New York Local 3 members employed by Charter/Spectrum Communications had worked under an expired agreement for nearly four years. 

New York Local 3 members gather to walk the picket lines outside of a Charter/Spectrum office in New York City. About 1,800 Local 3 members went on strike against the company on March 28.

Last week, they said that was long enough. About 1,800 of them – including technicians, engineers and warehouse workers -- in New York City and northern New Jersey went on strike against the company on March 28.

There have been no talks since March 26 and none are scheduled. After nearly a year of negotiations, the company has refused to bargain, proposing to slash pension and health benefits and seeking to outsource bargaining unit work to contractors, all while blaming its own workers for the shortfalls of the system it refuses to upgrade.

Local 3 held a rally with community leaders outside Charter/Spectrum’s offices on East 23rd Street in Manhattan at noon on Wednesday. Charter completed its merger with Time Warner Cable, formerly the city’s dominant cable provider, in May of last year.

“We’re ready to come back to the table and sit down if there is something substantial that they’re willing to offer,” Local 3 business representative Derek Jordan said.

Local 3 members opted to strike now because Charter/Spectrum officials have shown no willingness to move off their original proposals, Jordan said.

“It’s pretty much all givebacks,” he said. “When we’ve sat in negotiations, there’s pretty much been no conversation. They sit there like a wall.”

Per Local 3 officials, Charter/Spectrum has proposed to:

  • Eliminate the current health care plan, in which the company pays for most of the costs, and institute a plan that puts most of the financial burden on employees.

  • Eliminate company contributions to the pension fund and to health care reimbursement accounts, which workers use to pay for medical expenses not covered by their health insurance.

  • Eliminate overtime pay on Saturday and Sunday, cut the number of paid holidays from nine to seven per year, and eliminate payouts for accrued personal days and unused sick time.

  • Eliminate company contributions to an educational trust fund, which allows employees and their spouses to attend college, and to the company 401(k) fund.

For the company to reserve the right to subcontract out work normally done by bargaining unit employees. It also wants to eliminate a clause that prohibits it from laying off technicians while it is using outside contractors.

Charter officials have told New York media they are not asking for a cut in salaries, adding the company has proposed to raise wages for some workers. But Jordan noted the increase in New York City’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2018 will force Charter to raise pay for its lower-level technicians, so it is offering little in terms of a raise that won’t be required by law.

It also isn’t much of a raise considering its proposals to eliminate or cut other benefits. Local 3 members have made concessions in salaries in the past because Time Warner agreed to fund medical insurance and the IBEW pension plan, Jordan said.

“When we negotiate an agreement, our members are taking a decrease in wages to put money in pension and welfare,” he said. “That’s what we bargain for.” 

Jordan said Charter/Spectrum workers are forced to perform repairs with outdated equipment. Technicians routinely are sent to a customer’s home with company officials knowing the equipment won’t fix the problem and that promised internet speeds are unobtainable.

Those technicians are often disciplined when a company representative must make a return trip to the customer’s home, making it more difficult for them to get a raise and other benefits, Jordan said. The company has resisted suggestions to change the policy.

“It’s an unfair system that holds the technicians responsible for things that are not their fault,” he said.

Members of New York Local 3 walk the picket lines after going on strike against Charter/Spectrum. They have worked without a contract for nearly four years.

Local 3 members said company officials are making them the scapegoat for repeated failures to upgrade Charter’s equipment and meet their pledges to increase internet speeds, Jordan said. Charter/Spectrum has been sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over allegations it failed to meet promises to do so.

Charter has long struggled with customer service. It ranked 12 th on 24/7 Wall Street’s listing earlier this year of the nation’s most hated companies. Consumer Reports ranked Charter 28 th in customer service out of 30 pay-TV companies in June 2016 following a survey of 172,000 consumers nationwide.

Charter has talked repeatedly about modernizing its equipment, but hasn’t offered much evidence that it’s done so. Just a few days before the strike, Charter Chairman Tom Rutledge told President Donald Trump the company would invest $25 billion in infrastructure during the next four years.

It wasn’t a new pledge. Rutledge repeated the promise he made before Trump’s election. He also reiterated a pledge he made when the company announced its merger with Time Warner Cable in 2015 to bring back customer service jobs back to the United States instead of sending them to overseas calling centers.

“Charter talks a good game, but it failed to deliver on its promises and now looks to make hard-working men and women the issue,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “These people live and work in the communities affected by these actions. We’re asking the company to invest in its product and make these workers part of the solution.”