Striking NYC Cable Workers Say They Are Up Against “The 99 Million Dollar Man”


Ava Collesso, 58, is among the 1,800 warehouse workers, dispatchers, service technicians, and fiber optic specialists currently striking against Charter Spectrum, as Time Warner Cable is now called after its recent acquisition by onetime rival Charter Communications.

“They’re trying to break us but it ain’t gonna happen. It’s definitely not going to happen,” she told the Voice outside Spectrum’s Greenpoint facility, where the company stores a fleet of its vehicles and where 700 of the striking workers are ordinarily employed. “Not on my clock. Not on Ava Collesso’s clock.”

Charter’s CEO, Tom Rutledge, was paid $98.5 million last year, making him the highest paid CEO in America. Rutledge makes twice as much as the next-highest-paid CEO, Estee Lauder’s Fabrizio Freda, who made $48.4 million in 2016, according to Money magazine.

“Rutledge is the 99 million dollar man,” says Derek Jordan, a spokesperson for the union that represents the technicians, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3. “He profited last year off our workers’ backs. Now he’s going after the benefits that we fought hard for for years.”

Jordan told the Voice that since 2013, first Time Warner Cable and now Charter refused to bargain with the union, despite multiple legal agreements with the city of New York requiring it to do just that: recognize the union and negotiate. “Their proposals are all givebacks,” Jordan said, referring to the contract concessions demanded by the company. “We’re willing to sit down with Spectrum and negotiate, but they have to come with something decent. We want to maintain the benefits we fought for and move forward.”

A spokesperson for Spectrum, John J. Bonomo, said that the company was offering “our field technicians a pay increase larger than the union has demanded, along with competitive and robust healthcare and retirement benefits.” He also said that Spectrum has been “abiding by the details” of a ratified but unexecuted contract the union negotiated with Time Warner in 2013.

The strike started at dawn on March 28 and has since featured picket lines at Spectrum facilities throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Bergen County, New Jersey.

On Tuesday, when this reporter visited the Greenpoint picket line, scores of workers wearing protest signs and bright orange IBEW hats were walking up and down the street in front of the facility. A lone police officer sat in a marked patrol car. Across the street, union financial officers handed out strike paychecks to workers. Whenever a Spectrum vehicle drove past with a replacement worker at the wheel, strikers yelled, “Scab!”

Francesco Camporese, 29, of Brooklyn, was walking the picket line. He said the main reason for the strike is that Spectrum seeks “to take everything away that the unions got for us.”

Anthony Grella, 33, of Queens, another striking Spectrum worker, told us, “They want to cut our health benefits. They want to reduce or eliminate our pension plan. And they want to change our contract to allow them to subcontract all the work we do and lay us off, so they won’t have to pay city income tax.”

To Camporese and other strikers, the replacement workers were a source of scorn.

“They’re not even supposed to be here,” Camporese said, referring to a binding legal agreement between the city and Spectrum that, union members say, requires the company to employ New Yorkers. But, they say, Spectrum is bringing in workers from other states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina.

Jordan, the Local 3 spokesperson, said, “Now, because of the strike, they’re bringing in people from everywhere. They’re out-of-state contractors. They go wherever the money is.”

“We reached out to the mayor’s office” for help, Jordan added. “The message is that we have the mayor’s support, but we don’t know yet what he’s going to do.”

The franchise agreements between Spectrum and the city, which Spectrum needs to operate, function as a fulcrum of administrative power that the city could use to force Spectrum into negotiations, and perhaps to even shape the company’s negotiating position with the union, but the city has yet to actuate its authority under the agreements.

The city bureau charged with administering the agreements is the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The Voice asked DoITT’s assistant commissioner for communications and external affairs, Kate Blumm, whether the agreements prohibited the use of out-of-state workers and, if so, why the city hadn’t enforced them against Spectrum.

Blumm said that, according to DoITT’s lawyers, the agreement requires Spectrum to draft a plan to hire local workers, but it doesn’t mandate the hiring itself. Because of this, she said, the agreement does not categorically bar the employment of out-of-state workers.

However, when asked if a plan had actually been drafted by Spectrum or its predecessor, Time Warner, Blumm declined to provide an answer, much less a copy of the actual plan, which the Voice also asked to review.
Blumm did say, however, that “the city’s Franchise Agreement with Charter allows for collective bargaining by workers. We support the exercise of that provision and hope for a swift conclusion that’s fair to the hardworking New Yorkers that help power this company.”