Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cablevision Union-Busting Impacts Teachers' Union

At Cablevision, Norma Rae’s Been Escorted Outside
Michael Powell, NY TIMES

A group of Cablevision employees who were fired after asking to speak, during work hours, to a company official about union matters. From left to right: Back: Jerome Thompson, Andre Bellato, Malik Coleman, Steve Ashurt. Front: Andre Riggs, La’kesia Johnson, Clarence Adams, Corey Williams.


At Cablevision, Norma Rae’s Been Escorted Outside

Cablevision takes pride in its open-door policy for employees.
So two weeks ago, a tight-knit band of cable television installers gathered at a company depot in Canarsie, Brooklyn, to pick up route sheets and put ladders and tools in their vans. Then they trooped inside to ask a vice president for a few minutes of his time.
Last winter, these workers overcame fierce management opposition and voted to join the Communications Workers of America, only to spend nine months in rancorous contract talks. They wanted to ask the vice president if Cablevision was serious about a contract agreement, or if it wanted only to break their union.
They waited for 20 minutes to talk, then 20 more. La’kesia Johnson, 44, grew restless and walked to the front office. A manager told her to go back inside. Then the vice president walked in and asked, essentially: Who’s supposed to be working now?
Every worker, 22 in all, raised a hand.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the vice president said, according to multiple accounts, “I am sorry to tell you that you’ve all been permanently replaced.”
“I said, ‘Whaaat?’ ” Ms. Johnson says. “Replaced? You just fired us? You don’t even know what we want.”
Ms. Johnson says the vice president looked at her and stated: I don’t care what you want.
Unions are in the definition of an existential crisis. Michigan, a cradle of labor, passed a law greatly curtailing union power. New York is Democratic Party blue, but the percentage of private sector employees who are union members has dwindled into the single digits.
Some unions are insular and self-interested, and a few are corrupt. But the battle, arduous and uncertain, of a few hundred broad-shouldered men and women to organize a union in Brooklyn underlines the extent to which union organizing has become a clamber up a Himalayan rock face.
Unions win just 50 percent of elections; then they successfully negotiate an initial contract just half of the time. The National Labor Relations Board is a dog missing teeth. If workers engage in an illegal strike, the board legally must seek a court injunction. If a company illegally fires workers, the board takes months to investigate and cannot levy any fines.
James L. Dolan, the owner of Cablevision Systems Corporation, sings in a rock band, hangs out along the baseline at Knicks games, and slaps hands with his multimillion-dollar unionized athletes. But in the hard-tack precincts of his empire, the guys and women who climb poles and crawl through basements, he takes pride in not stomaching union drives.
His Fortune 500 company started an anti-union Web site and hired an anti-union law firm. Two weeks ago, a company official sent an e-mail explaining where the remaining workers could learn about decertifying their union.
Cablevision workers are not impoverished. But neither are they paid as well as their unionized brethren at Verizon. Cablevision insists that it pays an industry “standard.” But, it notes, no union company is the “‘standard.”
I asked Charles R. Schueler, a company spokesman, about the firings. He said that “22 employees refused to go to work after multiple requests to do so.” The workers, I noted, all said they intended to work that day. He repeated his original statement. He also said that Cablevision negotiated in good faith. Then he said: “That leaves us with the issue of your conflict. You ready?”
Sure, I replied.
You, he said, are a vice chairman of a Communications Workers of America union.
He’s got me, sort of. Like most reporters at The New York Times, I’m a member of the Newspaper Guild, which is part of the C.W.A., which has about 140,000 members in the Northeast. I receive no union pay and I have no duties. I’m also a Knicks season-ticket holder and a Cablevision cable customer.
I pay far more to Mr. Dolan’s companies than I pay to my union in dues.
With that, back to the story.
Ms. Johnson feels guilty she persuaded her colleagues to risk being fired. She speaks of waking in the middle of the night and of bills piling up. Her husband is a freelancer; they depend on her health benefits. “It’s stressful — the air in our house is very thick,” she says.
The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, notes Cablevision holds an exclusive franchise in parts of the city, and plans to hold hearings on these firings. But the bad news piles up for these workers. Last week, some Cablevision workers filed for a vote to decertify the union.
“Sometimes I break down,” Ms. Johnson said, and asks herself if she had been selfish. “But my husband reminds me: ‘You have a home family and a work family. You must be loyal to both.’ ”
Twitter: @powellnyt 
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: 
Correction: February 12, 2013 
An earlier version of this column referred imprecisely to Cablevision’s franchise in New York. While it has an exclusive franchise in parts of the city, it does not have "an exclusive franchise in the city.”


Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
Comments Closed
    • amanda
    • New York
    I feel sorry for the Cablevision workers, and hope they get their job back.

    But I am disturbed that newspaper journalists belong to the Communication Workers of America, a union which even by labor standards has an abnormally strong left-wing bias. How can we trust anything said on political issues by foot soldiers of the CWA?
    Doesn't being a journalist require staying a little further from political activism.
    • Chilena
    • New York, NY
    Hey Cablevision,

    I just had to pick a cable service for my new apartment two weeks ago. I didn't pick you because I knew from earlier news reports that you treat your workers like this. Learning about this newest incident (which I actually first heard about by chance last week, from a guy I was talking to on the 7 train) only confirms I made the right choice.

    And to Cablevision employees -- stay strong! You deserve the same pay and benefits as union members. You will beat Dolan if you stick together. Right is on your side.
    • bocheball
    • NYC
    Slobhan. the rate we are paid is relatively the same within the union. If one does not belong to the union, thus doing a non union job, the budgets are smaller and are reflected in lower rates, but not always. they can be exactly the same. 

    The irony being that when there was no union our OT started after 10 hours, now with the union it does not start until hour 14. It was a tradeoff to get the medical benefits, P&W and mandatory that all union jobs must have one of my tradesmen on it at all times. It works if you're making the hours for benefits, it stinks if you're not.
    • Gil Harris
    • Manhattan
    They should be happy to have a job in this awful economy. Unionism has destroyed much of our industry in the last 50 years and any CEO with any brains will fight it tooth and nail
    • MAJ Collins
    • Omaha
    I find it far out that when i was growing up my father told me that it is an honor to have a job and if someone is kind enough to give it to you then you accept it, always do your best, and be grateful for havin that job. Fastforward many years and now its "our six sigma analysis says we can do twice the work with less people for wages at 70% of what we pay now.... fire them". We've taken the person out of the workforce and replaced it with corporate logo and worship of the corporation our new god. When did we go so horriby awry? People switch jobs every 3-4 years and start over thus stagnant wages. Corporations are getting richer as we type, look at the stock market. Seems to me to be equivalent to modern day slavery.
    • Leslie
    • PA
    I would love to see the publicity this receives if those technicians are hired by Verizon.
    • Keith Roberts
    • nyc
    The brave union members who received such despicable treatment deserve our support. Few among us would risk our families' well being for the sake of others as well as themselves. Most of us just keep our heads down, take what we get, and try to make do. Where is Robert Wagner's NLRB now?
    • T.Oliver
    • Brooklyn, NY
    Let me ask ya'll a question. WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOUR EMPLOYEES WERE INSUBORDINATE??? I work at this office here in Brooklyn. I'm one of the other 100 employees trying to petition to get CWA OUT OF HERE. We are not treated unfairly, we have wonderful benefits. No one here is afraid of anyone. These 17 decided to be insubordinate. They refused to work. Ask them about the other 20 that was with them but when manager said " go to work" they left and went to work. These people above decided not to work during work hours, wearing company uniforms on company property. BY THE WAY, WE HAVE NO CONTRACT WITH CWA. THIS IS NOT A UNION SHOP. STOP LYING CWA!!
      • Duchess
      • NYC
      Why do u want CWA out of Cablevision?
      If it was the issue was that these workers were petitioning for a response to a labor dispute on company time, why didn't the management tell the workers to come back after their shifts were over? The article does not say they refused to work. It makes it seem like they were kept waiting for a response from management--who asked them to wait in fact--and then fired for sitting there.
      • Tim
      • Brooklyn
      T oliver, It is dissappointing that you are taking the side of Dolan and seem to be endorsing his scare tactics. How can it be insubordinate to use the company's Open Door Policy? How can you not support 22 of your coworkers who tried to use managemnet's open door policy and got illegally fired as a result? I suggest you get the real story, go to
    • Patrick J
    • Hempstead
    As an employer no one can tell me how to run my business. Ever!

    We are still a Union contractor, but let me tell you, our Union does absolutely nothing. The workers are fat, dumb, and complacent. We are still Union out of habit, but 80% of my volume is non-Union.

    The non-Union workers work harder than my Union employees. Don't get me wrong, I like my union workers, but they are trapped in the past. They never go to Union school (at my expense to stay current in their trade). They have done it to themselves.

    They day is coming when I do not sign again with the Union for three years (July 1st 2013).
    • Vince
    • Hudson valley
    There are no friends in business anymore - the days of taking care of your neighbor because they take care of you went the way of the modernization of the country, We export work out to other countries and accept lessor quality because, we as people in this country refuse to pay the higher costs required to cover the price of what ever comodity or service we would have to - that would reflect the higher wages and bennifits that would be necessary if the work or service were done here.

    Its easy to look at the bottom line - and say company "x" took in "Z" dollars so they can afford it.... unitl your the investor who ends up with a lower return then you could have goten in some other business, so it makes no sense to make less profit in business #1 when you could make more in business #2 with less efforts.
      • MAJ Collins
      • Omaha
      Youre on to something. We as comsumers are partially to blame too. Just remember that your next trip to walmart. Buy local, buy american, and we'll get back to wages i nthis country that matter and a better situation for all americans. Until then, keep arming the chinese military.
    • KarenLaRae
    • Utah
    There has been a concerted effort the last couple of decades to convince the general population that there is no longer a need for unions. Since the recession, the general population is so afraid of job loss, that they also buy into "unions are keeping business from coming to your area or may make businesses leave your area." The fact is anything negative one can say about unions is 50 times more true of lobbyists. Big business spends a fortune on lobbyists to promote their agenda. The ONLY thing the general population has to promote their agenda is NUMBERS -- and purpose of unions it to organize people paying affordable dues in numbers that allow them to have a voice while lobbyists fight for big business. Unfortunately, epopole have bough tinto the "ultra liberal" label big business has given them. My city has DANGEROUS levels of pollution to the point that children can't go outside for recess. Yet parental protests at the legislature ALWAYS loose against lobbyist dollars. I would be willing to give up unions if lobbyists were outlawed. But as long as there are lobbyists pumping millions of dollars purchasing congressmen and senator support for their big businesses, unions are more necessary than ever. Since only money talks in Washington, if unions go away, any voice the masses have will continue to recede into the background against the shout of big business dollars.
    • Bill Gargan
    • Brooklyn, NY
    Ironically, the manager's gross abuse of his power in this case argues the need for strong labor unions.
    • David Johnson
    • Elmhurst, NY
    Cable Vision is one mean and ugly employer. If I were treated like that at work I sure would start a Union and fight back until my employer learned some respect and some manners.
    • Siobhan
    • New York
    It was unions that provided some push back against management thugs a century ago. They enjoyed popularity because a lot of people agreed with their aims.

    Now, most people seem to think that wanting to be treated fairly, and paid fairly, is some kind of outrageous demand. 

    We've moved backward in many ways, eg, our illiteracy rate is much higher than 100 years ago. And we seem to be proud of it.

    I fear for where we're going.
    • MisterJayEm
    • Chicagoland
    "Jack Donaghy is an economic war criminal." -- Nancy Pelosi, Jan 31, 2013
      • amanda
      • New York
      But she doesn't like unions in her family business.
    • Anne Russell
    • Wilmington NC
    The film Norma Rae is one of the best movies ever made, and I am inspired each time I watch it. I am a PhD communications professor, and certified union organizer.
    The treatment of these Cablevision employees is outrageous. It should not be allowed, for it defeats collective bargaining.
      • shirls
      • Manhattan
      I concur re film Norma Rae. Sally Fields was amazing. However, most of my friends went away with the impression that things had been markedly improved for textile workers. However, that was not the reality in the end. As a textile designer/stylist working for weeke on end in southern mills (non union all) mid '60s-80s I had first hand experience with the labor abuses there. In NYC. when the designers tried to unionize our bathrooms were bugged and those heard talking of unionizing were summarily fired! Home furnishings manufacturers to this day require freelance designers to sign away any and all rights to their original work! None of us get the benefit of residuals. Outrageous? Absolutely!
    • Thomas Pain
    • Washington, CT
    I am not a raving fan of Unions, nor do I condone the callous disregard for people demonstrated by the Cablevision executive. It is his type of "dismissal" of people's livelihood that creates workplace violence and distrust of all management by workers - union and non-union. 

    Before unions begin to be "offended" by management's stance, they should look within at some of the work rules; expensive, yet unneeded benefits; and the pervasive attitude that Union Leadership represents the membership. "Enlightened" Union Leadership would, I imagine, be willing to rework contracts to put more money in workers' pockets, reduce no-show jobs, insanely expensive "time off" provisions, etc. It is not the wages that corporate management is fearful of, it is the "work rule" that it takes four "experts" to fix a leaky sink - an electrician to turn on the light in the room, a "maintenance man II" to agree that it is, indeed leaking, a plumber to fix the leak and then a "master plumber or master maintenance man" to certify that the work was done. No wonder no one welcomes unionization - productivity plummets, number of workers multiply and workmanship suffers. (There are many unions where the above does not happen and who run efficient, professional operations). The problem is that union leadership, in order to be viewed as "strong" feels it cannot "give in" on anything or they will be viewed as weak by the membership and not be re-elected. Time to represent reality, not perpetuate stupidity.
      • MAJ Collins
      • Omaha
      You know thats funny you say that. When i hear about employee x shooting up people like this i do think wow that a hole got what he deserved while thinking that a law has been broken and killing is not the answer. I guess at the end of the day, it all comes down to corporate run business not being in line with natural orders of things. Its artificial and using six sigma to impact people's lifes is pretty cold and callous but yet we accept it and even laud it in the majority of business circles. Kinda wish we could have something in between and get the shareholders out of business.
    • bocheball
    • NYC
    NYT Pick
    I belong to a union that does nothing for me. I don't qualify for medical benefits because I don't work enough yet I'm forced to pay the same dues as those who get benefits. I don't really have the option of not being a member, because I can then no longer get union jobs, yet I'm 'supposed' to turn down non union work. The whole thing stinks, and I wish my job hadn't been unionized. I would say my situation is applicable to at least 35% of the membership and probably more.
    Maybe being a union member is good for some, I hope, but not for all.
      • slartibartfast
      • New York
      AEA, right? I feel your pain.
      • Siobhan
      • New York
      Just curious--is the rate you're paid for your work a reflection of your union membership, and is it the same as what people make if they do not belong to the union?
    • PJ
    • Brooklyn, NY
    Both Cablevision and their employees were within their legal rights in a right-to-work state. This argument isn't about who is right, but about civility. 

    The bullying tactics of the employees was unnecessary. The group should not have pressured a response by showing up in mass - a method of intimidation - to provoke a response. Negotiations were on going, and as the article states, the first contract is extremely challenging to work out. The workers should have contributed to the negotiation efforts, not attempt to strong arm a response.

    That said, the lack of compassion and social skills of the Cablevision vice president is stunning. I expect more tact from a senior level executive in a "Fortune 500" company. Firing was unnecessary unless he wanted to send a message of intimidation. It shows a profound lack of respect for workers and their families. A simple acknowledgement of the workers' stress caused by the uncertainty of the contract negotiation, and a non-committal statement endorsing contract negotiations would not have hurt the company in any way.

    Treat others as you would want to be treated - its a simple rule of civil society, played out here at its most fundamental.
      • tnypow
      • NYC
      " unless he wanted to send a message of intimidation."

      That was exactly the point...hence the lack of "tact".
      • MAJ Collins
      • Omaha
      Followed his six sigma/corporate management principles playbook to a tee it would seem. Zero defect minimize inneficiency. People are a resource like a copy machine. Once they dysfunction, fix them or jettison them. GOOOOOOOO CORPORATE!!!!!!!! They shouldn't have tried to strong arm a strong armer though!
    • tom franzson
    • brevard nc
    Unionized athletes, are a disgrace to every hard working man or woman in the United States. One " union" baseball player in NYC, in all likelihood, makes more in just one year than the entire membership of some blue collar NYC locals. That being said, our long time allies seem to be turning their backs on us. Democrat's just don't seem to be interested in organized labor anymore. A case in point, the continual delaying of ratifying an agreement on the pipeline from Canada to the U. S., which will more than likely go to the West Coast of Canada, and be tankerd to China. Yet, the Obama-Biden team were glad to be seen glad handing union leaders nation wide, and accepting those checks from Union PAC's. I am sure, if it was not for those campaign contributions, the Democrats would have severed ties with us long ago.
    In an ideal world, all good union people would boycott whatever it is this Dolan guy owns. But, that doesn't happen anymore. We, union member's are a big part of our own demise. In 1976, you would not see a foreign car on any union construction site in the country. We used quality pipe and fittings, made in the U. S. not this shoddy garbage from China or India. But, we can't offend our "trading partners" we export rice and sugar, and import low quality construction material.
    As organized labor, we are in this alone, and, it seems, we can no longer count on each other!

    To Franzson. Brevard N. C.
    • csmithsmithusa
    • NYC
    This story comes as no surprise to unionized needleworkers, printers, traffic controllers. When free enterprise and union power meet at a crossroads, the
    winner is a foregone conclusion. Those who pay exorbitant union dues have to
    ask themselves if their sacrifice purchases job security.
    • S B Lewis
    • Lewis Family Farm, Essex, New York
    Yes, indeed, and The New York Times management speaks with forked tongue, also... 

    Mr. Dolan and Cablevision have company... in The New York Times... 

    Message One on the Editorial Page....

    Message Two in its approach to the employees pension set up and all that...

    Mr. Sulzberger meet Mr. Dolan.

    America is experiencing deflation... a nasty, nasty time when all boats float lower and lower in the international scheme of things... not to mention our currency...

    A time of competitive devaluations... the product of deflationary bias at The Federal Reserve - doing the bidding of a president left few choices by the debt crisis and a GOP president that needed a Seeing Eye Dog to find the men's room.

    The FED speak talks of controlling inflation - when what inflation we have is a product of the printing press, or monetization, as the treasury sells bonds for which the buyer, ultimately, is the FED. This circle of sorts spells trouble for the currency and for the bond market - for bonds only produce currency, while stocks reflect earnings and can produce a dividend... when earned. 

    And, Oh, Yes, I am a member of a union, too... Actor's Equity claims my name, but no thoughtful producer has called.... yet. 

    I live in hope of the one man show... 

    To Truth, in a Time of Denial...
    • Morty
    • Vancouver, BC
    If nothing else, Cablevision, through its actions, demonstrated quite clearly why its employees were right to try to organize in the first place. That corporations can so blatantly engage in efforts to deny their workers the right – and it is a right – to collective bargaining is an embarrassment and shows only how far the country has fallen in its race to embrace the failed economics of the so-called "conservative" movement (which is, of course, merely good old-fashioned Victorian trade liberalism in disguise).
    • Avi
    • New York
    I agree that this is alarming and disturbing. However, this seems to be only one side of the story. The story about the workers going into the VP's office peacefully and their claim that they were going to work that day is only from their side. Its just their word against Cablevision's. Could their claims be corroborated. And if they can, have they?
    I also do not necessarily agree that the comparison to Dolan's Knicks players unionizing is parallel. When Dolan purchased the team they were already unionized. Furthermore, they are part of a league-wide union that negotiates with all of the owners, not just Dolan and the Knicks. Unless I am mistaken, the Communication Workers of America want to negotiate directly with Cablevision. Also, unlike in the CWA case, the Knicks' players, each negotiate their own contract with management, not collectively as a union.
      • Joe
      • NY
      As a former Verizon Union employee and later management employee who was laid off to guarantee stock dividends, I think you need to further research Unions place in Labor negotiations. In the comparison to Unionized athletes, Cablevision would be the league, not the team. Cablevision has a long and storied history of strong arm tactics in fighting Unionization of employees, including personal knowledge of 24/7 surveillance of a Cablevision employee who attempted to organize.
      • slartibartfast
      • New York
      Actually, the story doesn't mention that the workers went to the VP's office peacefully. Nor does it mention that they went non-peacefully. It makes no mention of their collective demeanor at all. They made no claim to be having been "peaceful" not does anyone make a claim to the contrary, so there is no "claim" to be corroborated.
      • Avi
      • New York
      For the purpose of the analogy that may be true, that Cablevision is more like the league. However, the point I am making is that saying that James Dolan is being unfair because he lets his players unionize and doesn't let Cablevision workers unionize does not hold here.
    • Gil
    • Fix
    This boils down to money and power. Mr. Dolan is saving money, likely by providing inferior benefits (does NYC benefit from a race to the bottom?). He also doesn't like to share any of his immense power. This demonstrates in a nutshell the difference between American business leaders and those in virtually every other industrialized nation. Mr. Dolan's arrogance, and anti-union vitriol, is intricately linked to the failed policies of the Republican party. These brave technicians temporarily may be out of a job, but the loser now will be later to win...
Post a Comment