New York, NY – Force roughly 1,8000 workers into a punishing 20-month strike — and then force the decertification of their union. That was telecom giant Charter/Spectrum’s plan all along, according to the head of IBEW Local 3.
“They knew that strike would result in hardship,” IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson recently told thousands of trade unionists rallying in front of Charter/Spectrum’s East 23rd Street headquarters in support of striking families. “They basically had 1,800 people out of work; they starved them into submission — and, unfortunately, some of them went back to that company under the implemented terms. Very tough decision — I know that. But the fact is, that was the plan from the beginning: force the strike and then force the decertification of the union.”
This week’s massive trade unionist rally in support of striking IBEW Local 3 workers at Charter/Spectrum HQ came after the latest round of talks between the corporation and the union to end the nearly two-year strike, broke down again last Friday.
“[Governor Andrew Cuomo] got the parties together a month ago, and we made every effort to make an agreement,” Erikson said. “And as we got closer, very close, [Charter/Spectrum] realized, if they make an agreement, then they would lose on the decertification and the workforce would want to have a union contract. And what did they do? They walked away from the negotiations. That’s why we’re here again today to send a message to this union-busing company: it ain’t going to work here. And if we don’t get a contract, we’re gonna run Charter/Spectrum out of New York.”
As we got closer, very close, [Charter/Spectrum] realized, if they make an agreement, then they would lose on the decertification and the workforce would want to have a union contract. And what did they do? They walked away from the negotiations. — IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson
Charter/Spectrum insists that it has been bargaining in good faith throughout the interminably long strike and, in fact, has made significant concessions to the union, but that it is Local 3 that is blocking an agreement to end the standoff.
Corporate spokesperson John Bonomo dismissed the accusation that Charter/Spectrum intended to force a strike and bring about the decertification of IBEW Local 3 — an effort that remains in effect.
“Why would we want a strike? We have been trying for 20 months to settle it,” Bonomo told LaborPress in an email. “I will not comment on the decertification issue.”
Cuomo was among a plethora of elected officials and union leaders who also addressed Wednesday’s rally on Charter/Spectrum’s doorstep. After previously backing a boycott of Charter/Spectrum owned cable channels, the governor blasted the telecom giant’s own corporate-owned news programming for blacking out coverage of both the ongoing IBEW Local 3 Strike and the looming possibility that Charter/Spectrum could be forced out of the state after running afoul of the State Attorney General’s Office, Public Service Commission [PSC] and the City of New York.
“You know what their news organization never covered? The fact that the State of New York is trying to take away their franchise and kick them out of New York,” the governor said. “The fact that 2,000 Local 3 members were kicked to the street and have been rallying for two years for fairness and decency.”
In a December 5, blogpost, however, Charter/Spectrum touted its “positive labor record” and “history of not only positive labor relations, but also providing generous pay, robust benefits and opportunities for career advancement.”
“Charter agreed to substantial concessions while still ensuring our current employees are well cared for,” The post also states. “This included continuing to fund the union’s medical and benefit plan, the JIB, which was the union’s #1 demand. While Charter still believes that the JIB is not in the best interests of our employees and diverts money from wages to support less ideal benefits than the wages and benefits Charter provides, we made this concession in an effort to end the strike.”
Erikson agued on Wednesday, that IBEW Local 3 had enjoyed a long and productive 40-year working relationship with Time-Warner Cable, which Charter/Spectrum promptly proceeded to trash not long after purchasing that company in 2016.
“We had a great relationship with Time-Warner and we negotiated contracts every three years,” Erikson said. “And for those 40 years, those employees enjoyed the benefits that every one of us strives to have — a defined benefits pension. Healthcare; good healthcare, healthcare in retirement…When Charter came into New York and the PSC [Public Service Commission] approved the merger, they agreed to a couple of things: to build out the system in places where it needed to be built out; and another very important thing that they agreed to was not to replace the customer-facing workforce. There were protections for the workers. They came to the table — and the first proposal in the negotiations was to eliminate the union pension fund and the union benefits.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted Charter/Spectrum executive pay packages totaling tens of millions of dollars while striking IBEW Local 3 families suffer through another holiday season in limbo.
“If I was Spectrum, I would look at this room tonight and say, we have to come to the table and settle this by the end of the week,” he said.