 1. Husband Vedat has been with the cable company for 13 years, but since the strike, he’s been driving a tow truck, doing painting and plastering jobs, and most recently, doing electrical work through the union to keep the family’s medical coverage going.
“I watch my husband — this was his career,” Djencic says. “We built the American Dream. We got married, we bought a house, we started a family. We basically did everything around his job. I’m really mad at our elected officials — especially our mayor for letting this go on this long. We’ve had rallies, we’ve had meetings and gatherings, we did the pickets. We did everything strikers are supposed to do. There are people who went on strike after us, and they have gotten their strikes resolved. This has gone way too far. We need action.”
The mother of three says a meeting with Congress Member Chuck Schumer [D-NY] over the summer produced zero results.
“We never heard back from him,’ Djencic says.
Strikers continue to look to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio for relief. Both officials have been publicly critical of Charter Communications over the course of the 11-month strike — but the impasse remains.
“The Mayor has repeatedly used his bully pulpit to demand management come to the table and provide Charter Spectrum workers with a fair deal, and he has no plan to stop,” A spokesperson of the Mayor’s Office told LaborPress in an email.
Last year, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Charter Communications for allegedly “ripping off” New York subscribers and failing to deliver on promised internet speeds. The Supreme Court of New York recently upheld that suit, thwarting Charter’s attempts to have the case dismissed.
Critics of the number two cable-provider in the nation insist that Charter Communications’ practice of hiring out-of-state contractors puts it in direct violation of its franchise agreement with the city.
The corporation refuses to say exactly how many out-of-state contractors it is employing to do the work of striking IBEW Local 3 workers. According to Djencic, at least some of those out-of-state contractors, or “scabs”, were at one point being housed on a quiet residential street in the tony Staten Island neighborhood of Lighthouse Hill.
Last fall, Department of Building inspectors investigated complaints of commercial vehicles being stored in a residential driveway at the address and issued two violations.
Staffers from Staten Island Borough President James Oddo’s office also recently visited the residence in response to ongoing complaints, but failed to spot any Spectrum trucks or “anything out of the ordinary.”
For the last few months, Djencic has been attending local community board meetings, and even engaging people outside the local Costco, in a steadfast effort to raise public awareness about the nearly year-old strike against Charter/Spectrum.
“A lot of people don’t know why we’re on strike; a lot of people don’t even know we’re on strike, and a lot of people cant’ believe we’ve been on strike this long,” Djencic says.
The last time Charter Communications sat down with IBEW Local 3 at the bargaining table was back in December.
“The company made an offer and it substantially reduced the contributions going into the pension and welfare plan — and that was all part of their plan to pull out of it anyway,” IBEW Local 3 Business Representative Derek Jordan told LaborPress. “They did regressive bargaining. They made an offer that was subpar, and then they turned around and they took that offer off the table. It’s not about money, it’s all about union busting — they don’t want the union here.”
Schor says the “writing was on the wall” for the unionized workforce immediately after Charter Communications took over Time Warner Cable.
“When Charter came in, you could tell — they were getting their ducks in a row. They were doing everything they could to break us up,” Schor says.
Charter Communications bought Time Warner Cable two years ago, in a deal valued at $65 billion. The acquisition made Charter Communications the second-largest broadband provider in the nation, and the country’s third-largest pay TV provider with more than 25 million customers across 41 states.
Customer complaints since the purchase, however, have been commonplace.
“A lot of people are upset with the service they are providing,” Djencic says. “The service is terrible, the internet is constantly out. Various technicians come and try and resolve it, and it never gets resolved. The customers are pretty unhappy. It all makes sense. I explain to the them the techs that are coming into their homes…they’re not skilled. They’re not trained, and they are unscreened a lot of times. This is not just about our strike, it’s about the customer, too.”
Fed up Charter/Spectrum subscribers in Jackson, Wyoming, who have trouble tuning into this year’s Olympics coverage, recently called on the town to re-examine its franchise agreement with the corporation.
Charter Communications’ franchise agreement with the City of New York is set to expire in two years. Strikers say they can’t wait that long for elected officials to take action, and fear that the cable giant’s union busting behavior is setting a precedent in New York City that other corporations will be all too eager to follow.
When asked about those fears, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio called hizzoner “an outspoken supporter of the right to organize” who has been “equally outspoken against Charter.”
As it is, Schor says he trying to keep the faith, but wakes up every day hoping the last 11 months have all been a dream and that he and the rest of his brothers and sisters on the picket line can get back to work. But only on one condition.
“I’m not going back to work without my union,” Schor says. “I know what’s going to happen if I go back without the union, without their support.”
Djencic remains resolute as well.
“My husband [Vedat] is such a straight up, hardworking guy,” she says. “He always worked overtime and was never written up. That’s why I fight so hard, because he’s emotionally done with the whole thing. [But] I go back and look though all of his certificates and I ask him, ‘do you really want to let this company take this away from you just like that?’ For me, it’s personal because I know what our family has sacrificed, and I know how hard it’s been on us.”