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N.Y. Cable Installers Vote Union after Wildcat Strike


May 30, 2012

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In a third union representation election in three years, held in early May, workers at Corbel, one of the largest subcontractors installing cable for Cablevision in New York, have voted to join N.Y., Local 1430.

Says Region 1 Lead Organizer Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr.:

Any organizing win is big, but after three years of facing down adversity, this one shows a lot of character for workers at Corbel and for Local 1430.

The 50 to 30 union vote at Corbel followed a February wildcat strike during which the 120 cable installers set up picket lines and elected a committee to meet with management to protest cuts in their rates for installation of Cablevision’s triple play (Internet, telephone, TV) package. The strikers succeeded in raising their installation rates. The work action was widely covered by New York media outlets.

“We are generally out on the street and aggressive in organizing,” says Local 1430 Business Manager Jordan El Hag, describing the first contact between his local and a group of Corbel workers at a donut shop.

Like hundreds of nonunion cable installers in New York, the workers had complaints about a lack of equity in their work assignments. With widely varying rates for different types of installations, their paychecks depended upon staying in the good graces of supervisors.

Says Mastrogiovanni:

If they weren’t standing at attention and going with the flow, they would get bad jobs. Since they own their own trucks, after paying for gas and other bills, they even lost money on some days.

Omar Hutchinson, one of the technicians who participated in the wildcat strike, told an online blog that he earned only $600 for a 60-hour work week. Said Hutchinson:

When you divide 50 hours inside $600, you’re not getting anything as an hourly rate. If you want to put something down on a house, nobody is going to give you a mortgage at that rate.

Compounding the inequities, the employee contribution for medical insurance was so high that many workers opted out. Says El Hag:

Corbel’s installers don’t get paid when they are called back to the site of a prior installation and they have no grievance procedure for appealing decisions.¬† Their fundamental issue is gaining a voice on the job.

The Corbel campaign was built from a database of phone numbers. Text message updates and house visits helped organizers answer the barrage of anti-union messages from Corbel, the largest Cablevision subcontractor in the Bronx, which also maintains a smaller presence in Westchester County. Installers rejected company threats that, if they organized, Cablevision would drop Corbel’s contract.

Local 1430 Lead Organizer Josh Gottlieb, who worked on the campaign for a year preceding the vote,  says about 10 to 15 installers had previous union experience and helped influence their co-workers to vote union. With long work days, ending as late as 11:00 p.m., and installers often not returning to their shop after their shifts, meetings between workers and organizers were impromptu. Says Gottlieb:

The guys were very strong. They are skilled workers and, if it came down to it, they could work elsewhere. They weren’t afraid and they deserve all the credit.

The February wildcat strike directly followed a successful vote by 282 Cablevision technicians in Brooklyn to join the Communications Workers of America. Says Gottlieb:

It’s time for a turn in the cable industry.

Third District International Representative Brian Brennan, who assisted in the Corbel campaign, says more organizing efforts are kicking off at Comcast, Cablevision, Time-Warner and at installer subcontractor Mastec.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user cbb4104.