A worker at a well-known cable company repeatedly uses the N-word to attack her co-workers on a public Facebook page, saying they are ungrateful to the employer because they organized a union to get decent wages and a voice at work.
In a closed door meeting about “rebranding” at the same company, a pro-union worker respectfully warns that the company’s brand is in danger of being tarnished by the unfair treatment of its Brooklyn workers in the same way that the American “brand” was tarnished by slavery. He makes the remark after a branding expert opened the floor for comments and had made an analogy using settlers and pirate ships.
Who received the more severe punishment?
At Cablevision, James Dolan’s cable empire, it’s the worker who respectfully spoke up against unequal treatment and invoked the “slave ship” as a stain on America’s reputation. That’s right. Shortly after the incident, Jerome Thompson, an 11-year Cablevision employee and leader in the organizing drive, was fired for using the word “slavery.”
Meanwhile, his colleague who publicly used hateful racial slurs got a slap on the wrist. She was merely required to apologize to the company—not the workers who were disparaged—on a Facebook page that is no longer public. And to boot, she also received an expanded assignment at the company.
Sadly, these events didn’t occur in a vacuum at Cablevision.
Since the overwhelmingly Black workforce in Brooklyn chose to become the first workers in the company to join a union nearly three years ago, Cablevision has refused to offer them a fair contract, has run an aggressive, illegal anti-union campaign and has paid them 14 percent less than comparable workers in Westchester, Long Island and basically every non-union location in the company.
The company illegally fired 22 workers, spied on others and routinely violated the federally protected rights of workers.
That has made Cablevision and Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, targets of a federal case brought by the National Labor Relations Board, with sweeping charges of federal labor law violations. This type of illegal corporate behavior and discrimination is unacceptable, whether it’s a company owned by the billionaire owner of the Knicks or anyone else.
This new incident—firing a worker for speaking against injustice while taking minimal action against a worker who used one of the most offensive racial slurs—is alarming. Labor rights, economic justice and civil rights have been inextricably linked for decades, since before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” That is why the Brooklyn Cablevision workers have carried the mantle of King’s legacy and the fact that labor rights equal civil rights.
The April revelations that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling made racist comments shook the NBA. Then, just weeks ago, a 2012 email from Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson was unearthed, where he wrote that the team’s large Black fan base made “Southern whites” uncomfortable. Both owners have faced pressure to sell their teams.
You would think sports owners would now be more responsive and sensitive to these issues in light of recent events. Not Cablevision and Dolan.
Dolan and Cablevision need to be held accountable not only by the NBA but also on behalf of the taxpayers of New York. Dolan has effectively received hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money from an annual property tax exemption for Madison Square Garden while everyday New Yorkers pay their taxes.
Dolan and Cablevision also benefit from New York City franchise agreements that allow them to be one of very few cable providers in the city. Those agreements require them to honor their employees’ collective bargaining rights.
It’s time for Cablevision to end its discriminatory and illegal union busting campaign against its Brooklyn workers, provide them with equal pay and a fair contract and rehire Thompson.