A week after Cablevision technicians in Brooklyn voted to unionize, CEO James Dolan delivered a speech Wednesday to employees companywide telling them he was “disappointed” in the election's outcome and urging them to email him personally with any complaints.
Dolan's apparently off-the-cuff comments on the union vote were part of a candid 40-minute address in which he touched on the company's plans and goals for 2012, including new products and customer relationships. Workers in the Brooklyn unit that voted last week to join Communications Workers of America Local 1109 were excluded from viewing the internal company cablecast, the workers said.
Since the workers voted 180 to 86 last week for their 282-person unit to join the union, Dolan has fired the senior vice president in charge of the Brooklyn unit and the chief administrator and manager of the human resources department there, sources said. A Cablevision spokesman declined to comment on personnel issues.
Dolan, who recently assumed direct oversight of the company's cable operations following the departure of Chief Operating Officer Tom Rutledge at the end of last year, spent at least seven minutes of his talk addressing the union vote. He blamed himself for the workers' feeling they needed to unionize to address grievances.
“Management's supposed to do a good job,” he said, according to an audio recording provided to Crain's. “And we're not supposed to put you in a position where you'd think somebody else can better represent you than yourself.”
He said the company needs to make a lot of changes to be competitive and stay successful and that the presence of a union could make the job harder. “I don't think having a party in between us helps us,” he said. “I think it hurts us. That's why I'm disappointed.”
Dolan said he was implementing companywide changes that, if in place a year earlier, might have returned a different result. He announced a restructuring of the company's human resources department, taking control away from individual locations and centralizing power in his hands.
“Give this management team a chance to show you that it does care about you as employees,” he said. “If you happen to be in a position where you get approached about signing a card to bring a union vote to another one of our facilities, I'm asking you not to sign it yet. I'm not asking you not to sign it forever, I'm asking you not to sign it yet.”
Instead of filling out that card, Dolan implored the workers to reach out to him directly.
“Remember this,” he said, reciting to employees his personal email address. “You may write me, email me. That doesn't mean that I'm going to be able to email back everyone that does that. But I will make sure every concern that gets emailed to me gets handled professionally, and of course without any fear of reprisals.”
Dolan promised to tour worksites with other executives to listen to workers' concerns. He also said he would launch an employee survey, and that he'd release the results to workers, regardless of its outcome.
“If everybody says they're really mad at the company, I guess you're going to find out,” he said. “If everybody is really unhappy about one thing or another, you're going to find out. I know there are some folks who are probably looking at me gulping right now, but we're going to do that.”
Finally, Dolan guaranteed he would stay in touch with his workforce. “This is not the last time you're going to hear from me,” he said. “This is not a one-trick show.”
The Communications Workers of America, which is organizing other Cablevision locations, viewed Dolan's comments as an attempt to dampen its efforts.
“Dolan is desperate,” said Tim Dubnau, organizing director of Communications Workers of America District One. “But all of his maneuvers of desperation can't make up for years of his company's mistreatment of employees. Cablevision workers have heard this song and dance from management before—but it's too little, too late and too fake.”
Workers had complained of low salaries, poor benefits and arbitrary disciplinary procedures.
The Cablevision spokesman said that Dolan addressed employees “to present some of the company's business strategies and plans going forward for 2012 and beyond, touching on products, customer relationships and employees.”
Workers said that if his intention was to quell organizing drives across the company, it may be too late.
“This has gone public,” said Lawrence Hendrickson, a technician who has worked at Cablevision for nine years. “It's catching on fire right now. The techs in Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rockland and the Bronx—all these places they're observing what's going on and speaking out.”