Cablevision Case Highlight Hurdles in Negotiating First Contracts, Committee Democrats Learn at Brooklyn Forum

Mar 25, 2013 Issues: Labor, Worker Rights

BROOKLYN, NY – As the Cablevision fight in New York suggests, significant hurdles exist for workers in achieving a first collective bargaining contract when an employer is intent on subverting the wishes of workers, presenters told Democratic members of the House Education and the Workforce congressional committee in Brooklyn today.

"Good labor relations promotes job growth. Bargaining in good faith promotes good labor relations. When there isn't good faith bargaining, we need a legal remedy such as binding arbitration that results in a first contract that is fair to the employer and the employees," said Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), the senior Democrat on the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee.

On January 26, 2012, Cablevision workers in three facilities in New York and Brooklyn voted to join the Communications Workers of America by a margin of 180-86. The NLRB certified the bargaining unit in February 2012. The parties have not settled a first contract more than a year later.

“The right to collectively bargain brings workers to the table and gives them a voice. As the Cablevision case proves, Congress needs to protect employees by ensuring fair labor standards, worker training, workplace protections, and the ability to join a union if desired,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee.

Most recently, in January 2013, 22 Cablevision workers sought a meeting with management to discuss lack of progress in the contract negotiations. While still waiting for the meeting, the workers were told by management they had been permanently replaced. Public outcry about the firings followed, and Cablevision has rehired the workers. Presenters at the committee Democratic members’ forum described tactics by the company that they said were designed to delay negotiations and intimidate workers.

“When Cablevision illegally fired my brothers and sisters, it was not about them. This hostile and illegal act was aimed squarely at those still at work. It was a crude but powerful message that was delivered loud and clear: Support the union, and your ability to feed your family and pay your rent is in danger,” said Gertrude Villegas, a technician at Cablevision. “My fellow techs in Brooklyn just want a decent wage and a secure job. We aren’t asking for anything that is unreasonable.”

Delays are often used to break a union. If a contract is not reached after one year of bargaining following certification of an election, a window opens for workers to file a decertification petition to eliminate the union. After the one-year mark was reached at Cablevision, a decertification petition was filed in this case. According to the presenters, many workers who supported the union were terrified by the firings. Some even told union supporters that they signed the decertification petition because they assumed that management would see the petition. They said that support for the union dropped because it has not been able to get a contract and because of the firings.

“Ten years ago, I put my life on the line 6,000 miles away from home in the name of protecting the basic rights of American democracy. I believed I was fighting so that the rights of every American would be protected. I never thought that I would see the day that I, as an American citizen, would have my basic rights trampled on and no one would do anything about it,” said Clarence Adams, a Cablevision technician who was one of the 22 workers fired. “I never thought that a big corporation could violate my rights and the government would let them get away with it. But that’s how it seems to me now.”

Cablevision’s tactics are not unusual for a company that opposes workers’ rights to form and join a union.

“This case fits a pattern or blueprint well-worn into the fabric of union avoidance, where a company resorts to unfair labor practices in order to resist the union, even after it has won a representation election and has been certified as collective bargaining representative by the [National Labor Relations] Board (NLRB),” said C. John Cicero, a professor at the CUNY School of Law. “The Cablevision matter serves as a case study in the inadequacy of statutory remedies when an employer chooses to defy the law and evade its bargaining obligations.”

Cablevision was invited to present at the forum but declined to do so.

"Federal law is designed to protect the ability of the American worker to unionize, organize and bargain collectively. Throughout the country, however, in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, the right to collectively bargain is under assault,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffreies (D-NY). “We cannot let that happen in Brooklyn. Congress, as the custodians of our democracy, has an obligation to make sure that our laws are not blatantly violated. That is an obligation that we take seriously, and we will continue to be steadfast in this regard until the Cablevision situation has been resolved."

“It is my hope the company and the workers are able to move forward with a solution that is satisfactory for both sides,” said Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY).

Both Reps. Jeffreies and Velázquez represent the area where the dispute is occurring and attended today’s forum.