New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and
Mayor Bill de Blasio made clear whose side they are on during a Sept. 18 rally:
the 1,800 New York Local 3 members who have been on strike against Charter/Spectrum
for six solid months. Both urged the company to return to the bargaining table
and negotiate a contract that’s fair for working families.
|New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo addresses the crowd during the Sept. 18 rally in support of 1,800 Local 3 members on strike against Charter/Spectrum. Among those on stage include International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, third from left, wearing a Local 3 hat; Local 3 Business Manager Christopher Erikson, in orange shirt; AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, an IBEW member, third from right; and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, far right.
If not, there will be consequences.
“I want Charter to understand this,” Cuomo said before a raucous crowd at Cadman Park Plaza in Brooklyn. “This is not a one-day affair. This is not the end. Today is the beginning. What’s happening here today is the labor movement coming together in a way they haven’t in decades.”
A crowd including International President Lonnie R. Stephenson and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined Local 3 members and thousands of supporters and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, where de Blasio told the crowd that “we do not accept a greedy corporation trying to undercut the most basic right of working people.”
Charter CEO Tom Rutledge earned $98.5 million in pay last year, making him the country’s highest-paid CEO.
“Is $99 million enough per year?” said Alberto Pizarro, a Charter technician and Local 3 member for nine years. “I mean, is it really enough? I think some of that money could be taken to solve the problem.”
Local 3 member Marvin Billups said, “It seems like we’ve been out forever,” but his spirit remains strong.
“Tom Rutledge. …. Is sort of a bully,” Billups told the crowd. “When I was a little boy, my mom told me to stand up to bullies and never back down. This is a fight I am willing to take to the end. Not only for myself, but my brothers and sisters in our union, my family and other union members.”
Local 3 members went on strike against Charter on March 28. Few talks have been held and little progress has been made since.
The company, which acquired the city’s cable franchise when it merged with Time Warner Cable last year, has refused to budge off initial demands to eliminate the health plan it now has with Local 3 members, in which the company pays most of the cost, and has proposed a plan that puts the financial burden on employees.
It also has proposed to eliminate company contributions to Local 3’s pension plan, eliminate overtime pay on Saturday and Sunday, reduce the number of paid holidays and give it greater flexibility to subcontract work normally done by bargaining unit employees.
Stephenson said he was particularly heartened to see dozens of other unions from in and around New York walk across the bridge with Local 3 members as a sign of support.
|New York Local 3 Business Manager Christopher Erikson, wearing glasses and an orange shirt, leads marchers across the Brooklyn Bridge. Among the marchers was International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, wearing a Local 3 hat.
“It is what labor is all about, supporting one another and having each other’s back,” he said.
Charter’s actions have struck a chord in a city that’s traditionally been labor friendly. New York officials are investigating whether it broke the terms of the franchise agreement by bringing in replacement workers from around the country during the strike. Charter’s actions also have been viewed as an attack by a profitable corporation on working families. It took in $29 billion in revenue last year.
Cuomo noted the company was fined $13 million by the state earlier this summer for not building out its cable network as quickly as it promised and hinted more could be coming. The franchise agreement with the city ends in 2020.
“I am going to hold them to every letter and the spirit of that document,” Cuomo told the cheering crowd. “And if they don’t get their act together and fulfill that agreement, they are going to be out of the state of New York.”
Added de Blasio: “We have made it clear time and time again, if Mr. Rutledge wants to be a good citizen, he can come down to City Hall and bargain with this union, Every time, he doesn’t show up.”
|Local 3 members cheer comments made by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio during a rally at Foley Square near City Hall in Manhattan on Sept. 18.
Stephenson visited with Local 3 members before the rally and throughout the day and said support remains strong, even though many are discouraged by the strike’s length.
“We’re really not asking for any kind of increase over what people have had,” he said. “We’re ready to get back to work tomorrow. All we have to do is have Charter say, ‘Let’s get back to the table and let’s get everyone back to work.’ “
Pizarro and Michael Truisi, a plant engineer for Charter/Spectrum and Local 3 member for 30 years, said members have relied on each other for support throughout the strike. Truisi said he’s heard from nonunion members that Local 3 members employed by Charter/Spectrum have excellent benefits. He agrees – and that they shouldn’t have to give them up because the company remains highly profitable.
“It’s not like we’re looking to rip off the company,” he said. “We just want what’s fair. That’s why it’s called collective bargaining. We’re bargaining for a fair contract.”
Local 3 Business Manager Christopher Erikson, who also is chairman of the International Executive Council, noted that Local 3 always had an amicable relationship with Time Warner, which continued to contribute to its benefit package and remained profitable.
“That all changed when the Charter robber barons took over,” he said. “In my opinion, they’re like a greedy hedge fund owner that only cares about its profits. They cut to the bone, destroy the union, then sell it and leave nothing for the community or the workers.”