New York, NY – On Sunday, Donald Trump took time out ahead of this year’s lavish Super Bowl spectacular to salute U.S. service men and women around the
world for defending “our American way of life.” He did not, however, also salute striking IBEW Local 3 workers who have spent the last 10 months struggling to preserve the kinds of traditional middle-class jobs that have made “our American way of life” possible.
During his eight years as a cable technician with Time-Warner Cable, and then Charter/Spectrum — Chris Fasulo, 40, and his wife Lisa, were able to buy a home in Colonia, New Jersey and raise two children, 10 and 14.
Although determined to fight it, Fasulo feels his piece of the American Dream slipping through his fingers fast.
“I don’t know what my future holds for me and my family — I can’t plan anything,” Fasulo recently told LaborPress. “It’s so uncomfortable, day-to-day, not knowing what could happen.”
A recently completed union work program has extended Fasulo’s disappearing healthcare coverage for another six months. But who knows after that? Some co-workers who completed the same union program back in August, are now coming face-to-face with the reality of not having healthcare.
“My kids are very active in sports — what happens after that…when I don’t have insurance [for them?] Do I lose my house?” Fasulo says.
Lots of striking IBEW Local 3 workers who walked off the job back on March 28, after Charter/Spectrum — the second-largest cable provider in the nation — decided it wanted to scrap both the union’s defined benefit pension fund and health care plan, have been grappling with similar worries for a long time now.
The obdurate cable giant issued a ballyhooed “wage-rich” package along with a six-percent dollar-for-dollar matched 401(k) plan and “excellent health insurances choices” last summer, and has refused to budge ever since.
But like many of his co-workers, Fasulo knows that the package Charter/Spectrum is peddling to striking employees stinks to high heaven.
“I’m a journeyman — they’re looking to give you…I don’t know, like a $4 wage increase. So, that would come out to about $100 extra a month,” Fasulo says. “But then, I need a family package for my medical plan, which comes out to about $400 extra a month in premiums. Now, I’m down $300 a month. So, it’s almost like a $3,600 a year wage decrease.”
And forget about that vaunted 401(k) plan — striking workers insist the financial gamble it implies simply cannot measure up to the defined pension benefits package IBEW Local 3 successfully won at the bargaining table, long ago.
“My whole plan was to know exactly how much you’re getting per month when I got older,” Fasulo says. “Because of the calculations with the union, I get like $71 per year that I’m there. So, if I’m there for 30 years, I know that I’m going to get $2,100 a month or whatever it comes out to, depending on how many years I’m with the company. As opposed to having to take my money out and putting it into this…and taking my money out and putting into that — as the 401(k) goes up and down.”
Fasulo was making just $9 an hour when he first started out at the cable company. But, as a union member, he was confident he had a career.
“At least I thought this was a career,” he says. “And you start to plan….in 30 years, I’ll be 60 years old…I’ll have my house paid off. Plus, I’ll get my defined
pension plan — with the union benefits, I don’t have to go out and get AARP to cover the extra 20-percent of my healthcare that Medicare won’t cover. It’s already paid for by my union benefits.”
Today, Fasulo works a part-time job driving a truck delivering packages for his wife’s company, and doing whatever odd jobs he can find. The truck’s a lease — so, he expects, one day soon, to be “hit over the head with a lot of overage charges.” But that’s a worry for another day.
“Some bills aren’t getting paid,” Fasulo admits. “I’m fortunate enough that I found something to keep us a little bit afloat. But let me tell you…my wife, by far, is the hero of this story. She works six days-a-week, 12- to 14-hours-a-day just to bring home some extra money so the kids don’t feel much of an impact.”
Nevertheless, Fasulo knows he and Lisa cannot completely shield their kids from the anxiety of an uncertain future.
“They play a lot of sports and do a lot of extra curricular activities so, we try not to make it uncomfortable for them with that,” the Jersey dad says. “So, if I need to do some kind of side thing — or hang up a TV to get a hundred bucks to pay for my son’s baseball registration — I do that. But they know what’s going on.”
Before going out on strike, Fasulo had boosted his salary to $37 an hour. He took a lot of pride in skillfully performing his duties well, and is very concerned about the growing list of outages and customer complains Charter/Spectrum is experiencing in the absence of its unionized workforce.
“Cable just isn’t TV anymore — it’s internet and phone service, too,” Fasulo says. “These services, when down for long periods of time can become life or death situations. For instance, Life Alert runs through the phone…what happens if an elderly person presses that button and no one answers because the phone service is down? Security alarms run through the internet — what happens if someone breaks in and nothing is sent to 911? NYC needs experienced techs and engineers to make sure these services work properly, and when they do go down, that they are fixed promptly and correctly.”
Elected officials from both the city and state, have sided with workers in their ongoing battle with Charter/Spectrum. But the strike continues. Fasulo hopes the nearly year-long job action will sour several deals the corporation’s head honchos hope to exploit — including one plan to supply broadband service to the future home of the New York Islanders.
“I hope they don’t get that contract,” Fasulo says. “If Charter stops getting those contracts, maybe they’re rethink this whole labor dispute. We won’t give up. This [strike] is for every working person — because once they take us down — they won’t stop in New York City.”