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Striking Charter Workers Plan To Escalate Battle With the Cable Company

Around 1,800 striking Charter Communicationsworkers in New York are looking to escalate their battle with management as their walkout drags into a seventh month.

Representatives for Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union are starting an online ad campaign attacking Charter, which offers cable TV and Internet service under the Spectrum brand in New York. In one video spot, 29-year company veteran Marvin Billups tells his story about how the current union health care plan helped save his daughter. “If the CEO makes $98 million, how is our contract going to affect him,” Billups asks.

The clash arose after Charter, which has about 90,000 non-union employees, acquired Time Warner Cable and the unionized workers in New York. The striking workers say Charter has never negotiated in good faith and is seeking to gut their medical and retirement pension benefits. Charter says its has offered a generous package including an average 22% wage increase over four years and a 401(k) with 6% corporate matching.

“There’s been no progress in negotiations at all,” says Christopher Erikson, business manager for the union local that has been on strike since late March. “It’s been six months and my members are certainly suffering.”

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But a spokesman for Charter defended the company’s offer. “This benefit package is in line with the medical, pension and savings plans enjoyed by more than 90,000 Charter employees nationwide,” a Charter spokesman said. “And this competitive offer will have a positive, lasting impact on employees’ standard of living and allows us to grow a well-paid, highly skilled workforce for the benefit of our customers.”

The lengthy strike has run longer than last year’s seven-week walkout at Verizon (VZ), which helped almost 40,000 workers get a better deal from the telecom giant. It also comes as some 21,000 AT&T (T) wireless workers in 36 states and Washington, D.C. are battling over a new contract after they went on a brief, weekend strike in May.

The Charter (CHTR) labor dispute has also attracted the attention of local politicians, ranging from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who oversees the state’s pension fund investments. Cuomo attorney Alphonso David this week wrote to New York’s utility commission seeking a review of the company’s behavior in light of promises it made when it acquired Time warner Cable, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

“I understand that as a result of the current strike, Charter’s employee workforce has been diminished in size and skill, leaving customers vulnerable to poor service,” David wrote in the Oct. 2 letter. “Charter’s actions therefore contradict the representations it made to the State’s regulator.”

Union workers intend to protest outside a Charter meeting next month and have begun outreach to see if Charter workers in other states might want to join the union, Erikson said.