22 Cablevision Union Members Fired During Confrontation with Management (Updated)

Mike Elk February 1, 2013

A Wednesday encounter between workers and management ended in 22 firings. (CWA)

Around 8:30 a.m. on Wednes­day morn­ing, four dozen union­ized Cable­vi­sion work­ers gath­ered out­side of an executive’s door in the company’s Brook­lyn office and demand­ed to speak to him, cit­ing Cablevision’s open door” pol­i­cy. The work­ers, who vot­ed to join Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (CWA) over a year ago, were upset over how con­tract nego­ti­a­tions were going — they felt that Cable­vi­sion was not address­ing union con­cerns about pay, ben­e­fits, pen­sions and job secu­ri­ty. An hour lat­er, says CWA, the still-wait­ing work­ers were shocked to be informed by man­age­ment that 22 of them were to be fired.

CWA believes that the fir­ings were ille­gal retal­i­a­tion, not­ing that the 22 work­ers were all key union lead­ers with­in the workplace.

It’s def­i­nite­ly ille­gal,” says fired Cable­vi­sion work­er Jerome Thomp­son. “[Cable­vi­sion is] basi­cal­ly mess­ing with my fam­i­ly, my liveli­hood, my health ben­e­fits… What they are doing is cre­at­ing an atmos­phere of fear and doubt for the union. This is part of their union-bust­ing strat­e­gy to … have all these oth­er guys afraid to join the union or even be involved.”

The com­pa­ny, how­ev­er, dis­putes the union’s inter­pre­ta­tion of events. 

A small num­ber of Brook­lyn tech­ni­cians refused to work on Wednes­day after sev­er­al requests to return to their jobs. There­fore, Cable­vi­sion took legal and appro­pri­ate steps to main­tain ade­quate staffing and ensure its Brook­lyn oper­a­tions are not dis­rupt­ed,” wrote Cable­vi­sion in a emailed state­ment to Work­ing In These Times.

That is an absolute lie,” says Thomp­son. We did not refuse to go to work. We just want­ed to exer­cise Cable­vi­sion’s open door pol­i­cy, and we said once we were able to get five min­utes of their time that we would go back to work.”

A par­tial video of the inter­ac­tion with man­age­ment, released by CWA, shows work­ers stat­ing they are ready to work, but wish first to speak to man­age­ment under the com­pa­nies’ open-door pol­i­cy. We’re not refus­ing,” sev­er­al say.

VID-20130130 – 00001 from Anna Mum­ford on Vimeo.

VID-20130130 – 00001 from Anna Mum­ford on Vimeo.

Cable­vi­sion, how­ev­er, empha­sized repeat­ed­ly in tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions with Work­ing In These Times that the work­ers refused to go back to work. The com­pa­ny also denies the union’s charges that Cable­vi­sion has not bar­gained in good faith.

Cable­vi­sion has had 17 bar­gain­ing ses­sions with the CWA union … with sev­er­al more sched­uled in the com­ing weeks,” Cable­vi­sion wrote to Work­ing In These Times. We have reached ten­ta­tive agree­ment with the union on more than 20 con­tract issues.”

How­ev­er, CWA says that the com­pa­ny has bar­gained only on minor issues” and not what the union views as major issues.”

All the issues we have agreed to were all basi­cal­ly things stat­ed in the company’s hand­book,” says Thomp­son. The union has put a wage pro­pos­al [on] the table, and [Cable­vi­sion] bla­tant­ly did not want to talk about it. They don’t want to talk about pen­sions. They don’t want to talk about health ben­e­fits. They want us to have peo­ple out­side of our col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing unit in our area. They don’t want us to have an inde­pen­dent arbi­tra­tor hear firings.”

Thomp­son fears that the com­pa­ny is draw­ing out the nego­ti­a­tions in an attempt to get the union decer­ti­fied. Under U.S. labor law, if after a year, a com­pa­ny hasn’t reach an agree­ment with union, mem­bers can vote to decertify.

The union, how­ev­er, says it is not going to back down. On Thurs­day morn­ing, CWA held a ral­ly of over 100 work­ers and drew state­ments of sup­port from sev­er­al New York City elect­ed officials.

This is a bla­tant attack on work­ers,” said New York City Pub­lic Advo­cate Bill de Bla­sio in a state­ment. It’s unac­cept­able, and we won’t stand for this kind of rep­re­hen­si­ble intim­i­da­tion in Brook­lyn or in any bor­ough. Cable­vi­sion must be held accountable.”

CWA union orga­niz­er Erin Mahoney says that CWA has filed charges with the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board (NLRB) seek­ing an injunc­tion to rein­state the work­ers. That process, how­ev­er, can take five to six months.

Until they get their jobs back, Jerome Thomp­son says, he and the oth­er fired work­ers plan on protest­ing every day. Thomp­son believes that the union still has a lot of strength” with­in Cablevision.

Cable­vi­sion dis­agrees, say­ing in its state­ment, The CWA union rep­re­sents a small num­ber of employ­ees in Brook­lyn, and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Cable­vi­sion employ­ees have a direct rela­tion­ship with the com­pa­ny. The last time Cable­vi­sion employ­ees vot­ed on CWA union rep­re­sen­ta­tion, in June, Bronx tech­ni­cians vot­ed by a near­ly 3‑to‑1 mar­gin against join­ing the CWA union.”

But Thomp­son thinks Wednes­day’s actions by Cable­vi­sion back­fired, lend­ing strength to the union: The guys I know inside are more upset at Cable­vi­sion, because they know if they can fire me for noth­ing then they can fire them for noth­ing as well.”

Update: This piece has been updat­ed to reflect the fact that, con­trary to ear­ly reports, there were 22 work­ers fired, not 25.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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