Cablevision Must Now Deal with Union Workers

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.”

Cablevision expressed disappointment with Thursday’s vote. “In the worst economy in memory, Cablevision has not laid off a single technician, unlike our competitors who have cut thousands of unionized positions,” the company said in a statement. “In fact, Cablevision has created jobs.  We value our employees and the work they do and believe the CWA has little to offer them. We are assessing our options.”

Phillip Rosen, a law partner with Jackson Lewis in New York, could not be immediately reached Friday for comment on whether Cablevision has any legal options to contest the vote or otherwise break up the union workers.

During the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote, Cablevision mounted an aggressive anti-union campaign. Hendrickson said workers were forced to attend meetings with Cablevision management in information sessions that were intended to bash the union but actually motivated some workers to vote in favor of the idea.

“They came in like a lion in the first week,” he said, referring to Cablevision’s management. “By the middle of the anti union-campaign, they came in like a lamb, humble … .”

In meetings with workers, Cablevision management depicted the union as a greedy and dying organization that is hungry for workers’ dues, Hendrickson said.

“They found everything negative they could find about the union,” he said. “They never shared anything positive about the union.”

A spokesman for Cablevision did not immediately respond Thursday to an emailed request for further comments concerning allegations over workers’ pay, how the company’s healthcare and other benefits match up against its peers, and how Cablevision management portrayed the union.

Hendrickson said the Brooklyn workers won’t owe any dues until a contract between Cablevision and the union workers is ratified. The dues equal 2 percent of a worker’s base salary and don’t include overtime, he said.

The next step for union representatives is to sit down with Cablevision management and attempt to negotiate a contract in what could prove to be a long and grueling process.

Verizon is still in negotiations with the unions over a new contract that would cover roughly 45,000 workers and replace an agreement that expired Aug. 6. The workers are still covered under the expired agreement.

“All issues remain on the table,” Verizon spokesman Rich Young said.

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