Nearly 300 technicians and dispatchers with Cablevision Systems Corp. have joined the union.
Following an election Thursday administered by the National Labor Relations Board, 282 technicians and dispatchers in Brooklyn, N.Y. are part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Local 1109. The workers – most of whom are Caribbean and African American – are the first Cablevision employees to join the union, according to the CWA, the largest telecommunications union in the world.
The development could motivate Cablevision workers in other areas like the Bronx, Long Island and New Jersey to mobilize in support of unionization.
"This is about my son, his future, and the future of the Cablevision 99 %," Cablevision technician Marlon Gayle said Thursday in a statement. "We can now negotiate with management for a safer work environment, better healthcare, a more secure retirement and a salary that will allow us to support our families."
Most of the unionized workers earn around $45,000 per year, and FiOS technicans at Cablevision's rival Verizon Communications can make up to twice that amount, according to a spokesman for the CWA. Employees have other gripes with Cablevision's policies, including high health-care deductibles and an ambiguous three-month sick policy if a worker gets hurt on the job, the spokesperson said. Cablevision also has inadequate 401(k) plans and subjects workers "to arbitrary discipline and favoritism by managers," the CWA alleges.
Lawrence Hendrickson, a 36-year-old advanced service technician with Cablevision, said in a phone interview that techs at other companies – including Time Warner Cable and Verizon – receive higher compensation.
"As far as the pay scale is concerned, we are at the bottom of the totem pole," he said.
Cablevision workers also are facing bigger medical co-payments, rising employee healthcare contributions and higher prescription costs, said Hendrickson, a nine-year Cablevision employee.
The vote Thursday was 180 to 86. Hendrickson said Cablevision workers first tried to form a committee in support of the union when Verizon's workers went on strike last year in reportedly the biggest walkout in years since GM faced 73,000 striking workers in 2007.
The cable TV industry is not a union-friendly sector. In fact, only two to four percent of eligible cable workers belong to the union, according to the CWA. That's barely anything compared to the traditional telecom industry in which 90 percent are union workers, the CWA said.
As reported by the New York Daily News, Cablevision strongly opposed the workers' movement in support of the union by hosting mandatory meetings for workers about the dangers of unionization, retaining an anti-union law firm (Jackson Lewis) and launching a website that depicted the union as corrupt and voracious for workers' dues.
“Over the past few months these courageous workers withstood a blistering assault on their right to form a union, said Chris Shelton, CWA District One Vice President, in a statement Thursday. “Cablevision truly took the low road by pressuring workers with endless amounts [of] misinformation, but these workers – backed by countless community leaders and elected officials – stood strong. Now we will bargain collectively for a contract that gives the Cablevision 99 percent equity and dignity on the job."