STRIKE SAID TO TEST FUTURE OF UNIONS

When 40,000 Verizon workers—including about 4,600 in New Jersey—went on strike last year, I read a lot of news stories about it and on my trips to New York City, I saw people walking the picket line. The strike ended after almost two months, with both sides claiming victory and it appeared the workers had come out ahead—winning pension increases, ratification bonuses, new call center jobs and other concessions.

There is another strike now underway in New York and New Jersey that has been going on for most of 2017, though I only just learned of it. It also involves telecommunications industry workers, though far fewer—about 1,800 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3, employed by Charter/Spectrum, one of the nation’s largest cable companies.

According to an article published a few days ago on Salon, the showdown between IBEW and Charter/Spectrum could be a watershed moment. “Will New York’s cable strike revitalize the labor movement—or kill it” by Bob Hennelly, posted on Sept. 26, suggests that the nearly six-month-old strike “could well determine whether the American labor movement has a fighting chance for a revival.”

That might sound overly dramatic but Hennelly makes a good case. He describes the strikers, many of whom worked for Charter/Spectrum’s corporate predecessors for decades and made a living wage with decent benefits, as up against “a multimillion dollar behemoth that approaches a 21st-century version of the Rockefeller Standard Oil Trust of the 19th Century.” It is the nation’s fastest growing cable provider and the second largest, just behind Comcast, serving 25 million households in 41 states. As recently as 2009, it filed for bankruptcy. Since climbing out, it has swallowed up Liberty Media, Time Warner Cable and other rivals, and taken on billions of dollars in debt.

Led by a CEO whose 2016 compensation amounted to about $100 million with stock options, the company, which has more than 90,000 employees, only 2,500 of them unionized, is looking to break IBEW Local 3, in the union’s view, reports Hennelly.

Set against the larger picture of declining union membership over the last six decades—during which private sector membership plummeted from 35 percent to 6.4 per cent—and the spread of anti-union laws, that would be bad news. Public sector unionization remains higher, at 34.4 per cent but is also under attack, Hennelly adds.

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