New York, NY – Striking Spectrum worker Alfred Boothe, 40, didn’t much like his job when he first started out in the warehouse nine years ago. But his mom, a
unionized social worker with the City of New York, convinced him to stick with it because of the union benefits. Marlene Boothe, 69, became her son’s biggest booster when the strike started 10 months ago, and even though, she can no longer speak after suffering a series of devastating strokes back in November, Alfred is sure his mom wants him to continue the fight.
“If my mom could speak, she would tell me to fight, fight, fight, to the end,” Alfred tells LaborPress. “She really is my motivation for the strike. When I had my doubts, she was the one who was like, ‘It’s all or nothing.'”
Nine years ago, the East Flatbush father of two says working for the cable company — then Time-Warner Cable — was much different than it is now under the control of Charter Communications.
Over the last year, the second-largest cable provider in the nation has reportedly added thousands of new Internet, voice and video customers to its millions of paid subscribers, and, according to Boothe, also set about creating an uncharacteristically “crab in a barrel mentality” among an increasingly hard pressed workforce.
“For me, the strike was a no-brainer,” Boothe says. “Especially, if we’re not asking for a raise. We’re not asking for more money; we just wanted to keep it exactly the way we had it. We’ve never been on strike before. This is our first strike in 40 years. I don’t think the union is asking for too much. We don’t want raises, we don’t want any concessions — we just want it the way it was.”
The way it was, allowed Boothe and other IBEW Local 3 workers to carve out middle-class existences largely owing to their union healthcare coverage and pension plans. Two things, under the leadership of $98 million-a-year CEO Tom Rutledge, Charter/Spectrum is hellbent on dismantling and replacing with its own “excellent health insurance choices” and “401(k) savings plan[s].”
“They don’t want a middle class,” Boothe says. “They want rich and they want poor. There’s no in between and no buffer.
“My daughter is due for root canal,” Boothe says. “If we had this root canal through the company, I would be paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Meanwhile, with the union benefits I pay nothing.”
The veteran cable technician also doesn’t like being forced to bet his future on Wall Street’s casino crapshoot.
“I don’t want my money in the [stock] market,” Boothe says. “I need to have something where I know that I have a stipend every month when I retire, and not have to worry about where my next dollar is coming from. With 401(k)s, at any given time, a company can go south. I don’t like anyone gambling with my future.”
For Boothe, Charter/Spectrum’s insistence on scrapping Local 3’s healthcare coverage and pension plan epitomizes the rapacious culture of greed permeating corporate America today.
“This was a wake up call for me to realize that these Fortune 500 Companies really don’t care about people; they just care about the stockholders and making more and more money,” he says. “What I want to know from them is, what’s a good number for them to stop? [Of course,] there is no good number — numbers are infinite. Greed begets more greed. You make one billion, you’re gonna want to make two billion. And it doesn’t stop. And it’s all on the hard backs of middle class people.”
During Charter Communications’ Q4 2017 Earnings Conference Call held on February 2, Rutledge boasted, “Our 2017 customer results were as planned. For the full year, we grew total customer relationships by nearly 4% despite all the significant changes we made to our business. Quality sales have increased and the worst of legacy Time Warner Cable churn is behind us.”
“They don’t want a middle class,” Boothe says. “They want rich and they want poor. There’s no in between and no buffer. And it’s not like these guys cant’ afford it — they can afford it. Their stock prices are flying through the roof off of the acquisition.”
After nearly a year on strike, Boothe says there’s a lot of anger and feelings of betrayal on the picket line — much of it directed at the public servants elected to supposedly champion New York’s working men and women.
“If you don’t put the pressure down now, other companies could come to New York and feel free to do what they want to do, or manipulate whatever they want to manipulate,” Boothe says. “It’s sad that the elected officials that we vote for, who we feel have our best interests at heart, really don’t. I thought they would do more. But nothing has really moved. Nothing any politician has done has moved [the strike].”
Many strikers specifically point to the city’s conduct in pursuing an investigation into Charter’s use of out-of-state workers. Striking workers contend that the cable giant is in violation of its franchise agreement with the City of New York, which limits the number of out-of-state workers it can employ, and that elected officials have failed to act.
“It’s really demoralizing,” Boothe says. “I’ve seen people lose homes, I’ve seen people lose wives, I’ve seen people lose everything just fighting for what they’re fighting for.”
Boothe calls the idea of returning to Charter/Spectrum without union representation, “pointless.” Contemplating the kinds of workplaces daughters Emilia, 15, and Brianna, 20, are set to inherit, keeps him up at night worrying.
“I definitely believe, for them to be part of middle class or higher, they will have to become people who are into corporate greed; people who climb on another person’s back to be successful,” he says. “Those are the things I fear for my children. The very fiber of American culture is becoming more and more hostile to the middle-class or lower-middle class. I think the 1-percent is really putting a choke hold on the workforce.”
Sometimes, all Boothe can think to do is pray.
“That’s all I can do…and look to my kids for motivation and keep going,” he says. “If I give up, what’s going to happen to them? I can’t just give up on my family. This is when they need me the most.”