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Queens Chronicle

Local 3-Charter war rages on, two years in

Talks fell apart in Dec.; results of union decertification election still unknown

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019 10:30 am

Two years and two weeks.

That’s how long it’s been since about 1,800 members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 3 went on strike against Charter Communications.

“Hundreds” have crossed the picket line, according to the company. The Chronicle could not get a specific number from either Charter or the union before deadline.

The strike started on March 28, 2017, with the union saying the telecom, which does business as Spectrum, was cutting pension and healthcare obligations. Charter said the union wasn’t taking a great deal that included raises for most members, though IBEW Local 3 claimed most of the proposed raises were required by the state’s minimum wage hike.

The most recent round of negotiations died in December after starting months earlier. Days after the talks ended, the union announced a campaign aimed at getting New Yorkers to boycott Charter.

Neither side appears to be surrendering.

“The men and women of IBEW Local 3 have fought for the past two years for a fair contract that protects their health care and retirement,” City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said in a prepared statement marking the second anniversary of the strike.

IBEW Local 3, which could not be reached for an on-the-record interview prior to deadline, is headquartered in south Flushing. Many of its members live in the nearby Electchester housing complex.

The union’s continued status as a bargaining negotiations representative for Charter technicians in the city is in jeopardy.

Last year, a Charter employee proceeded with a decertification position that resulted in the National Labor Relations Board ordering an election that would decide whether IBEW Local 3 continues its role as bargaining representative.

The union claimed the employee behind the decertification attempt — Bruce Carberry — was working as a supervisor when he filed the petition. If true, that would make the petition invalid. But the NLRB found that IBEW Local 3 couldn’t prove the claim, and that the employee had completely transitioned out of a supervisory position by the time he filed the petition.

Carberry’s attorney, Matthew Antonek, previously worked as executive director of labor relations for Verizon.

According to a spokesperson for the union, IBEW Local 3 and Charter were “very close to getting a deal done” right before the latter left the negotiating table in December. The issue that ended the talks was the decertification petition, the spokesperson said, with the union trying to stop it and the company saying it played no role whatsoever in the petition.

Charter has completely denied being involved in the election or the attempt to decertify the union. But a recent In These Times report painted a slightly more complicated picture in regards to the election claim. The publication reported in February that it obtained an internal email from Charter Communications Regional Vice President of New York City Operations John Quigley urging employees to vote against IBEW Local 3 in the election.

Asked about the negotiation process with the union, Charter said: “We are awaiting the results of the recent decertification election overseen by the NLRB.”

The company said the election is “between our employees and the union, and we will have no further comment.”

The election for the decertification petition has been held, but the outcome is not yet known. And it may not be for a while.

That is because the NLRB technically defines strikes in one of two ways — economic or related to unfair labor practices — and the IBEW Local 3-Spectrum dispute hasn’t been defined in those terms yet. How it is defined will determine which votes — for example, the ones cast by replacement workers — are counted in the election.

Even when the votes are finally counted, the election outcome will likely be challenged by either the union or the company, depending on who the end result is more advantageous to.

Last July, the state Public Service Commission rescinded its approval of Charter’s 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable, saying the telecom failed to meet service expansion deadlines in upstate New York and had “unsafe working conditions in the field.” It gave Charter six months to make a plan to exit the state.

But in recent months, the PSC and the telecom have been in settlement discussions, leading many observers to conclude that Charter will not be forced to leave the state. The PSC has given the company multiple extensions in their talks.

The company’s franchise agreement with the city expires in 2020. IBEW Local 3 and its allies are pushing to get the city to not renew the franchise agreement unless a satisfactory deal to end the strike can be made.

For Charter, pursuing a renewed agreement may be politically challenging. Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo are among the many IBEW Local 3 allies in elective office. Many lawmakers, running for re-election in last year’s midterms, boycotted Spectrum’s NY1 news network.

Last summer, 23 of the City Council’s 51 members signed an open letter calling for the telecom to not be considered for any contracts with the city in the future. And Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Corona), who chairs the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee, is a staunch IBEW Local 3 supporter.

Last summer, the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications gave Charter a notice of default letter in response to the National Labor Relations Board finding that the telecom “coercively interrogated” four employees because of a 2014 protest they engaged in on the job.

According to the Daily News, the DOITT late last year modified its policy for renewing franchise agreements so that a firm’s relationships with its laborers can be considered.

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