Cablevision, Union Brooklyn Battle Continues

Both Sides Claim Victory, But Further Court Battles Likely Ahead

A federal  administrative law judge ruled late Thursday that Cablevision Systems had violated some labor laws in its dealings with the Communications Workers of America, representing about 264 of its Brooklyn technicians, but found the cable operator not guilty of a key charge that it hopes could help in its years- long fight to oust the union.

Just how much impact the recent ruling will have on the future of union representation at Cablevision remains to be seen. While both sides have claimed victory in key aspects of the case, they are far from a means to an end and more like a path to even further litigation.

Cablevision and the CWA have been duking it out ever since the union was certified in 2012. In 2013 the dispute heated up after Cablevision terminated 22 workers for what the company said was their refusal to work and the union claimed was directly tied to their union activities. Cablevision has since reinstated those workers.

In a Dec. 4 decision, National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge Steven Fish ruled that Cablevision did violate some labor laws – including the ouster of the 22 workers (he recommended they receive back pay), charges that supervisors had unlawfully directed employees not to engage in union activities and separate charges that Cablevision CEO James Dolan had made speeches and announced a wage increase at its Bronx location (which is not unionized) to thwart unionization efforts there. But the judge also refused the union’s request to extend its certification for an additional year, adding that Cablevision had “engaged in hard but lawful bargaining.”

That seemed to encourage Cablevision, which hoped the ruling would lead to the NLRB allowing workers in Brooklyn to vote for or against union representation.

 “Obviously, we are gratified that the CWA’s baseless charges that blocked an employee vote have been rejected by an NLRB judge, but unfortunately this does not clear the way for Cablevision employees in Brooklyn to vote for or against the CWA,” Cablevision said in a statement. “Instead, the CWA and the NLRB have continued to use baseless charges simply designed to prevent Cablevision employees from voting. In light of the decision, we call on the NLRB and the CWA to finally cease their efforts to block the vote that Brooklyn employees have twice petitioned for the right to hold. “

Cablevision hired a third party to conduct an anonymous poll of Brooklyn workers earlier this year, who voted 129-115 against union representation. That poll, which the CWA says was illegal, is one of the subjects of further litigation against the company.

According to a CWA attorney, another vote could be a long way off.

In order for a new vote to be held, all unremedied unfair labor practices would have to be corrected, said CWA District 1 district counsel Gabrielle Semel.

Semel added that the labor violations could be a factor in whether Cablevision keeps its franchise agreement in the New York area, which requires the company respect the collective bargaining rights of its employees. While not commenting on the likelihood of the city taking such action – and she could not recall of any instance in which a cable franchise was ever pulled because of labor violation – Semel believes the city should take notice.

“I think the city would legitimately be extremely upset about what is going on,” Semel said. “This is New York City, not the Deep South.”