The group of Brooklyn technicians fired by Cablevision two weeks ago have been rallying around the city with high-profile politicians to give their account of how Cablevision has mistreated its unionized workers.
Cablevision maintains that Communications Workers of America, the union which 282 Brooklyn technicians joined earlier last year, is making last ditch efforts to hold onto to those workers. The company announced last week that some Brooklyn technicians still employed by Cablevision contacted the National Labor Relations Board to request a vote to decertify the union.
“Virtually all Cablevision employees have a direct relationship with the company. Cablevision looks forward to an election at the earliest possible date to allow its Brooklyn employees to determine whether or not the CWA union will continue to represent them,” the company stated in a release.
The union says that the mass-firing was simply the latest ploy by Cablevision in a campaign of intimidation and coercion to break the union.
“This is just one more piece of management’s campaign of fear and intimidation,” Tim Dubnau, a CWA Local Union 1101 spokesman, said in a statement. “On the same day that Cablevision-Optimum fired 22 workers, they also sent an email and handed out a memo in person discussing decertification, in a clear attempt to intimidate people.”
Things have been contentious between the two sides ever since the bloc of Brooklyn technicians decided to unionize early last year. The union argues that Cablevision has intentionally stonewalled collective-bargaining contract negotiations by not budging on important contractual points, such as wages.
Cablevision has actually given $2-$9 wage increases to workers in every borough except Brooklyn. CWA contends that Cablevision compromised a June vote by Bronx workers to unionize by incentivizing them not to join with the promise of higher wages.
All four of the leading Democratic mayoral hopefuls — Council Speaker Christie Quinn, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and current Comptroller John Liu — have rallied alongside the fired Brooklyn workers.
“This is just plain injustice. Don’t let anyone suggest anything less to you,” de Blasio said during a rally outside the Canarsie garage. “This one’s not even close. Workers exercising their rights, their voices and their right to organized [were] fired on the spot.”
They have promised to take action against Cablevision if they fail to negotiate with the unionized workers in good faith. They contend that the company is violating the city’s franchise law:
“Franchisee shall recognize the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing in accordance with applicable law.”
Clarence Adams, one of the fired technicians and 14-year veteran worker at Cablevision, says that Cablevision went for the union’s jugular when it executed the mass-firing at the Canarsie garage in Brooklyn two weeks. Adams says it’s no coincidence that many of the fired workers were union shop-stewards.
According to Adams, about 50 or so technicians approached management on the morning of the firings for a meeting to voice their concerns about the progress of negotiations. The company has an open-door policy that allows workers to voice any grievances that they may have with management.
While the workers waited in the cafeteria of the garage, Adams says that the garage’s vice-president, Rick Levesque, walked in and out of the room on several occasions and only asked the shop stewards specifically what time their shifts started, but never really addressed their request to meet.
“We told him, ‘Look, we only need five minutes of your time, we’re going to work, we just want to relay this message to you.’ He walked out of the room,” Adams tells the Voice.
Adams says the workers were informed that Levesque wouldn’t have time to meet, despite the fact that he found time to come out and question them about when their shifts started. The workers eventually realized that the meeting wasn’t going to happen, and began to head out on their routes.
As the technicians were leaving, Levesque approached Adams, his fellow shop stewards and a few other technicians to meet with him inside the site’s conference room.
“He says he has time all of a sudden to speak with us. So, we sit down, and we’re expecting to speak with him right then and there. And, he spends another 20-25 minutes before he comes back,” Adams says.
When he came back the workers were informed that they’d been permanently replaced for staging an unauthorized meeting and refusing to work. Five of the fired workers, who were rehired last week, were already in the middle of jobs when they were called back to be fired for “refusing” to work.
Adams says the workers were never allowed to exercise their Weingarten rights to have union representation present during disciplinary reviews.The police were called to remove the workers from the building, and union representation was never let in.
As we reported earlier, Cablevision maintains that:
“A small number of Brooklyn technicians refused to work [that morning] 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.”
With talk of possible desertification, Adams says that some of the remaining workers might be a little wary of remaining unionized and may be looking forward to the pay raise that would likely accompany decertification. But, he believes that a strong segment of the remaining workers are energized by the support that the fired workers have received from so many prominent politicians and concerned New Yorkers.
He says the union and fired technicians are in Albany today to urge legislators to investigate the labor practices of Cablevision. Adams, a military veteran, is confident that the unionized and fired workers will prevail in this dispute, but is disappointed that he must fight just for the right to work under fair conditions.
“The promising thing out of all of this is we have the truth on our side,” Adams says. “I would have never thought that coming back from Iraq, I would come here and realize that those liberties and freedoms I fought for, couldn’t even be exercised [at Cablevision].”