Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Cablevision Calls Cops on Workers, Hires Scalia’s Son to Challenge NLRB’s Authority

May 28th, 2013 | Mike Elk

Mike ElkOn Thursday, 15 Cablevision workers who are also stockholders in the cable company were ejected from the annual shareholders’ meeting in Bethpage, New York. When the workers, members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), spoke up during the meeting to question Cablevision CEO James Dolan about what they see as union-busting tactics, the company called the police to remove them.

“When the questions got too hard to answer, he asked his corporate security to kick us out,” says CWA District 1 Organizing Coordinator Tim Dubnau. “We told him that we had a right to be here but if a police officer told us to, we would leave. The police detained us for an hour outside pending an investigation, then released us.”

The workers’ main beef with Cablevision is the company’s refusal to come to a first contract deal with 282 Cablevision workers in Brooklyn who voted in January of 2012 to join CWA District 1. The local says that over the past year it has attempted to bargain with Cablevision for a first contract, but says the company has not engaged in good faith. The workers also accuse their employer of several acts of union-busting: In February, Cablevision fired 22 union members who were attempting to meet with management to discuss Cablevisions’ refusal to agree to a contract. (All of the workers have since been rehired). And, according to the union, earlier this winter the company gave a 17 percent raise to all of its 15,000 employees except the 282 District 1 members in Brooklyn.

In a statement to Working In These Times, Cablevision spokesperson Whit Clay disputed CWA’s version of Thursday’s events, saying, “It is a shareholder meeting with a clear set of rules. The CWA attempted to disrupt the meeting; they were asked to refrain and when they did not they were asked to leave. The matter is now in the hands of the authorities.”

Clay continued, “We believe our Brooklyn employees don’t want the CWA, and those employees have legally petitioned to hold a vote on whether or not to continue with CWA representation. The CWA is doing everything it can to block that vote.”

In fact, the CWA has blocked that vote, at least for now. It complained to the National Labor Relations Board about the firings and the stalling tactics, and on April 29, the NLRB issued a ruling agreeing with the CWA that Cablevision had engaged in bad-faith bargaining and imposing a number of sanctions on Cablevision. Among them is a 12-month extension of the one-year window after a union’s formation during which a decertification vote cannot be held.

In response, Cablevision contested the NLRB’s authority, citing a January ruling by a DC court that has left the board in a legal limbo. Representing Cablevision, Eugene Scalia, the son of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote in a letter to NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon:

“We recognize that the Board has expressed the view that, despite the D.C. Circuit’s Noel Canning decision, the Board may continue to take action under the [National Labor Relations] Act. See, e.g., Bloomingdale’s, Inc., 359 NLRB No. 113 (2013). Notwithstanding that erroneous position, there is no reason why Regional Directors and other Board staff should be permitted to continue expending public resources in pursuing litigation that, under the law of the D.C. Circuit—in which CSC and Cablevision are entitled to seek review of any final Board ruling, see 29 U.S.C. § 1600—is ultra vires and will ultimately be adjudged a nullity. Subjecting private litigants to the massive, unjustified burdens of litigating these and many other cases nonetheless—which the Regional Directors had no valid authority to initiate, and in which the Board cannot issue a final order—is manifestly unfair, inefficient, and incompatible with core principles of equity.”

Union activists find it ironic that Cablevision claims that the labor board does not have the authority to stop a decertification election, but still has the authority to hold a decertification election.

“Cablevision doesn’t want the Board to have any jurisdiction [over their] illegal conduct, but they do want the labor board to have jurisdiction to help them kick the union out,” says Dubnau. “It’s an absolute contradiction.”

Labor advocates say that it is not uncommon for employers to challenge the legitimacy of the labor board, except when it helps them to fight unions. “When it comes to 8(a) complaints against the employer, they treat the law as merely suggestive, but when it comes to 8(b) complaints against the union, they treat the law as absolute,” says labor lawyer and Century Foundationfellow Moshe Marvit.

For now, CWA plans to continue organizing workers despite what they claim is Cablevision’s attempt to get workers to give up on the union by refusing to bargain with it. The union claims that the demonstration at Cablevision’s stockholder meeting was yet another battle in what will be a long war to win a union contract for Cablevision employees.

“We let them know at the shareholders meetings that we are never going to give up, we are never going to stop,” says Dubnau.

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on May 28, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

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