Clarence Adams has spent a lot of time on his phone after work over the past three-and-a-half-years. The Cablevision technician, who has worked fifteen years at the cable and Internet provider, has been part of the organizing committee trying to form a union and get a contract for his Brooklyn division since 2011. At times, it seemed that the struggle would never end.
Cablevision has fired, then rehired, workers when the union put pressure on the company or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stepped in. It has threatened the workers and attempted to decertify the union. It orchestrated false union votes and bestowed raises on all but the unionized workers. And it did all this—what City Council member Brad Lander described as a “brutal litany of unfair labor practices”— while dragging its feet at the bargaining table.
To keep spirits from flagging, shop stewards and committee members, like Adams, made phone calls to their colleagues nearly every day; this was all the more important since many of them spend their days alone, traveling from house to house installing and repairing cable. Adams told The Nation he also relied on those conversations to keep him inspired to fight on, as well. “They always had a good word, always tried to keep our spirits up,” he said. “We’ve gotten leadership from different people at different times. Everybody was just picking their moments.”
Those long hours and hard work have finally paid off for Adams and 261 of his coworkers in Brooklyn, who voted on February14 to accept their first union contract. That contract, according to the Communication Workers of America (CWA), will include raises of between 10 and 25 percent over the next two years for most of the workers, with some of them getting as much as 34 percent. They’ve also won just-cause provisions and grievance and arbitration procedures, as well as a few limitations on the company’s ability to use contract workers.
“These 262 workers won big raises and improved conditions for 15,000 other workers,” Lander pointed out. “That they were cruelly denied these benefits themselves for over three years, in an effort to break their union, does not obscure the fact that the heroic actions of this small band of workers won benefits for a group of people 500 times their size.”
After more than three years of battling the union, it’s not clear exactly what brought Cablevision and its owner, James Dolan, whom Michael Powell at The New York Times called “a consummate 1 percenter,” to the bargaining table. It is possible that he feared public protests around the NBA All-Star Game, which took place February 13 through 15 at Madison Square Garden, which Dolan also owns, along with the New York Knicks (as well as the Rangers hockey team). Ongoing legal pressure probably played a role as well; in December, an administrative law judge with the NLRB ruled that Cablevision had illegally given raises to workers to convince them to vote against the union, and illegally fired twenty-two pro-union workers in 2013. There was also vocal public support for the workers, including from a new mayor and City Council majority.