Adelphia Picket Lines Thin Out in Auburn, N.Y.

Union workers in Auburn, N.Y., who have been on the streets since last June, vow to stick to their pickets until they can negotiate a contract with Adelphia Communications Corp. that will retain workers’ retirement benefits.

While they continue their strike, they have peppered members of the City Council with pleas to revoke Adelphia’s franchise. The city and cable company are in informal negotiations to refranchise the 14,000-subscriber system. Efforts by the city to get updates as to the company’s status have been ineffective, as attorneys have told the local management to keep mum.

Adelphia’s original agreement expired in April 2001.

Meanwhile, on Owasco Street, the former workers continue to walk the picket line. Their numbers are dwindling, with members felled by financial problems and the effects of exposure during the coldest winter in many years.

The strikers tried to protect themselves from the cold by huddling in a tent furnished with a kerosene heater. Still, one worker said her doctor has ordered her off the line because she nearly contracted frostbite on her feet from exposure to temperatures that sometimes dipped to 15 degrees below zero.

“I’ll think of Adelphia every winter now,” said Linda Leather, a 17-year MSO veteran.

Said shop steward Allan Fedyshyn, an eight-year veteran: “We’re the ones who are going to stand up to these thugs. We’ve got nothing to lose at this point.”

An Adelphia spokesman would not comment on the assertions of the strikers. “Adelphia has placed a generous proposal on the table and repeatedly offered to meet and bargain with union representatives, but they have refused to negotiate on the key pension plan issue. Adelphia prefers not to conduct its negotiations in the media and therefore we stand ready to return to the bargaining table in good faith,” said vice president of corporate communications Paul Jacobson in a prepared statement.

Fedyshyn said the union would not yield on the retirement issue.

“We gave up on raises a long time ago, just so we could retire with some dignity,” Fedyshyn said by phone as supporters honked as they passed in the background.

Now, in addition to the exposure hardships, workers are becoming increasingly strapped for cash. After seven weeks on strike, unemployment pay kicked in, but that benefit expired Feb. 8 with no sign from the federal government that it will be extended. Now, the workers survive on savings and $112 a week from the Teamsters, Fedyshyn said.

Nine of the 18 Teamsters members are still on strike. A few have returned to Adelphia, but others have taken new jobs, Fedyshyn said.