[Marxism] Spectrum Workers’ Strike Approaches 5-Month Mark

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 26 10:59:35 MDT 2017


(If we had a left in NYC that was worth its salt, it would be building a 
solidarity movement for these workers.)

NY Times, August 26 2017
Spectrum Workers’ Strike Approaches 5-Month Mark
By LUIS FERRÉ-SADURNÍ

Marvin Billups’s daughter told her father that he had been acting 
differently in the last couple of months. He seemed frustrated and had a 
short fuse, he recalled her saying.

Mr. Billups, 49, doesn’t deny his daughter’s observations.

He is one of more than 1,700 Spectrum workers in New York and New Jersey 
who have been on strike for almost five months after hitting an impasse 
in collective bargaining negotiations with the company.

“Striking has changed me,” Mr. Billups said.

Mr. Billups, a foreman who oversees cable construction in Upper 
Manhattan, has foregone almost $30,000 in income and has relied mostly 
on unemployment benefits and his union’s strike fund. His family has 
made certain adjustments: his wife is working longer hours, he walks to 
save on gas and is more frugal at the grocery store.

On Friday, union workers remained embroiled in a contract dispute with 
Charter Communications, which offers cable, internet and telephone 
services under the name Spectrum. The strike has drawn the attention of 
the mayor’s office, which has begun a formal audit into Charter’s 
practice of hiring contractors from outside New York to serve its 
customers during the strike.

Charter, the second-largest cable operator in the United States after 
Comcast, provided service to about 26.2 million residential and business 
customers nationwide in 2016. The company established its presence in 
New York City in May that year when it paid more than $70 billion for 
Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable, which had a nonexclusive 
franchise agreement in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island 
through 2020.

The strike began on March 28, three days before the existing contract’s 
expiration date.

Union leaders said workers walked out after Charter representatives 
proposed moving employees into a company 401(k) pension account and 
health plan that they described as “substandard.” Workers want to retain 
the health and defined benefit pension plans they have, which have been 
managed for decades by an independent board of trustees, leaders said.

“There’s never been an issue with the contributions, which our members 
sacrificed wage increases for over the years,” Derek Jordan, a 
representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 
Local 3, said. “We want to keep something that our workers have had for 
a long time.”

The workers on strike include technicians, dispatchers, constructors, 
engineers, and warehouse workers, Mr. Jordan said.

John Bonomo, a spokesman for Charter, said the company’s goal is to 
offer pay increases and to abandon the current “failing” benefit plan.

In the last round of negotiations, Charter offered workers an average 22 
percent wage increase and “comprehensive” retirement and health 
benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up 
to 6 percent of eligible pay, Mr. Bonomo said in a statement.

Both sides also disagree over the terms of the old contract. That 
contract, Mr. Jordan said, was invalid because the National Labor 
Relations Board affirmed in 2015 a judge’s finding that the parties had 
not reached “a meeting of the minds” on all of its parts. The company 
has argued the contract was valid and that the strike is illegal because 
it started before the contract expired.

The work stoppage led Charter to hire contractors to serve customers 
during the strike. The union has argued that Charter did not properly 
vet the contractors and has violated the city’s franchise agreement by 
hiring vendors from outside New York City.

“We saw contractors with license plates from all over the country,” Mr. 
Jordan said.

Charter has argued that the company hired workers mostly from New York 
and that it has complied with its franchise agreement with the city.

Walter Smith, a cable technician at Spectrum for six years who lives in 
the Bronx, received an eviction notice in July after falling behind on 
his bills, he said. The father of two has not worked since early 
October, when he had surgery to remove a benign tumor on his head. When 
he was ready return to work in April, workers had just gone on strike.

“The strike has lasted longer than anybody could have imagined,” Mr. 
Smith, 48, said. “Emotionally, dealing with the tumor and then this 
financially, it has been tough. I have a strong family that keeps me 
grounded.”

The city has received about 9 percent more service and installation 
complaints from Spectrum customers and potential customers in the four 
months since the strike began compared with the four months before it, 
according to data from the city’s Department of Information Technology 
and Telecommunications.

The company’s networks have been subject to more than 110 acts of 
vandalism between March 28 and mid-July, Mr. Bonomo said. Two cases in 
Queens left 95,000 customers without service, he added.

The mayor’s office is conducting an audit to ensure Charter is in 
compliance with its franchise agreement. Any findings from the audit 
will be taken into consideration when the term of the agreement ends in 
2020, Freddi Goldstein, a deputy press secretary for the mayor’s office, 
said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a television interview in late July 
that the city began a formal audit after his office tried unsuccessfully 
to get information from Charter to resolve the issue of its contractor 
hiring practices.

“Charter Spectrum should come into City Hall, sit down with the union,” 
Mr. de Blasio said during the July 31 interview on NY1, which is owned 
by Charter. “We want to find a resolution. But every day these workers 
are out is bad for everyone in New York City.”

Spectrum and union leaders last met on Aug. 7 and are scheduled to meet 
again on Tuesday.

Follow Luis Ferré-Sadurní on Twitter @luisferre




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