New York, NY – This past summer, striking Charter/Spectrum worker Eddie Rogan, 50, climbed onto the Mets dugout towards the end of a game at Citi Field and unfurled an IBEW Local 3 banner — for the Long Island father of three, this modest act of civil disobedience aimed at raising awareness about the plight of working people was like “screaming into a canyon.”
“I’ve got a great marriage and great kids, so I’m extremely lucky there,” Rogan tells LaborPress. “The pain that you feel is that you’ve been with the company for 32 years; the company’s been around for 40 years and there’s never been a labor dispute. Management and the union have always gotten along; the main concern was the customer. But this new company rolls in with new ideas; they want to reinvent the wheel; change everything around and all hell breaks loose. It’s the way the county’s going — corporate greed is basically taking over. It’s killing middle-class America. It’s destroying blue collar workers. And I’m not sure when it’s going to change.”
Last March, after purchasing Time-Warner Cable for $65 billion, the second-largest cable provider in the nation forced roughly 1,800 employees onto the picket line with its plan to scrap the union’s carefully bargained healthcare coverage and pension plan.
For years, IBEW Local 3 had successfully negotiated contracts sacrificing real pay raises in favor of preserving worker pensions and medical plans.
“We’ve given up wage increases for many contracts just to keep the benefits and the pension that we have,” Rogan says. “We said we’ll take a 1-percent wage increase; we’ll take a half-a-percent — just keep the pension. Keep the benefits; keep the annuity; keep our future intact; keep my family’s plan intact. The money is fine right now. And we did that for years and years. And now, it’s being taken away from us.”
Rogan started working for the cable company — then operating as Manhattan Cable — straight out of high school in 1985. Back then, he took home between $180 and $200 a week. The then teenager quickly advanced up the pay scale, however. Right before the start of the strike, the highly-trained and vastly experienced Rogan was earning between $125,000 and $130,000 annually.
In 1998, Rogan married his wife Christine. The couple bought a home in Ronkonkoma the following year — the same home they live in to this day along with their three growing children — one girl and two boys.
Ten months into the strike against Charter/Spectrum, Rogan finds himself stitching together part-time jobs and driving for Uber just to “save the house and give the kids what they need.” He calls his wife Christine “Wonder Woman” for shouldering much of the economic burden, but the family health insurance runs out in June.
“[That’s] going to be here in a heartbeat, I know that,” Rogan says. “So, the resumes have been going out everywhere — Verizon…MTA…wherever I can go. It’s basically come down to, I’ll probably be starting a new career at age 50 — which is about as scary as you can get with a wife, three kids, and college on the horizon.”
A lot of Rogan’s frustration comes from the seemingly inability of local elected officials — most notably Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo — to effectively intervene and help end the labor dispute between Charter/Spectrum and its employees.
“The union has done all it could have done, but I think they put their eggs in the basket of the politicians a little too much because the mayor and the governor have completely turned their backs on us,” Rogan says.
Particularly galling to Rogan is the pro-labor rhetoric he says both de Blasio and Cuomo spouted during the workers march over the Brooklyn Bridge last September.
“If you go back to the speeches given, it was just basically a spew of lies…with Governor Cuomo saying this is a union town,” Rogan says. “You allowed [Charter/Spectrum] to bring in out-of-state contractors to keep their work going.”
The nearly year-long strike has already proven too much for many of Rogan’s co-workers. Although Rogan says strikers still number more than 1,000-strong, many have, indeed, chosen to cross the picket line.
“It’s real difficult,” Rogan says. “And in the beginning, it was real difficult because you felt it was them stabbing you in the back — how do you turn your back against the union? But now it’s 10, 11, 12 months in —I know two guys that have lost their marriages. Their wives have picked up and left with their kids. They’re losing cars, mortgages, apartments…you have to do what’s best for you. I’m pro-union — 100-percent. I think I’m too thick-headed where I’m never going to cross — and it’s probably going to hurt me. But it’s the way I was raised and it’s the way I am.”
Charter/Spectrum has remained virtually unresponsive throughout the 10-month strike, only briefly interrupting the incessant hyping of its so-called “wage-rich” package to periodically accuse striking employees of vandalism. Striking workers, argue that the company should, instead, be drawing a direct line between increasing customer complaints and system outages — to poorly performing out-of-state contractors.
Rogan says one of the striking workers erroneously accused of vandalism last year, was a close friend of his.
“They had literally five squad cars come to his house on his block, lights flashing, completely humiliated the guy in front of his neighbors and his family,” Rogan says. “[Cops] brought him in; kept him in jail all day. His wife and kids didn’t know what was going on until he got home at 9 o’clock at night. Three days later he was acquitted.”
And that “wage-rich” package that supposedly includes a 55-percent salary increase? Rogan says the figure only applies to entry level techs and only stands up to scrutiny when New York’s newly-established $15 an-hour minimum wage is factored in. For experienced journeymen, the proposed bump in pay would be peanuts, and totally meaningless given the out-of-pocket medical expenses the company now insists employees must shell out.
“For a family of four or five, you’re going to be pulling out-of-pocket sometimes, $12- to $15,000 more a year,” Rogan says. “It’s just ridiculous. Of course, they
don’t mention that. The way the businesses work…they flood the media with what they want because they don’t think people are going to be smart enough to investigate. Most people don’t look at the fine print. People see a company with their workers on strike and the first thing they say is, “A-ha…look at these guys — they want more money.’ No. That’s not it. It has nothing to do with money.”
Rogan further says that the way Charter/Spectrum has stacked the decked against workers, new hires will never be able to advance up the pay scale and achieve the American Dream the way he has.
“It was different back then; now, they changed it,” he says. “They play games so you can’t make it to top pay; so that you can’t make it to a higher rate. They decline you personal days. I feel bad for the service people going into the apartments with the Charter regimens — the working relationship between management and the workers just before the strike was completely gone; morale was shot.”
Rogan calls the entire strike experience “literally heartbreaking.”
“My dad passed away January 20, right before we went on strike — he was my best friend. Elevator mechanic, union guy; worked for the city all his life. Everything just piled up throughout the year.”
In order to get the IBEW Local 3 strike banner into Citi Field last season, Rogan had to wrap it up so it resembled a present for a buddy celebrating his own 50th birthday at the game. A member of stadium security quickly reacted to the ruse, however, and threatened to “run him in” for jumping onto the Mets dugout.
“I told him my whole plight,” Rogan recalls. “I said, we’re getting no media coverage. It’s killing us. I’m doing what I can. I’m trying to get stuff out there.”
That wasn’t enough to get Rogan out of water, however.
“I said, listen, I’m carrying a union card,” Rogan continues. “I don’t know if you carry a union card…but it’s a brotherhood. I’m doing what I can. What you need to do is tell me to get the hell out of here, and hand me my sign. He looked around…handed me my sign, and says…‘Get the hell out of here.’”