Cable Operators

CWA Pickets Target Comcast

4/10/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

San Francisco— Chanting “Comcast, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” about 200 union representatives and community media group members demonstrated outside the National Show opening general session Sunday to draw attention to their grievances with the operator, the dominant provider in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The number of demonstrators was swelled by pro-union forces who had participated in a parade to honor late labor leader César Chávez earlier in the day.

“We’re the big guys on the block. That makes us a target,” said Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen.

ASSESSING NEEDS

Sydney Levy of the Media Alliance noted that the city and county of San Francisco are about to launch a needs assessment as a prelude to refranchising negotiations with the operator.

“We want people to know and understand what they can try and get from Comcast,” he said.

Others, such as members of Media Alliance Marin, are angry over the operator’s decision to drop FM radio reception from the cable dial. Residents can’t get over-the-air signals because of the terrain, they said.

Consumers and the Alliance have complained to the county Board of Supervisors and its telecommunications commission, which have asked Comcast to reconsider.

Cohen referred to the FM service as a “vestige,” adding that the majority of subscribers prefer the higher-fidelity, commercial-free music on Music Choice, a Comcast-owned product.

The National Hispanic Media Coalition also criticized Comcast, asserting the operator could do more to diversify its workforce, especially the executive ranks.

They passed out a flyer noting that Comcast has no Hispanics on its board of directors, even though they’ve filled six openings since 2002. The organization also cited figures from 2002, when Comcast had acquired AT&T Broadband, indicating only 3% of managers and more senior officials were Hispanic.

Cohen, who was a keynote speaker at the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications breakfast touting Comcast’s advances in promoting diversity, was surprised by the criticism, because the NHMC never asked the company for employment statistics or asked to meet with executives before joining the protest. Cohen said the organization couldn’t tell him where they collected the figures quoted at the protest.

Since 2002, Comcast has increased the Hispanic portion of its workforce from 7% to the current level of 11%. In 2002, he added, 2% of management level employees were Hispanic, and now it’s at 2.6%.

“We’re enormously proud of our outreach,” he said, adding he’s contacted the Hispanic group and will meet with them in the next two weeks.

Comcast’s most frequent critic, the Communications Workers of America, was out in force. They brought broken televisions to the rally, embossed with the phrase “Comcast Doesn’t Care,” which they destroyed during the protest.

CWA has had limited success attempting to organize Comcast business units. Some union shops have held votes to disband the union, Cohen noted.

CABLE MEANS GROWTH

That union sees cable as a growth opportunity, the Comcast executive said, and it made some strides organizing former Tele-Communications Inc. system workers who were fearful of a new employment culture when AT&T Corp. moved into cable. Cohen said he believed those same workers “breathed a sigh of relief” when Comcast took over those cable systems.

John Dugan of CWA District 9 said the union would like to organize some of Comcast’s 5,000 Bay area workers. Some of the demonstrators identified themselves to reporters as Comcast workers, but said they could not give their names or business units.

They claimed Comcast has issued a policy warning that any employee who publicly criticizes the company will be terminated.

“That’s untrue,” Cohen said.

Dugan said the rally was an effort to “raise public awareness of what a bully Comcast is,” he said, especially when the operator uses its corporate strength to muscle local communities during refranchising.

September