Adelphia Workers Look to Unionize

Communications Workers of America representatives reported a substantial uptick in inquiries regarding unionization from Adelphia Communications Corp. employees since the operator's financial irregularities came to light.

Presently, three National Labor Relations Board-supervised union certification votes are scheduled for September alone, and the CWA anticipates organizing more in the near future, a spokesman said.

Some 300 call-center workers will vote on joining the union on Sept. 5 and 6 in West Palm Beach, Fla. Later in the month, workers in Cleveland and Rutland, Vt., will vote.

Adelphia officials did not return calls about unionization efforts.

Labor unions are viewed as creditors under the U.S. bankruptcy code because of their role in enforcing the obligations within collective-bargaining agreements. Unions argue that even under Chapter 11 reorganization, management can't cut wages and benefits without first negotiating with worker representatives.

CWA tried to gain a seat on the Adelphia bankruptcy committee's creditors group but was unsuccessful, given the magnitude of the debts owed to others.

Several Adelphia franchises are already union shops: Ashland, Ky.; Duryea, Pa.; Huntington and Morgantown, West Va.; Martinsville and Norton, Va.; Portsmouth, Ohio; Santa Monica, Calif.; and Utica and West Seneca, N.Y.

State College, Pa., and Cheekowaga, N.Y., are currently bargaining, according to the union. Santa Monica's contract will expire on Oct. 31.

"It's a very difficult time for the workers," said CWA economist Patrick Hunt. "Adelphia was a very patriarchal kind of thing."

Now, with founder John Rigas out of power, employees can't hope for his protection or largesse, said Hunt. Instead, the company eliminated contractors, and in-house workers are working overtime to pick up the slack.

"Everyone wants to see the company survive, but not on the backs of workers," he said.

Rising Interest

Interest is keen among Adelphia employees, but inquiries are up throughout the cable industry, the union added. CWA has added units in 27 locations — including 3,000 workers — during the last year. Shops were set up at Charter Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable and AT&T Broadband sites. However, union representation was recently rejected by workers in Time Warner's mid-South division.

Traditionally, cable operators, including Adelphia, have worked hard to convince workers to reject unions. CWA claims the Coudersport, Pa.-based MSO has hired anti-union representation in Cleveland and for the Santa Monica renegotiations.

"They've got a whole campaign cranked up," said Hunt. "They have trouble responding to upgrade requests in Los Angeles, but they sure know how to [find money] to step on their workers."