Oakland City Council OKs card-check measure

OAKLAND, Calif. — This city became the first to tell a cable company it must agree to recognize a union based on card check when the City Council late last month passed an ordinance requiring city franchise holders to accept the procedure. After the vote, Comcast, a company the Communications Workers of America (CWA) says consistently violates workers’ rights, said it would reject a carefully negotiated agreement extending its franchise to provide cable services in the city for 13 years.

The ordinance the City Council approved Feb. 21 says the city needs to lessen the risk of strikes, boycotts and other labor actions that could harm its economic interests by requiring “franchises in which the city has a proprietary interest” to “agree to non-confrontational and expeditious procedures” for workers to indicate their wishes about union representation.

At the same time, the Council approved the proposed franchise agreement.

Though other communities are exploring similar measures, the Oakland ordinance is the first in the nation to affect a cable company, said CWA Cable Field Coordinator Lisa Morowitz. “I don’t see why other cities wouldn’t pass similar measures” designed to protect their financial interests, she added.

Morowitz noted that similar ordinances exist in other industries, and many employers have voluntarily agreed to card check procedures.

Though the company claimed aspects of the scuttled pact had become outdated since talks started three years ago, Comcast’s action was criticized by CWA’s national President Larry Cohen as an attempt to strong-arm Oakland into dropping the protections for consumers and workers.

“Comcast has been demonstrating just this kind of confrontation in its relations with communities and workers across the country,” Cohen told reporters during the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in San Diego late last month. “Workers at Comcast locations nationwide have been illegally fired, harassed, wrongly disciplined, denied promotions, and denied benefits provided to workers at nonunion locations,” he added.

Under the agreement, Comcast was also to build a $17.4 million network expanding educational and public access options to city and school buildings, adding a portion of the cost to subscribers’ bills.

Late last year, Comcast fired dispatcher William Goodo, a 10-year worker who testified before the Council about the company’s heavy-handed attacks on its workers in Oakland.

The union is urging calls to Comcast’s East Bay Vice President Hank Fore, at (510) 567-9301, protesting Goodo’s firing and Comcast’s anti-worker stance.