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.