The Communications Workers of America hopes to use a recent victory in Southern Florida as a springboard for organizing more Adelphia Communications Corp. workers.
In the little Citrus County, Fla., system, technicians voted 8-2 on Jan. 16 to join CWA Local 3176. Next come contract talks, which could take as long as 18 months, the union figures.
Union organizer Liz Robeson wouldn't say which area the CWA will target next, but said several other Florida markets Adelphia serves are ripe for the picking, including systems in or near Orlando, Stuart and Miami.
A CWA local narrowly lost an election in Miami last year — by one vote — and Robeson said she has already been contacted by at least one employee there inquiring about union representation.
Unionization is anathema to most cable operators, and the vast majority of the industry's employees do not belong to unions. Spokeswoman Candice Johnson said the CWA has about 5,000 members in the cable industry.
But the CWA has targeted Adelphia, and successfully organized workers in 14 Adelphia markets, including Rutland, Vt.; Santa Monica, Calif.; Cheektowaga and Utica, N.Y.; and Ashland, Ky., according to union officials.
Adelphia spokesman Eric Andrus said the company would have no comment on the union's efforts. But he said employees in State College, Pa., recently voted to decertify the CWA.
Robeson said complaints mainly concern insurance coverage; what employees called preferential treatment of some workers by management; and safety and training issues.
She said the union is attempting to set up meetings with Adelphia's local management to begin contract negotiations.
Citrus County, with about 13,000 customers in such cities as Inverness and Dunellen, could turn out to be a microcosm of the problems experienced by some line workers as Adelphia works its way out of the troubles that landed it in bankruptcy court.
According to some workers in Citrus County, Adelphia's local management pushed hard to stop the union from coming in. Efforts included showing anti-union videos to employees.
Also, union officials said that Frank Cline, the technical operations manager in charge of technicians in Citrus County, was fired earlier this month because of the unionizing efforts.
According to Robeson, employees said Cline was fired because Adelphia management said he should have known that employees were thinking about joining a union.
Cline corroborated that story.
Cline said he had been pushing for Adelphia to provide his employees with the proper tools to do their jobs, items ranging from circuit testers and battery-powered drills to extension ladders and safety belts. He said Adelphia turned down every request.
He said he even offered to buy the tools with his own money, but was told by Adelphia managers that because of the bankruptcy, it was possible he would not be reimbursed.
Cline said that after word spread that the union was interested in Adelphia's Inverness system, the tools suddenly became available. "It worked against them," Cline said, as support actually grew for joining the union.
When Adelphia fired him, the official reason was mismanagement, including failing to supply employees with proper tools, Cline said.
Cline said he has worked in the cable industry since the 1970s — first with Storer Broadcasting — and that he was coming up on his 16th year with the Florida system.