Local 3 strike hits the six-month mark

Local 3 and Charter Communications remain at an impasse after an almost six- month battle over how to update the union contract. Negotiations at an August meeting showed no progress at all.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers started the strike on March 28, three days before their contract ended, believing their demands weren’t adequately addressed. Local 3 called for all of IBEW to strike against Charter and demonstrate at Spectrum locations.

Charter Communications took over Time Warner Cable last year, earning the status of the second-largest cable provider in the U.S. It changed the company name to Spectrum and did broadband advertising to establish the Spectrum brand.

A Spectrum office in Richmond Hill on Atlantic Avenue was one of the offices Local 3 workers picketed during the strike in March. However, Charter says the company’s clientele is feeling the impact of the Local 3 strike — something the union disputes.

“There has been very little impact to our customers,” said John Bonomo, as the Charter Communications spokesperson. “We generally remain on schedule for both installations and repairs.”

Charter promoted new contract terms in an effort to reach an agreement that would allow a pay increase and benefits for Local 3 workers, according to Bonomo.

“Charter is offering Local 3 a generous compensation package that includes an average 22-percent wage increase — some employees up to a 55-percent wage increase — and comprehensive retirement and health benefits, including a 401(k) that provides a dollar-for-dollar match up to 6 percent of eligible pay,” said Bonomo.

Although the previous contract details couldn’t be made available by Charter, Local 3 Shop Steward Joseph Mossa says the recent Charter offer isn’t enough.

“At this point Charter is trying to starve the members into submission,” said Mossa.

The dispute in contract negotiation stem from the loss of benefit packages that he said allowed workers to have financial and medical stability.

“They are taking away significant benefit packages which is actually way less than the increase they’re offering,” said Mossa.

Mossa classifies Charter’s move to increase wages, but not allow for increase in benefits for Local 3 members, as “union busting.” Separating the union shops by not hiring workers, not providing working rights and denying benefits potentially brings the union to a full stop, he said.

Local 3 and Charter agreed many of the workers are technicians, dispatchers, constructors, engineers and warehouse workers handling the bulk of installation jobs. While the workers remain on strike, Mossa says Charter is hiring nonunion workers and contractors.

“As much as they tell you they are having a good time getting by, they are getting by by the skin of their teeth. I don’t believe they are getting by at all. I believe they are having a lot of problems,” said Mossa.

Another factor involved in the Local 3 strike is a lawsuit against Charter filed by the state Attorney General’s office, in February, says Mossa. The lawsuit detailed Spectrum’s promise of higher internet router speeds with a new system that would raise customer costs. Spectrum was found cheating their customers’ internet speeds despite the promise of faster services.

Mossa also recalled Local 3 workers being punished departmentally based on router speeds though that is not under workers’ control. He said the treatment of workers played another major role behind the Union’s strike.

The union has the backing of a number of Queens and city officials.

Borough President Melinda Katz wrote the members a letter of “unequivocal support” on Sept. 15, saying their struggle characterizes those of workers everywhere.

“Every worker in New York City deserves to enjoy the security of retirement,” Katz said, noting that fair treatment of the workforce was a requirement the state placed upon Charter when it acquired Time Warner. “I urge you to stay strong and continue to demand that these conditions are met.”

Local 3 and supporters last Monday staged a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to gather at Foley Square Park in Manhattan. They marched to spread their struggles with a broader audience to gain further public support.

Queens Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), Daneek Miller (D-St.Albans) and Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) showed their support of Local 3 at Monday’s rally.

“We cannot and will not allow any outside company to do business in our City and disenfranchise working families,” said Miller in an email to the Chronicle. “The men and woman of IBEW/Local3 have contributed greatly to the success of Spectrum/TimeWarnerCable and deserve to be compensated fairly, receive adequate health care and the ability to retire.”

Lancman represents District 24 where Local 3 resides and considers the strike a reflection of how larger organizations are treating unions.

“First and foremost it’s terrible for their families, terrible for the local businesses who they support,” said Lancman. “This is emblematic of a national effort to try to destroy unions.”

Lancman believes the one way the 1,800 workers on strike will succeed in settling on a contract with the company is if more government officials take action.

“The endgame is that city government needs to use the levers of power that it has to push Charter into negotiating a fair contract because Charter is not going to do it on its own,” he said.

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