‘FIGHT FOR

New York Daily News - - NEWS - Protest against Char­ter is fea­tured in La­bor Day Pa­rade (main photo). Ex­tra troops will mo­bi­lize Mon­day in sup­port of strik­ers and clock­wise from top l. Lo­cal 3 staffers Chris Erik­son and Lance Van Ars­dale (also bot­tom l.), and In­ter­na­tional IBEW Pres­i­den

Af­ter speeches from Trumka and oth­ers, the crowd will cross the Brook­lyn Bridge and con­tinue the rally in Foley Square, near City Hall.

The 1,800 mem­bers of Lo­cal 3, who have walked picket lines since con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions broke down in late March, won’t be alone, or­ga­niz­ers said.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a big event. We’ve made an ap­peal to many af­fil­i­ates, and they are go­ing to re­spond,” Chris Erik­son, busi­ness man­ager of Lo­cal 3, told the Daily News.

It’s part of a ma­jor ef­fort by Lo­cal 3 to move the nee­dle on its stalled con­tract talks with Char­ter — which broke down when the com­pany in­sisted it was go­ing to pull out of the union’s pen­sion and health care funds.

In­stead of fully cov­ered em­ployer­funded health care and a de­fined-ben­e­fit pen­sion, the com­pany has of­fered raises and a match­ing 401(k) plan.

“They ba­si­cally said that un­til we agree that they don’t have to con­trib­ute to our pen­sion and health plan, they won’t talk about any­thing else,” Erik­son said. “That’s a gun to our head. They said, ‘Take it or leave it.’ And our mem­ber­ship un­der­stands the value of what’s at stake here, and they de­cided to leave it.”

A spokesman for the ca­ble gi­ant de­clined to ad­dress that de­scrip­tion of its po­si­tion di­rectly, but said the com­pany was al­ways will­ing to come to the ta­ble.

“Char­ter is of­fer­ing Lo­cal 3 a gen­er­ous com­pen­sa­tion pack­age that in­cludes an av­er­age 22% wage in­crease — some em­ploy­ees up to a 55% wage in­crease — and com­pre­hen­sive re­tire­ment and health ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing a 401(k) that pro­vides a dol­lar-for-dol­lar match up to 6% of el­i­gi­ble pay,” the com­pany said in a state­ment.

Mario Ci­lento, head of the state AFLCIO, said Mon­day’s event would be a “sym­bol of unity,” that would con­tinue af­ter the rally ended.

Lo­cal 3 hopes to en­cour­age that mo­men­tum na­tion­ally with a new strat­egy tar­get­ing Char­ter ser­vice cen­ters around the coun­try, Erik­son said.

“We’re talk­ing to the IBEW lead­er­ship about do­ing leaflet­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tion drives in 41 states where Char­ter op­er­ates,” he ex­plained.

The union has also hired a pub­lic re­la­tions firm to be­gin a me­dia blitz — a push­back at the im­age-pol­ish­ing TV com­mer­cials Char­ter be­gan run­ning at the start of the strike.

There’s also talk of ask­ing the AFLCIO to add the com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany to its boy­cott list, Erik­son said.

In the city, IBEW is plan­ning to am­plify its mes­sage through the sup­port of other unions — many of whose mem­bers are Char­ter con­sumers.

Al­ready, the head of the Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees Con­fer­ence — which rep­re­sents 84 mu­nic­i­pal unions across the state and city — pledged its back­ing for Mon­day’s event.

Other ma­jor city unions, in­clud­ing the Trans­port Work­ers Union Lo­cal 100 and the New York Ho­tel and Mo­tel Trades Coun­cil — which do­nated $125,000 to the Lo­cal 3 strike fund — are en­cour­ag­ing mem­bers to show up.

They’re prod­ded by more than the typ­i­cal union sol­i­dar­ity, said Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees Con­fer­ence leader Peter Meringolo.

“This is not just about Lo­cal 3 and its con­tract fight, al­though we sup­port them. More is at stake,” said Meringolo, a vet­eran of the la­bor move­ment.

“In my view, this is a fight for the ex­is­tence of unions and against cor­po­rate greed. For com­pa­nies to de­mand that it be their way or no way is not col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. That’s col­lec­tive beg­ging — and we’re not go­ing to beg,” he said.

Un­like many unions’ de­fined-ben­e­fit pen­sion plans across the coun­try, IBEW’s is in good fi­nan­cial shape, records show.

It’s 80% funded, ac­cord­ing to the union, and is not among the crit­i­cal or fail­ing plans listed on the U.S. La­bor Depart­ment’s web­site.

The plans have worked well for the past 40 years, said Erik­son, and while mem­bers don’t make con­tri­bu­tions to them, they have paid into them.

“The com­pany in the past has given us col­lec­tively bar­gained pack­ages of 3% raises — and when money had to be paid into the funds, the com­pany would take it from those raises,” he said. “The work­ers have paid for these ben­e­fits — which, by the way, also cover our re­tirees.”

Ac­cord­ing to Lo­cal 3, it would cost Char­ter roughly $150 mil­lion in li­a­bil­ity pay­ments to sever its obli­ga­tions.

“They’ve said that’s not a prob­lem. The con­tract could be set­tled for a frac­tion of that. That’s how bad they want out of this plan,” Erik­son said.

In launch­ing a na­tional cam­paign against Char­ter, Lo­cal 3 is also hop­ing to whip up broad pub­lic sup­port — which hasn’t been as vo­cal in the city as many in the union ex­pected, in part be­cause of a lack of pub­lic­ity.

“I think peo­ple are tired of the mid­dle class get­ting its ass kicked by cor­po­ra­tions where the CEO makes $98 mil­lion,” Erik­son said, “and I hope this march be­comes a tip­ping point.”

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