BY TRONE DOWD
CORRECTION: Charter reached out to the Queens Tribune on Thursday night to clarify a number of specifics pertaining to conditions of the strike not included in the original version of the article. We have updated the article to reflect that.
It’s been 15 months since the strike against Charter Communications and Spectrum began, and after a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Monday, it seems as though negotiations are nowhere near moving forward.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 3, alongside Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), voiced its outrage over the lack of progress in negotiations, claiming Charter refuses to let the union members get back to work under better, more financially stable conditions. The strike has resulted in the complete usage of the union’s emergency fund, leaving a number of workers without a means to feed their families and support themselves. Some have even become homeless.
Most recently, an employee of Charter Communications was accused of attempting to decertify the union via a petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board. A spokesman with Charter told the Queens Tribune Friday that they are handling the situation, as it is a matter between the employees and the union.
Still, Miller, chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor, was not thrilled with the company.
“Charter Communications has betrayed the public trust and is not deserving of the right to do business with our City,” said Miller. “Charter has an established pattern of deceit against its own workers and consumers in the name of boosting its profit margin, and it must be held accountable for its deception. Well-paying middle class jobs, healthcare and the generational security that is best achieved through union membership are core principles of our city, for which the company has demonstrated no appreciation. If Charter continues to engage in bad faith negotiations with Local 3 or sponsors any attempts to break the union, it’ll be hard pressed to persuade the council to renew its franchise agreement.”
In 2016, Charter merged with Time Warner Cable to become the second largest cable provider in the country. The massive acquisition brought in major profits for the company, earning $41.6 billion in 2017. More recently, Charter reported a first-quarter revenue of $10.7 billion for 2018. Even the company’s CEO, Tom Rutledge, reaped the benefits of the deal and received $7.8M in 2017, and more than $98 million the previous year. Workers, however, did not see any of these benefits trickle down. Instead, it is said that Charter has been seeking to “eliminate Local 3’s pension and gut its health care benefits, insisting its members pay unaffordable monthly premiums and overhead costs; prompting the union to go on strike,” according to IBEW. Workers have been looking to negotiate a new contract for its 1,800 members ever since the picketing began.
Charter told the Queens Tribune on Thursday that they’ve put forth a proposal since 15 months ago in the hopes to avoid this standoff, with no luck of enticing all of the striking workers.
“Charter did not want this strike and made multiple attempts to resolve it,” the spokesman said. “But the union has not been a true partner in negotiations. With Local 3 refusing to even discuss the terms in Charter’s offer, we moved forward last summer and implemented wage increases and other worker benefits. Today we are putting more money into our employees’ pockets, providing them with excellent benefits, and making substantial investments to shore up their retirement benefits that are in jeopardy.”
Charter claims that hundreds of electric workers have returned to work with an average 22-percent wage increase, “comprehensive retirement and health benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6 percent of eligible pay,” as well as medical insurance and pension opportunities.
Lance Van Arsdale, the assistant business manager of IBEW Local 3 insisted that the negotiations have not been as smoothly as they claim.
“Since being granted the privilege of operating one of New York City’s valuable cable television franchises, not only has this company acted in bad faith and violated the labor rights of its workers,” Van Arsdale said. “But, according to city and state regulators, it has also ripped off its customers by advertising Internet speeds it knew it could not provide, failed to meet its obligations to expand its infrastructure across New York State, and has lied about its use of local New York City subcontractors.
Van Arsdale was referring to news that Charter has come under fire in recent months. In February, a judge ruled that the state’s attorney general would be allowed to move forward with a fraud case against Charter. Earlier this month, the company was fined $2 million for failing to hit certain installation target numbers it anticipated. A recent audit from the city also found that Charter has not been hiring an efficient workforce in IBEW’s absence. Charter says that they strongly refute these allegations and “will continue to defend vigorously” against them.
Elected officials in Queens remained outraged by the latest on the strike.
“Charter Communications has spent the past 15 months doing everything in its power to break Local 3 and boost its own bottom line,” Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said. “Charter’s complete disregard for its own workers and unwillingness to negotiate in good faith are beyond shameful and will not be tolerated in New York City.”