East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 during a strike against Verizon in 2016. It recently organized members at three Altice locations in New Jersey.

Altice USA became one of the dominant cable companies in New Jersey two years ago when it acquired Cablevision. But the company’s attitude toward its workers after the deal wrapped up convinced technicians that IBEW representation was right for them.

Local 827 organizers and members celebrate after receiving word that an Altice location voted in favor of IBEW representation.

East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 has organized employees at three Altice USA locations in Newark, Lodi and Oakland, said Joe Lambert, a Local 827 business agent and head of the organizing committee. The Oakland employees have approved a contract, adding about 100 new IBEW members.

“The average worker is powerless except for having the protection of a contract,” Lambert said. “I think they’re starting to realize that unions are the last line of defense for the working class.”

Altice has successfully fought attempts to organize at other locations throughout the United States, but credit for Local 827’s success goes to persistence and to the newly-organized members, who understood the need for better protection of their benefits and wages.

Lambert said he and others had talked with Cablevision employees in previous years about the benefits of joining the IBEW, but interest ramped up a few months after announcement of the $17.7 billion deal, which made Altice USA – a subsidiary of Netherlands-based Altice – the nation’s fourth-largest cable provider.

Company officials told their new employees they were in no hurry to make big changes.

“But within a few months, some of those employees began losing sick days and year-end bonuses also were done away with,” Lambert said.

“We were approached by their technicians regarding serious concerns about their decline in benefits and their working conditions,” he added. “They were looking for a way to stop it, asked if a union was the way to go and what could we do to help. We educated them and told them the only way we could stop the losses was with a collective bargaining agreement.”

Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., Third District lead telecommunications organizer, said good relationships were built with Cablevision employees serving on volunteer organizing committees over the years. Those drives fell short of earning representation but laid the groundwork for the recent success.

Altice USA upset their employees further when it formed a separate company – Altice Technical Services –  and transferred its service, construction, fiber and plant maintenance workers to it.

The average Altice technician saw his or her salary drop by about $5,000 annually due to increases in health care costs and the loss of other benefits, Mastrogiovanni said. Altice also cut the workforce at all its New Jersey facilities except one, he said. Employees who thought they would receive raises or bonuses for getting additional training received neither.

“The fence sitters saw that Altice did not have their best interests in mind,” Mastrogiovanni said.

Of the three Altice USA locations that voted for IBEW representation in New Jersey, the Newark vote was especially sweet because Local 827 fell just short in an earlier organizing vote there.

“It seemed like our success just dominoed into other units,” said Third District International Representative Brian Brennan, who also was involved in the organizing drives.

Another factor that might have had a positive impact: Local 827 represents Verizon technicians in the state building out that company’s FIOS network.The Verizon technicians have superior pay and benefits compared to most cable system employees. Brennan said Altice employees looked at that and saw the power of the IBEW and Local 827.

“Amongst themselves, Altice technicians discussed IBEW’s representation with Verizon and said, ‘Those guys have a great thing going because of their contract,’’” Brennan said.

Lambert said the work of Local 827 is far from over. He credited Business Manager Robert Speer, the organizing staff and the rest of Local 827 for making it a priority.

“My motto is if you’re interested in knowing about organizing your workplace, I will meet you anytime, any day, anywhere to talk about it,” Lambert said. “We’re going to make sure you’re treated fairly by your employer.”