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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Jun 20, 2012, 4:12 pm

Organizing Wildfire and Wildcat Strikes Spread Among Cablevision Workers

BY Mike Elk

Communication Workers of America (CWA) members on strike in Chicago, Illinois. Cablevision workers in New York recently voted to unionize with CWA.   (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

After nearly two decades of Cablevision workers attempting to organize in New York City, it suddenly appears that they're meeting success. This story perhaps precipitates a broader trend about how, given the hope of the Wisconsin Uprising and Occupy Wall Street, workers are reinvigorated to fight back against slashed wages and poor working conditions.

In January of this year, in a campaign involving a massive training of shop stewards, political support from elected New York City officials, and community outreach with groups like Occupy Wall Street, 282 Brooklyn-based Cablevision workers voted to unionize with CWA (for more on the dynamics of this incredible campaign, read my story here). Then a group of 120 from the Bronx—employed by Corbel, a Cablevision subcontractor—went out on a wildcat strike to protest cut wages. Last month, those Corbel workers voted to join the IBEW.

“Any organizing win is big, but after three years of facing down adversity, this one shows a lot of character for workers at Corbel and for Local 1430,” said Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., IBEW region 1 lead organizer, in a statement.

Now the fire that started with those victories is spreading to three other Cablevision locations throughout New York City. CWA currently has two separate union elections scheduled for two different bargaining units of Cablevision workers in the Bronx, the first in connection with 172 field technicians and the second involving 30 outside plant technicians. The election there will be held June 28.

At another Brooklyn facility, 65 workers employed by Falcon—another Cablevision subcontractor—went on a wildcat strike June 6 after a co-worker was fired for handing out CWA flyers. Two hours later, the once-fired worker was back on the job. According to CWA organizer Erin Mahoney, Falcon also hired back another worker who was fired the week before for refusing to perform an unsafe job. The workers there filed last Friday to have a union election with CWA, though it has not yet been scheduled.

In response to the union drives, Cablevision has already started to change its workplace behavior. Workers in many locations have seen raises as well as more flexibility in scheduling their shifts. Some say that managers have also been nicer to them in an effort to sway them toward not joining a union, because the company will respond to their needs. But others say they have seen this routine before during union drives, and this time they are not buying it.  

“Since we started organizing, things have been good, real good,” says Alan Richardson, a Bronx-based Cablevision worker. “They have lightened the workload. They gave out raises and promotions. They made some changes with the benefits and the co-pays. The whole management staff has been changed out. We still want a union and contract, though. Everything that they have done this time around they have done before when we tried to get a union. A lot of guys have been around for a while and have seen this. They know once the smoke clears things will go back to the way they were, if not worse, because that’s what happened the last time.”

Workers say this time they are determined to get a union to solidify the quality of their working conditions, as opposed to simply relying on their employer's digression. The reason workers say this time that they haven't given up their quest is the fact that, in the last year, they have seen other Cablevision workers win.

“Brooklyn helped us a lot,” says Richardson. “We actually started pushing for the union before them, but we had trouble organizing because of fear. Nobody wanted to get put on the radar by management. It took us a little longer to get everyone together. Once Brooklyn organized, people started to believe it could actually happen. Just by them taking that first step, they opened the door for us and made it a little bit easier.”

 “(Brooklyn) gave everyone else hope,” says Erin Mahoney, CWA organizer. “I think credit goes to the group that had the courage of their conviction to unionize. I think it’s a perfect combination about anger over lack of respect and poor working conditions and hope of what happened in Brooklyn. I think you need both: You just can't just have anger in order to organize. You have to hope as well that you can make some sort of change.”

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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