Wall Street Journal – Charter Communications Strike Ratchets Up

//Wall Street Journal – Charter Communications Strike Ratchets Up

Wall Street Journal – Charter Communications Strike Ratchets Up

2017-10-05T17:35:54+00:00 October 4th, 2017|

A lengthy labor dispute between cable giant Charter Communications Inc. and its workers is escalating, with the union launching a new ad campaign.

The strike is being closely watched in New York, one of the most unionized states in the country.

“Our benefits are irreplaceable,” one worker, Marvin Billups, says in a digital ad expected to be made public on Wednesday. “It’s not just about me, it’s about a whole group of middle class people.”

The spot is part of a six-figure ad buy from the cable workers’ union, the Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The union plans to target the ads to Spectrum customers this week.

About 1,800 workers went on strike in March after the cable company, known to its customers as Spectrum, sought to eliminate pension contributions and restructure medical and retirement plans for employees. The company said that it is offering significant raises and other benefits.

“By keeping its members out of work, Local 3 is denying our employees a generous compensation package that includes an average 22-percent wage increase—some employees up to a 55-percent wage increase—and comprehensive retirement and health benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6 percent of eligible pay,” John Bonomo, a Charter spokesman, said in a statement emailed to The Journal.

Christopher Erikson, the union’s business manager, said the raises aren’t enough to offset the loss of pension benefits.

The union has drawn support from New York Democrats, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom appeared at a rally last month with the workers.

In a letter to the state regulator on Monday, Mr. Cuomo’s counsel, Alphonso David, expressed concern about how the strike was affecting service. The company agreed in July to a tentative $13 million settlement for failing to meet service upgrades it had promised to win state approval for a 2016 merger with Time Warner Cable.

“We have significant concerns about whether Charter-Spectrum is meeting their obligations under the merger agreement,” Mr. David said in a phone interview. “We’re always concerned about the workforce in New York. We want to make sure that our workforce is treated fairly, whether they are part of the union or not. But I think that is separate and distinct from the issue here,” he said.

Mr. Bonomo said the company was committed to delivering excellent service and that, “other than the 130+ acts of vandalism that caused service interruptions to our customers, there has been very little impact to our customers” from the strike.

He said the company had hired more than 3,000 New York state residents this year.

Other local officials have opened investigations into the company’s business practices. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is suing the company for allegedly defrauding its customers by knowingly failing to deliver services as advertised, for example. The lawsuit was filed before the union went on strike.

A city agency is also probing whether the company is violating the terms of its franchise agreement by employing nonunion workers from outside New York City during the strike. De Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said the city had an obligation to the public to examine the issue. “We are not doing this to apply pressure on the company,” she said.

Mr. Bonomo said the advertisements central to Mr. Schneiderman’s suit were made by Time Warner Cable before its merger with Charter last year. He said upgrades were being made. And he said the company was meeting the terms of its franchise agreement with New York City.

“We will continue to invest in our business and deliver the highest quality services to our customers while we defend against these allegations involving Time Warner Cable practices,” he said.

As the strike wears on, tensions between workers and the company have risen. Charter said it suffered service outages this summer after vandals severed the company’s cable lines.

Union officials said they have warned their members not to engage in vandalism.

“There’s anger, I’m sure. But certainly the union does not condone that,” Mr. Erikson said.

The striking workers are set to lose their medical coverage next month, something union representatives say has created a new sense of urgency. After going months without pay, many of the workers are struggling. “It’s been six months,” said Mr. Erikson. ”They’re sleeping in their cars.”

Mr. Bonomo, the Charter spokesman, said the benefits package being offered by the company was similar to plans for its 90,000 employees elsewhere in the U.S. “This competitive offer will have a positive, lasting impact on employees’ standard of living and allows us to grow a well-paid, highly skilled workforce for the benefit of our customers,” he said.