WIN Special Report: “Today We Fight For All Workers”: Thousands Join Striking Charter Workers For NYC Rally
Out on strike since march of this year, nearly two thousand electrical workers in New York are stepping up the pressure this afternoon in their fight against telecommunications giant Charter Communications. Dozens of other unions and community groups joined International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3 Monday afternoon for a massive march and rally. Negotiations stalled over the company’s refusal to make any offers unless the workers give up their union pension and health care plans. Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson has described the ultimatum as a gun to the head of the union’s members.
I discussed the situation with Erikson on Monday morning:
[JoAnne Powers]: Welcome to Workers Independent News, Chris. You’ve been out on strike against Charter Spectrum for 6 months. Let’s start with some background for our listeners who aren’t necessarily aware of what’s going on with the Spectrum workers.
[Chris Erikson]: “It’s coming up on 6 months, and this is a major labor dispute with a company that has a CEO that made 98 million dollars last year and is basically trying to starve my numbers into submission. There are a number of items that have stalled this thing…in particular the company’s refusal to contribute…to continue to contribute…into the members’ defined benefit pension and hospitalization plan. These are good plans. The company’s described them as if they’re failing. They’re not. And for forty years Time Warner negotiated fair contracts with the union and the members have bought paid for these benefits for 40 years, retiree medical coverage and a good pension. And for unknown reasons, other than– I can only describe as greed–the company has taken a position that they no longer want to participate in those plans and they’ve offered a 401k and corporate medical and…and it’s something that the members are not prepared to accept. They are adamant about maintaining their standards and, like I said, they’ve bought and paid for these benefits over forty years. Every time the company settled a contract and offered 3% each year, the members had to allocate some of that to improve the pension or cover the medical, they’ve done that. So far as we’re concerned, they own these benefits and the company is refusing to negotiate anything if the union does not concede to their demand to eliminate those benefits.
So, that’s where we’re at. It’s unfortunate but it’s typical. It’s typical of the corporate agenda: break the union if they can. I think that…I believe…it’s my opinion that that was part of their plan. This is a company that bought Time Warner and I don’t know that they have any real commitment to this city. I don’t believe that they have lived up to their obligations under franchise agreements to rebuild the systems. They have a lawsuit from Attorney General Schneiderman over the speed of the Internet that they say that they provide and that’s become an issue for our members. A technician goes into a house on a service call because of the poor service. They check the box, which is antiquated in some cases. Everything is tight. All the cables work. And then they walk out and the customer’s still not happy because they can’t get the service that they think they’re entitled to, and then our workers are disciplined for that, for a repeat call, and they lose the opportunity to advance because of repeat calls. And so, it’s out of control in most cases.
The company also want to outsource the work with impunity, with no protections of the bargaining unit and we all know what that means: no job security.
[JoAnne Powers]: I know that where I am, in Madison, Wisconsin, the local Charter branch has been outsourcing as much as they can to nonunion contractors, I don’t believe they have any union workers, at least as technicians. Of course, that’s a well-worn tactic for union-busting via outsourcing.
[Chris Erikson]: Absolutely. They operate in 41 states. The IBEW has been handbilling in 41 states, including Hawaii and California, handing out leaflets about this dispute. I am going to ask my international to convert that leafleting campaign into an organizing campaign, a national organizing campaign, and I’m going to ask our leadership to implore the AFL-CIO to add them to the national boycott list. They’re a bad player. That is pressure. We’re going to initiate today a digital campaign to try to debrand this company. They’re not good for the workers. They’re not good for their customers. And, like a robber baron, I think they come in here and want value this company up and then sell it and get out. It’s like fixing up a fixer-upper house, putting siding and a bow on it and trying to make money and move on. That’s not what our country needs. That’s not what working people need.
[JoAnne Powers]: And you have this massive rally planned for this afternoon to step up the pressure on Charter…
[Chris Erikson]: We’re up against a crew, a company that has a board of directors, and I don’t know that they have actually fully understood how important this is to their employees. Having a union means having a voice at work. Collective bargaining is what we do. And we’re just up against a company here, a multi-billion dollar company, that has their own agenda.
So, we’re in a fight and today it is going to be demonstrated, the support that these strikers have, because this isn’t only about them. This is about the middle class. This is about everything that’s at risk and I hope today is a day that starts the battle for workers in this country to get the respect that they deserve and to share the wealth that has been shifted so unfairly to the top one percent here. Everybody’s aware of that the income inequality in this country is a disgrace. Wages have not really grown for working people. And it’s my hope today to send a message, not only to this company, but through the speakers that we anticipate to be there, to the labor movement and to all working people. They envision Walmart wages and right-to-work states. That’s not anything to aspire to. And, so, today we fight for all workers!
[JoAnne Powers]: You’re expecting shows of solidarity from dozens of other unions this afternoon…and other allies of the working class.
[Chris Erikson]: As you are in Wisconsin, attacks on the public employees, they’re going to support us today, as well. And community organizations, workers that want good wages, the Fight for 15 in New York was big deal, and they understand the value of a union and a union contract. And so we’re going to have a lot of support today. I think it’s going to be a very large gathering. The governor has indicated he’s going to be there, as is the mayor and many of the elected officials here in New York as well. And we’ve finally been getting some pretty good press, in the paper. We’re getting a fair shake.
But, it’s going to take a campaign to bring his company to the table, to make them understand and hopefully they’ll capitulate and recognize how important this is to their employees. And they could end this strike tomorrow if they could just get off the dime over this issue. Today’s the day, I hope, that wakes up the sleeping giant.