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Queens Chronicle

Striking Local 3 still sticking to its guns

Nearly 10 months into labor dispute, battle with Charter is raging on

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Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2018 10:30 am

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3’s strike against Charter Communications, which owns Spectrum, could hit the one-year mark if it continues for a couple more months. And nearly 10 months in, tensions remain high.

“Really, nobody can tell you when the strike is going to end,” Local 3 business representative Derek Jordan told the Chronicle.

The union claims that Charter wants to stop funding its pension and healthcare plans. In response, the company says that it is offering a quality compensation package.

“We would’ve liked it to have ended already,” Jordan added. “But Charter doesn’t want to bargain in good faith as we see it.”

Charter, the corporation that bought Time Warner Cable — now known as Spectrum — says it’s willing to work out a deal. Spokesman John Bonomo said in an email that now and even since before the strike started, “we are willing to participate in meaningful and reasonable negotiation.”

The deal put forth by the telecom corporation, according to Bonomo, “includes an immediate average wage increase of 22 percent — with some employees eligible for a 55-percent increase — complemented by the same excellent health insurance choices we offer to the rest of our 92,000 employees and a 401(k) savings plan with a generous six-percent dollar-for-dollar match.”

Any union member who returned to the job tomorrow, he added, would get the benefits offered by Charter.

But the strikers are sticking to their guns.

According to Jordan, non-striking divisions of IBEW Local 3 have secured paid work for some behind the picket line. And the New York City Central Labor Council, he added, has called on other unions to provide opportunities to the strikers.

But with all things considered, the union business representative says many of the electrical workers “are suffering.”

According to the Daily News, the labor dispute has meant $5 million in costs for the union, and the strike fund pays those behind the picket line $350 per week.

The publication also reported that IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson made an offer to Charter that would have required only workers hired before the labor dispute to have the union healthcare and pensions, while those hired after it was resolved would just have the company’s 401(k) plan. But, the Daily News said, he was rejected.

In addition to the tough negotiations, the union is facing a lawsuit that Charter launched in October, accusing it of damaging cable lines during the strike. Local 3 has denied responsibility for and criticized the outage-causing vandalism incidents to the company’s cables since the strike’s outreak.

The telecom firm requested that a judge issue an injunction preventing the strikers from being within 25 feet of any company property, like vehicles and facilities; “threatening and coercing non-striking employees” and other actions. In the suit, Charter accuses the union of an “unlawful and destructive campaign of sabotage” against company-owned equipment.

According to the Ars Technica website, counsel for Local 3 responded by saying that Charter is highly unlikely to win with the suit, because the state Court of Appeals has repeatedly upheld that “a plaintiff must plead and prove that each and every member of a labor union authorized, or ratified after the fact with full knowledge, the alleged unlawful acts.”

According to Charter, “more than 135 cases of vandalism to our network” have been experienced since last March, when the labor dispute began. During the three years prior to the strike there had only been four cases, Bonomo said.

Jordan denied the company’s claims in the lawsuit and reiterated that the vandalism is not condoned by the union. He pointed to how no Local 3 member has been prosecuted for any cable-cutting incident. And as a former construction site manager, he said that the outages are common.

“At any given time any day there’s multiple outages,” he said. “Anything from people cutting the cable to buildings that no longer want equipment.”

Jordan added that Charter cannot prove that Local 3 is responsible. And the strikers, he said, think that out-of-state contractors hired in their absence by the company are responsible for the vandalism.

“Our members believe that they’re the ones that are doing all of the cable cutting and sabotage,” he said.

In other matters, the company is playing defense.

Charter has been in a legal battle with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He launched a lawsuit last February alleging that since 2012 — back when it was known as Time Warner Cable — Spectrum has committed “a systematic scheme to defraud and mislead” people who were promised internet service that was more reliable and faster than it “knew it could deliver.”

After being asked for an update on the litigation, a Schneiderman spokeswoman said that “the lawsuit is ongoing.” She did not return a request for more details prior to the Chronicle’s deadline.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has in recent months been looking at whether Charter violated an article in Spectrum’s franchise agreement with the city.

According to an agency spokeswoman, the DOITT decided to go forward with the audit “after weeks of investigation ... into allegations made by IBEW Local 3 that Charter is in violation of Article 17.”

The provision mandates “the company to use best efforts to hire City vendors while their regular employees are on the picket line,” according to the DOITT.

The company denies that it violated the clause.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said that he was informed by the de Blasio administration that the audit “would be out by the end of the month.

“We’ll go from there.”

The lawmaker, who has rallied with Local 3 strikers, represents Electchester, the complex where many in the union live.

Having been recently appointed to the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and Land Use Committee, Lancman said that he intends to use the roles to fight Charter.

The franchise agreement between Spectrum and the city expires in July 2020.

“Before then, the administration will need to come to the City Council seeking authorization to solicit bids for the new franchise agreement that would start in August of 2020,” Lancman said.

As a member of the two panels, the councilman said, he will “explore the fullest extent of our power as a Council to ensure that whoever next has the franchise agreement, they won’t be able to treat their workers in this appalling way.”

Lancman added that with respect to the limits of the City Charter, along with state and federal law, “We’re exploring exactly what the Council can do.”

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