Brooklyn, NY – Six months spent striking against Charter Spectrum’s efforts to cut vital healthcare coverage and pension benefits has left employees of the telecommunication giant battling the blues and scrambling to make ends meet — but determined trade unionists marching over the Brooklyn Bridge this week, say they will continue the fight for a fair contract.
“It sucks,” 39-year-old Brooklynite David Fontanez told LaborPress on Monday. “The wife is tired of me [being home]. It’s time to go back to work. It’s been very difficult to support the family.”
The East Flatbush father of three is just one of roughly 1,800 IBEW Local 3 members who walked off the job last March, in opposition to cuts many believe are nothing more than blatant attempts to erase gains made at the bargaining table and bust the union.
“The union has been very helpful doing what they can to take care of us,” Fontanez continued. “But we’ve be doing whatever we gotta do to survive. I have been doing little side jobs on my own — little construction [things] here and there.”
IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson called this week’s show of union solidarity a “wake up call” for a corporate conglomerate bent on scrapping pension plans and healthcare coverage.
“This is blatant union busing by a CEO [Tom Rutledge] that made $98 million last year,” Erikson said. “They are starving our members into submission. This cannot go on — no excuses.”
After 10 years working for the company now known as Charter Spectrum, six months on strike has forced 52-year-old employee Guillermo Gonzalez behind the wheel of a car as an Uber driver.
“It’s very hard because we don’t have any income coming in,” the Flushing, Queens father of three said. “We have to survive. I try to do odd jobs here and there whenever possible — doing some construction. But mainly, I’ve been doing Uber. Just trying to get some money to provide for the family. It’s a new thing. Something I never did before. I’m reinventing myself with that. [But] it’s hard to sit there and think [Charter Spectrum] really doesn’t care about us.”
Charter Spectrum warehouse technician Albert DeJesus, 55, called being out on strike for the last six months, just plain “horrible.”
“I’m suffering,” DeJesus said. “It’s very depressing. I want to get back to work. There is no way to combat the boredom until I get back to work.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told LaborPress that this week’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge and rally at Foley Square was intended to send a clear and unambiguous message to Charter Spectrum’s corporate bosses.
“It’s an important coming together to show everybody that we’re sick of profitable corporations trying to take away from the workers that made them that profitable — and we’re not going to take it,” Trumka said. “We’re not going to let them beat us one by one. We’re going to stand together in solidarity and push back.”
Despite their individual hardships, striking IBEW Local 3 workers who spoke to LaborPress at Cadman Plaza on Monday, expressed the need for solidarity throughout the trade union movement.
“We’re fighting for a cause,” Fontanez added. “We can’t go down this way. We’re not just fighting for us. We’re fighting for every average American that goes to work every day and doesn’t get what they deserve.”
This week’s march and rally in support of IBEW 3 members included brothers and sisters from a diverse group of unions — Unite Here Local 100, 32BJ SEIU, Teamsters, CSEA, Carpenters, Sanitation Officers Association, PBA and Actors Equity — among them.
DeJesus said it is, indeed, vital for trade unionists to stick together and help support IBEW Local 3 in its fight to bring Charter Spectrum to the bargaining table.
“They just want to get rid of us,” DeJesus added. “All of the other unions are going to have to go through it, eventually. If we resolve it, they’ll have a better chance to win their fights.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, also expressed his hope that sympathetic politicians, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, will help turn the tide in workers’ favor.
“The company is just playing hardball with us,” Gonzalez added. “The outcome of the whole thing here is to just get rid of the whole union. That’s the main goal that they have. They could contribute to our benefits and keep our benefits…but in reality, that’s not what they want. The reality is they want to get rid of the union. And if our union goes, other unions are going to follow.”
Before stepping off at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, Governor Cuomo joined with union heads and striking IBEW Local 3 workers, and warned Charter Spectrum bosses that it is their days in New York that could be numbered.
Last week, the state fined the corporation $13 million for failing to fulfill aspects of the signed agreement involving enhanced customer service that initially allowed Charter Spectrum’s deal with Time Warner Cable to go forward.
“If they don’t get their act together and fulfill that agreement,” the governor said, “they’re going to be out of the State of New York.”