Five Things Comcast Did This Year to Hurt Workers
December 5, 2013
2013 has been another solid year for Comcast, with high profits and a stock value that would be the envy of most corporations.
In July, Comcast’s earnings shot up nearly 30 percent with added revenue gains from its broadband services. The Philadelphia-based company just posted a cool $1.73 billion in net income for the third quarter.
So, naturally, the hard-working men and women who helped make the company so wealthy are sharing in that success, right?
Hardly. Here are just five ways Comcast has given workers a raw deal in one of its most financially successful years on record.
#5 -- Fighting paid sick days in Philly
Labor rights advocates cheered in March when the Philadelphia city council voted for a provision that would allow nearly 180,000 workers to take a sick day without losing pay or their jobs.
But Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed the bill – under pressure from powerful big business interests including Comcast, which was outspoken in its criticisms. In 2011, for example, Comcast spent more than $108,000 in lobbying expenditures, nearly all of which went to fight paid sick day legislation.
Comcast has also contributed tens of thousands to Nutter’s campaign war chest in the past few years. Brotherly love, indeed.
#4 -- Jacking up employee health care costs in Mass.
By the end of 2012, Comcast hit a market value of $100 billion and nabbed a spot on the Fortune 50 list.
Its reward to the workforce? A steep hike in the price of individual and family health insurance policies.
“Employees are going to be paying $452 per month this year for their families' health care,” IBEW organizer Steve Smith told The Electrical Worker in March. That’s more than double what they paid just three years ago.
“You have to ask yourself – if Comcast is making so much money, why can't they do better for those doing the hard work that helps make the company so successful?” Smith said.
#3 -- Withholding back pay in New Jersey
A lengthy court battle ended in March when a state district judge ordered the company to award more than $160,000 in back pay and damages to dozens of Comcast employees who were denied wage hikes after obtaining certifications to install and maintain broadband-based products. The employees, members of East Windsor Local 827, finally got lump sum payments of about $3,500 each in August.
“The bottom line is that Comcast is a healthy company that just doesn't want to pay its employees fairly,” Local 827 President Bob Speer told The Electrical Worker in October. “They aren't hurting from the recession. They've chugged right along with no down months. They deliberately tried to trick us and discredit the union – but it turned around on them.”
#2 -- Wages: how low can they go?
The company’s 2013 proxy statement lists Roberts’ total compensation as $29.1 million for the previous year. Today, the average wage for a customer account executive is about $13 an hour.
Such stinginess earned Roberts’ company the top slot in a popular USA Today article in May entitled “8 Companies that Most Owe Workers a Raise.” Comcast beat out other companies with largely low-wage workforces, like McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, which owns fast food chains Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC.
“Does a public company have an obligation to reward all of its employees if its earnings are particularly strong?” ask Douglas A. McIntyre and Samuel Weigley, who wrote the USA Today piece. “No. But there is a strong case to be made that these workers deserve higher compensation when earnings improvements are so extraordinary that they give shareholders and management great returns.”
#1 -- Union bashing, union busting
It’s such a predictable routine. A worker utters the word “organize,” and Comcast immediately holds captive audience meetings and calls in union “avoidance” lawyers. If it looks like their tactics aren’t working, the cable giant ratchets up a campaign of fear and intimidation.
It’s happened many times this year across the U.S., where employees from California to New York have partnered with the IBEW or the CWA to try to win rights on the job.
“For workers to stand up and raise their voice for decent wages and security takes an extraordinary amount of guts, trust and solidarity in the workplace,” said East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 executive board member Rich Spieler, who is secretary-treasurer of an IBEW council representing Comcast workers.
But while Comcast’s tactics are refined, they don’t always work.
Case in point: A solid victory for nearly 100 Comcast techs in Fall River and Fairhaven in southern Massachusetts. The workers voted “yes” for IBEW representation in an NLRB-certified election April 24. The employees are represented by Middleboro Local 2322.
Comcast was able to defeat a similar effort just a year prior.
But despite the employees’ win, don’t expect Comcast to ease up on its anti-worker behavior anytime soon.
“It will take the continued actions of workers committed to getting a fairer deal to make lasting changes at one of the biggest and most profitable companies in the U.S.,” said IBEW Membership Development Director Gina Cooper, who leads organizing efforts in the professional and industrial sectors. “It’s hard, but not impossible, and I know we can help workers make even more gains in the future.”
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