New York, NY – When more two-thousand striking Charter Spectrum workers and their supporters packed Times Square earlier
this week, they weren’t there solely to send a powerful message to a telecom giant that refuses to settle a fair contract after a seven-month strike. They were also there to speak directly to workers all across the nation — we are all under attack.
“The stars are lined up — and they are not in our favor right now,” IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson told LaborPress ahead of Monday’s Broadway & 42nd Street rally.
About 1,800 Charter Spectrum employees belonging to IBEW Local 3 went on strike back on March 28, after the second-largest cable company in the United States refused to abandon plans to scrap employee pension contributions and gut medical and pension plans.
“We haven’t met in awhile and that’s their decision,” Erikson said. “[Spectrum] basically said to us, ‘We’re not going to participate in the union benefits plans and there’s nothing else to talk about until you drop that demand.’ We’re not dropping that demand. This is worth fighting for.”
While CEO Tom Rutledge enjoys an obscene $98 million compensation package, striking Spectrum employees who have now gone more than half the calendar year without a paycheck — are being pushed to the brink as funds begin to runout. A few have even resorted to sleeping in their cars or a city shelter.
The union says obdurate Charter Spectrum execs are intent on a strategy of “starving workers into submission,” and their actions are a good indication of what U.S workers everywhere can expect from the rest of corporate America.
“It’s happening all over the country,” IBEW District 3 Vice-President Mike Welsh told rally-goers. “Corporate greed has no bounds — it’s everywhere and it keeps growing and growing.”
As stark as it is, however, that reality is not reaching everyone who works for a living.
“The other side is doing a good job at driving a wedge between the working people,” Erikson continued. “It’s time for us to remind
them that the unions are really the strength for all working people — and they should be supporting us. There was a time when people would never cross a picket line. today, they just look at you and move right along.”
Despite stagnant wages, vanishing pensions, unaffordable healthcare, barriers to due process, wage theft, on-the-job harassment — and a myriad of other workplace abuses — a decades-long right-wing propaganda campaign aimed at demonizing organized labor has largely succeed in driving a wedge between workers who should be natural allies.
“Labor has been getting kicked around for so long now, that people kind of look at the labor union members as, like…elitists,” Erickson added. “Most people don’t enjoy the benefits that [union members] have. And the shame of it, is that they’ve divided the workforce where people are [now] saying, ‘I don’t have a pension. I don’t have retiree medical. Why should the cops — why should [union members]?’”
Peter Meringolo, chair of the New York State Employee Conference, warned workers everywhere that IBEW Local 3’s fight against Charter Spectrum corporatists needs to be their fight as well.
“What would this city and state be without the union people?” Meringolo told LaborPress. “[The corporatists] don’t give a s—t about everything we worked for. If they can do this to a union as strong as Local 3 — what are they going to do to the rest of us? The days of [saying], ‘Well…it’s not going to happen to me.’ Well…it will happen to you. We can’t let Spectrum get away with this.”
State and city officials from Governor Andrew Cuomo down to New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have
publicly lined up with striking workers against Charter Spectrum. The company, which bought the Internet, TV and voice business from Time-Wanner Cable in May, 2015 for $55 billion, made certain services pledges to the city and state in order for the sale to be approved, which critics charge they have failed to fulfill.
In September, New York State actually fined Charter Spectrum $13 million for failing to fulfill aspects of the signed agreement involving enhanced customer service.
A week later, Governor Cuomo warned that if Charter Spectrum does not “get their act together and fulfill that agreement —they’re going to be out of the State of New York.”
Banners at Monday’s Time Square rally called on government officials to “pull the Spectrum franchise.”