As the Disgraced Governor Prepares to Exit His Office, He’s Walking Out on Efforts to Settle the Country’s Longest Labor Strike
The scandals surrounding New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are hip-deep and rising as the Democratic Party powerbroker turned powderpuff rushes for the exits on Aug. 24.
Before he gets away, let’s add leaving hundreds of workers and their families to the longest ongoing strike in the country to the list of unpardonable sins.
In 2016, Charter/Spectrum, the country’s No. 2 cable provider, wrapped up its multi-million-dollar acquisition of Time-Warner Cable and immediately went to work busting the union.
It did this by trashing negotiated employee pension and healthcare plans, provoking 1,800 trade unionists to strike.
IBEW Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson said, “We had a great [40-year] relationship with Time-Warner…and for those 40 years, employees enjoyed the benefits that every one of us strives to have — a defined benefits pension, good healthcare, healthcare in retirement.”
Once techs were pounding the pavement, Charter/Spectrum brought in an army of ill-trained scabs to replace the strikers and then walked away from negotiations.
When Charter/Spectrum—which is owned by billionaire telecom executive John Malone and the mega-rich Newhouse family—came into New York, Erikson said, it was contingent upon them further building out the telecommunications system across the state — and agreeing not to replace the customer-facing workforce.
“There were protections for the workers,” Erikson said in 2018. “They came to the table — and the first proposal in the negotiations was to eliminate the union pension fund and the union benefits…The fact is, that was the plan from the beginning: Force the strike and then force the decertification of the union.”
Once IBEW Local 3 techs were pounding the pavement, Charter/Spectrum brought in an army of ill-trained scabs to replace the strikers and then walked away from negotiations.
But six months into the strike, a blustery Cuomo promised hundreds of increasingly desperate strikers rallying in Brookly that he was going to get tough with Charter/Spectrum and run them out of town if the corporate kings didn’t shape up.
Charter/Spectrum was already mired in a whole host of malfeasance at that point. Just a week prior to that 2017 Brooklyn rally, the state fined the company $13 million for failing to fulfill aspects of the signed agreement outlining enhanced customer service, which initially allowed the company’s deal with Time-Warner Cable to go through.
Then, just a year later, Charter/Spectrum agreed to cough up $174 million in a record-breaking consumer fraud settlement with the state’s attorney general’s office.
‘Run Them Out of the State’
Ever-eager to score some blue-collar favor, and with late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at his side, a blustering Cuomo told Charter/Spectrum strikers exactly what they wanted to hear: “If they don’t get their act together and fulfill that agreement — they’re going to be out of the State of New York.”
Erikson sounded like he believed Cuomo’s spit and vinegar, too, when he spoke to strikers at another rally in December 2018. He told them how the governor “got the parties together” in a room in an effort to spur an agreement.
“And as we got closer,” the IBEW Local 3 official said, “[Charter/Spectrum] realized — if they make an agreement, then they would lose on the decertification and the workforce would want to have a union contract. And what did they do? They walked away from the negotiations. That’s why we’re here again today to send a message to this union-busting company. It ain’t going to work here — and if we don’t get a contract, we’re gonna run Charter/Spectrum out of New York.”
Charter/Spectrum denies trying to bust IBEW Local 3 and says the union walked away from negotiations. An agreement has never been reached and the strike continues to this day.
Over the years, many hard-pressed IBEW Local 3 strikers have crossed the picket line and gone back to work. Families have been torn apart, couples have split up, people have lost automobiles and homes. Others, with mouths to feed, have been forced to scramble for whatever kind of work they can get — despite years of experience as highly skilled communication technicians.
Driving for Uber
Guillermo Gonzalez, 52, spent a decade working as a tech for Time-Warner Cable and then Charter/Spectrum. Six months into the strike, however, he was mainly driving for Uber.
“It’s very hard because we don’t have any income coming in,” the Queens father of three said at the time. “We have to survive. I try to do odd jobs here and there whenever possible — doing some construction. But mainly, I’ve been doing Uber. Just trying to get some money to provide for the family. It’s a new thing. Something I never did before. I’m reinventing myself with that. [But] it’s hard to sit there and think [Charter Spectrum] really doesn’t care about us.”
One group of striking techs has formed its own worker-owned ISP called People’s Choice Communications and is already scaling up in Bronx County.
The City of New York, however, balked at forming an actual municipal telecommunications network, despite the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications finding Charter/Spectrum in default of its franchise agreement with NYC.
Local elected officials were full of denunciations about those transgressions, too. But Charter/Spectrum, with its payroll of multi-million-dollar executives, has continued to roll on its merry way. And now, they’ve rolled over scandal-plagued Cuomo, too, leaving no doubt where power actually resides in the United States today.