Cablevision 22 rehired; work remains on first contract

All  22 cable technicians fired by Cablevison-Optimum in January for taking advantage of the company’s open door policy to ask management why it was dragging its feet on pending contract negotiations have been called back to work.

“I just got called back to work by Cablevision-Optimum, that means all 22 originally locked out workers are back to work!” said Ray whose last name was not given on the workers’ Facebook page. ” Thank you for the support–now we just need a FAIR CONTRACT NOW!”

Ray was called back to work on March 20 about a week after the other 21 fired workers had been called back.

Ray and the other fired workers, who came to be known as the Cablevision 22, work at Cablevision’s Brooklyn garage. They voted to join CWA Local 1109 in January 2012 and since then have been trying to negotiate a first contract.

But Cablevision-Optimum has been stalling.

“Despite a year of bargaining, management still refuses to sign off on even the most basic elements of a typical collective bargaining agreement,” said CWA in a press release. “The company’s total intransigence on basic union and worker protections has blocked any meaningful discussion of wages and health benefits.”

The statement goes on to say that CWA has filed charges against Cablevision-Optimum with the National Labor Relations Board for bad faith negotiations.

CWA said that the reinstatement of the Cablevision 22 was an important victory made possible by an active campaign to win community support for the fired workers and for a first contract.

After the firings, the union held a number of demonstrations that were supported by prominent political leaders including all four Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City.

CWA also urged the city council to investigate whether Cablevision-Optimum had violated its franchise agreement with the city. The franchise agreement requires the company to recognize employees’ right to bargain collectively.

Earlier in the month, a city council committee held a hearing on Cablevision-Optimum’s franchise and several city council members criticized the company for the firings and for not bargaining in good faith.

CWA has also started a public campaign aimed at Cablevision’s billionaire owner James Dolan, who also owns Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. The union is urging the city council to end Dolan’s tax breaks.

The firings took place on January 30 after about 50 Cablevision technicians gathered in front of the company’s vice-president in charge of the Brooklyn garage to ask him why the company was refusing to bargain in earnest for a new contract. The technicians said that they were taking advantage of the company’s open door policy in hopes of kick starting negotiations.

Disregarding his open door policy, the vice-president refused to speak to the workers. Some workers left while others remained at the office hoping that he would change his mind. None of the workers said that they were refusing to work. Nevertheless, management said that the workers’ action constituted a strike and that 22 of the workers were being permanently replaced because they were on strike.

While the community outreach campaign was successful in getting the workers their jobs back, the company still owes the workers for back pay and still hasn’t begun to bargain in good faith.

“It’s clear that Cablevision-Optimum outdid itself with its despicable, illegal behavior in taking money out of the pockets of its hard-working employees — and their families — simply for exercising their rights,” said Chris Shelton, CWA District 1 vice president. “Cablevision and CEO James Dolan have wasted an immense amount of time, money and effort to fight against these workers in Brooklyn just because they unionized and want a contract. These workers have their jobs back, and now they deserve their back pay, a fair contract, and
respect.”

On March 25 Democratic members of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce as they hold a forum in Brooklyn to discuss the problems with negotiating first contracts after workers organize a union.  The forum will focus on the Cablevision dispute and the Cablevision workers are urging supporters to attend.

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