Charter/Spectrum strikers hold the line against company’s demand for take aways

For seven months, 1800 cable technicians in New York City have been on strike against Charter Communications, whose chief executive officer Thomas Rutledge is the highest paid CEO in the US.

Charter Communications, which operates the Charter/Spectrum cable company in 47 states, is the third largest cable provider in the US.

Last year it paid Rutledge $98.5 million in compensation.

Charter in 2016 acquired Time Warner cable company for nearly $60 million, and in January 2017 rebranded Time Warner as Charter/Spectrum.

After Charter took over, Rutledge demanded that the company’s unionized workers in New York City surrender their good, middle-class union benefits and accept the much lower benefits of Charter’s non-union employees.

The workers’ union, IBEW Local 3, tried to negotiate with the company, but Charter remained adamant about the take aways and forced a strike to break the union.

Of all the take aways that Rutledge is demanding, four are especially galling to the workers. He wants to

  • eliminate the workers’ health care plan that pays for almost all health care related expenses and replace it with one in which the burden of costs falls more heavily on workers
  • eliminate company contributions to the workers’ pension and medical reimbursement funds
  • eliminate overtime pay on Saturdays and Sundays and
  • make it easier for the company to contract out work to lower paid subcontractors.

In a media advertisement purchased by Local 3, Marvin Billups, a 29-year Time Warner/Spectrum employee, explains what the health care benefit meant to him and his family.

When Billups’ daughter was four months old she developed a respiratory problem that caused her to choke while she was asleep.

Billups’ health care plan paid for a monitoring machine and treatment that kept his daughter alive and helped her grow up to become a healthy young woman.

“Our health benefits are irreplaceable but Spectrum wants to provide me with less services that’s going to cost me  more,” said Billups.  “That makes me feel like the time put in here (working for Spectrum) doesn’t matter.”

“If the CEO makes $98 million, how is a (good union contract) going to affect him?” continued Billups.

The union estimates Charter’s proposed health care plan will cost workers as much as $12,000 a year in higher health care expenses.

In addition to demanding draconian take aways, Charter/Spectrum has been accused of not fulfilling promises made to customers.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in February sued Charter for defrauding and misleading New Yorkers by promising internet services that it could not deliver.

Schneiderman’s suit charges Charter/Spectrum with delivering internet speeds that were as much as 70 percent slower than speeds promised to customers in order to get them to purchase the company’s service.

The attorney general accused Charter/Spectrum of “ripping off” its customers.

More recently the New York Public Service Commission announced that it was fining Charter/Spectrum $13 million for not providing broadband service to unserved and under served communities in New York as it promised it would do.

Charter made the promise in order to win approval for its acquisition of Time Warner.

The company’s conduct also raised the ire of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Mayor de Blasio after receiving information that Charter/Spectrum was using out-of-state contractors to break the strike ordered the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to conduct an audit of Charter/Spectrum to determine whether the company is violating the terms of its franchise agreement with the city.

“We do not accept a greedy corporation trying to undercut the most basic rights of working people,” said de Blasio at a demonstration in support of the strikers.

Gov. Cuomo complained that Charter’s diminished workforce and its replacement workers’ lack of skill has left its customers vulnerable to poor service.

“If they don’t get their act together and fulfill that agreement, they’re going to be out of the state of New York,” said Cuomo about Charter/Spectrum at the same demonstration.

Spectrum workers have also received support from other union members in New York City.

At an October 30 demonstration, union workers and community supporters filled the streets and sidewalks in midtown Manhattan to demonstrate their support for the striking workers.

Local 3 is asking people to continue supporting the strikers by signing a petition urging the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to release the findings of its audit of Charter/Spectrum.

Local 3 is also urging people to cancel their Spectrum subscriptions.

“With your help we can show a multi-billion dollar company like Charter/Spectrum that labor and the community stand together!” Local 3 told supporters on its strike website.

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Tesla workers fight back against mass firings

The United Autoworkers (UAW) on October 26 filed a second round of unfair labor practices charges against Tesla, the US’ largest manufacturers of electric cars.

Among the six charges that the union filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), one charges the company with firing some of its factory workers for trying to organize a union

Tesla says that the firings, which affected employees throughout the company, not just production workers, was for performance-based reasons.

But Mike Williams, a union supporter at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, said his own performance report showed no problems at work.

“I worked hard for this company for five years, sometimes 72 hours a week and never had any performance-related complaints,” said Williams. “I did, however, wear a union shirt. And I had union stickers on my water bottle. And I believed that a union would make us safer, and would make the company more organized and more efficient. I hate to think that I was targeted because of it. And it’s not just me. Hundreds of other people were let go with no warning. I want Tesla to know that we are more than just numbers. I have kids, I have a family, and this job meant everything to us.”

Before UAW filed its latest charges against Tesla, some of the fired workers and their supporters rallied in front of the Fremont Tesla plant to demand reinstatement of the fired workers.

They also delivered a letter from their community supporters urging Tesla to rehire the fired workers. The letter said that the company’s publicly stated reasons sounded phony.

“We find the mass firings surprising given that Tesla is in ‘production hell’ and has fallen behind its stated goals for producing its Model 3,” states the letter.

When Tesla opened its Fremont plant, its CEO Elon Musk called it a “factory of the future.”

But an article appearing in the Guardian last May make it sound more like a factory from a dark and dreary past.

According to the Guardian, “ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing, and chest pains, according to incident reports obtained by the Guardian. Hundreds more were called for injuries and other medical issues.”

“I’ve seen people pass out, hit the floor like a pancake, and smash their face open,” said Jonathan Galescu, a Tesla production technician to the Guardian. “They just send us to work around him while he’s still lying on the floor.”

Conditions like these, lower than industry standard pay, and excessive overtime caused some Tesla workers to start talking about forming a union.

In January, the union organizing drive went public. Union supporters wore union buttons, t-shirts, and stickers and began talking to the press about conditions inside the plant.

Workers said that when their organizing campaign went public, Tesla began to harass and coerce union supporters.

In April, UAW filed unfair labor practices charges against Tesla. Among other things, the UAW charged Tesla with requiring workers to sign a restrictive confidentiality agreement that prevents them from discussing working conditions with others.

In August, the National Labor Relations Board agreed that Tesla had broken the law and filed a complaint against the company.

A hearing on that complaint is scheduled for November 14.

Then on October 13, Tesla announced a mass firing of employees that included engineers, managers, and factory workers.

Reports on the firings estimated that between 400 and 700 employees were terminated.

But pro-union supporters said that they thought that as many as 1000 were fired.

Just about two weeks after the firings, some of the fired pro-union workers and their supporters demonstrated in front of the Tesla factory.

The protesters then marched into a Tesla’s Fremont showroom and held a rally.

Richard Valle, Alameda County Commissioner, was one of a number of local elected officials who joined Tesla workers at the rally.

Valle said that Elon Musk may be worth billions but his wealth and that of other billionaires depends on work done by  workers.

Valle said that he and other elected officials would stand with the fired workers until they got their jobs back and the company recognized their union.

After the UAW filed its second round of unfair labor practices charges against Tesla in October, Richard Ortriz, a union activist fired for talking to others about working conditions at the Tesla factory, explained why the fight for a union at Tesla is so important.

“I was fired for trying to better the lives of my co-workers,” said Ortiz. “I always felt this was a worthy fight. I knew it wouldn’t make me popular with management, and I knew there was risk, but people are getting hurt. People are being paid less than they’re worth. And people are being treated unfairly.” 

About his firing, Ortiz said, “I’ve worked in auto manufacturing my whole life. I do not believe–not for a second–that I was fired for cause.”