At a raucous Martyin Luther King, Jr., Day rally yesterday, elected officials and union leaders slammed Cablevision and its CEO, James Dolan, for their anti-union policies. Their complaints stem from Cablevision’s efforts to dissuade its Brooklyn employees from unionizing with Communications Workers of America, including requiring employees to attend anti-union meetings. The speakers, standing before Madison Square Garden where the Dolan-owned Knicks were playing, largely connected the Cablevision unionization efforts to Dr. King’s efforts on behalf of civil rights.
“Dr. King, he fought side by side with workers, raising his voice in unity with theirs. Dr. King was a passionate advocate for workers’ rights all over the country,” said Dominique Sharpton, reading a statement from her father, Reverend Al Sharpton, off her phone. “Today, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s memory by standing with the workers of Cablevision, who are demanding respect and dignity and the right to join a union.”
Multiple candidates for citywide office in 2013, including possible mayoral contender Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, spoke at the event.
“As we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who died because he was marching for working families, we stand here in the cold,” said Councilman Tish James, who’s a likely candidate for Public Advocate herself. “And I’m glad it’s cold out here because it reminds me of our sacrifice and all that we have to do to make sure that we’re in the struggle for basic human rights.”
Councilman Jumaane Williams added that if Dr. King were alive today, “he’d be out here today with CWA, with Cablevision, trying to organize a union.”
“He was as much of a labor leader as a civil rights leader,” said CWA Vice President Chris Shelton of Dr. King, before pivoting fully over to the Cablevision dispute.
“What Cablevision is doing, brothers and sisters, is acting like a schoolyard bully. I’m telling you, I come from a neighborhood in the Bronx where we know how to deal with schoolyard bullies,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, I’m here to tell you that every member of CWA is your big brother and your big sister. And we’re ready to go back to that schoolyard and tell Dolan, and anybody else: You mess with my brothers and sisters, and we’re going to kick your ass!”
After everyone finished speaking, Mr. Shelton led the crowd as they marched over to meet with Mr. Dolan to discuss his company’s union policies. They were unsurprisingly unsuccessful, but the CWA’s real focus is the unionization vote for Cablevision’s employees coming up on January 26th. Needless to say, the elected officials and speakers at the rally urged them to vote yes.
Update: Cablevision sends along a statement in response to the CWA raly:
“In one of the worst economies since the Great Depression, Cablevision has not laid off any technicians in New York City or elsewhere and its employees have great jobs with excellent salaries and benefits. In fact, Cablevision is currently hiring and expanding its New York City workforce. Our relationship with our employees is excellent, we believe CWA has nothing to offer them, but it’s up to the employees.”
Watch a video of the elected officials speaking out against Cablevision’s policies below: