Press Releases

Community, Political Pressure Force Cablevision-Optimum to Rehire 22 Illegally Fired Workers

Workers still fighting for back pay, fair contract and respect from company
Thursday, March 21, 2013

New York, NY – A strong support campaign by community leaders and NYC elected officials convinced Cablevision-Optimum to rehire the 22 workers it illegally locked out and fired seven weeks ago. Community protests were held outside Cablevision-Optimum’s Brooklyn garages, all four major Democratic mayoral candidates condemned the firing, and the City Council held a hearing on whether Cablevision-Optimum had violated its franchise agreement with the City of New York.

“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.”

Cablevision-Optimum claimed that the workers were “permanently replaced” because they were on strike.  The reality: the 22 workers sought to take advantage of the company’s “open door” policy to discuss their grievances with one of their managers – protected activity under federal law. A Cablevision-Optimum vice president then told the workers that they were being “permanently replaced” – a term usually applied to workers who are on strike. The workers clearly were not on strike and were willing to work, and in fact, at least five of the fired workers were already in the field and had to be called in to be told they were “permanently replaced.”

CWA has called for NYC to hold the company accountable for breaching its franchise agreement, which requires that the company “recognize the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing in accordance with applicable law.” CWA also called for an end to tax breaks and special permits for companies owned by Dolan, who also owns Madison Square Gardens. And Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent a letter to the National Basketball Association urging it not to hold its All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden.

The nearly 300 Brooklyn technicians voted for CWA representation in January 2012, but Cablevision-Optimum has refused to bargain a fair contract. After a year of bargaining, management still refuses to agree to even the most basic workers protections, let alone any meaningful discussion of wages and benefits.

Background

On January 30th, 22 Brooklyn Cablevision-Optimum workers sought to take advantage of the company’s “open door” policy to discuss their grievances with one of their managers – protected activity under federal law. After it became clear to the workers that management would not meet with them, the workers decided to leave to begin their workday. As they were preparing to leave, a Cablevision-Optimum Vice President invited them into a conference room and conveyed that he would meet with them. After making them wait another 20 minutes, he came in and told them they were being “permanently replaced” – a term usually applied to workers who are on strike.

Given that the workers clearly stated that they were willing to work and that at least five of the fired workers were already in the field on their routes and had to be called back to be told they were “permanently replaced,” it’s clear they were not on strike.

Cablevision-Optimum’s action to fire and lockout workers is a blatant violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of workers to engage in group activity to improve their wages and working conditions.

Cablevision’s franchise with the City clearly states that “Franchisee shall recognize the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing in accordance with applicable law.”

Since the nearly 300 Brooklyn technicians voted to become the first union workers at the cable company in January of 2012, Cablevision-Optimum has refused to offer the workers a just contract, choosing to spend far more on executive compensation and union-busting attorneys than it would take to settle a fair contract.

Despite a year of bargaining, management still refuses to sign off on even the most basic elements of a typical collective bargaining agreement. The company’s total intransigence on basic union and worker protections has blocked any meaningful discussion of wages and health benefits, leaving Brooklyn workers behind other technicians. CWA has filed charges at the NLRB accusing management of “bad faith bargaining” by negotiating without any actual intent of reaching an agreement.

Shortly after Brooklyn workers voted to join CWA in January 2012, workers at the company’s Bronx garage started organizing. To stop the union from spreading beyond Brooklyn, the company gave raises of $2 - $9 to all technicians outside of Brooklyn. CWA has filed charges at the NLRB arguing these raising and other anti-union tactics (which led to the defeat of the drive in June) were illegal because they deprived the Bronx workers of the unfettered right to determine if they wanted to join CWA.

The 300 technicians and dispatchers in Brooklyn were part of one of the first successful organizing drives in the largely non-union cable industry despite a vicious anti-union campaign of harassment and intimidation by Cablevision-Optimum executives. The workers are fighting for equal pay, good benefits, and dignity and respect on the job.


Contact: Candice Johnson or Kendra Marr Chaikind, CWA Communications, 202-434-1168, cjohnson@cwa-union.org and kmarr@cwa-union.org