Meet the real victims of Cablevision.
These women are members of Unite Here Local 100. They are five of the women and men who serve you beer and pretzels and programs at Mendacity Square Garden, who put the food away and lock up the merchandise after you're long gone.
You stand in line at the concession stand, hand them your money, they make change and hand you your beer, you give them a quick "Thanks," maybe you toss them a quarter, and off you go.
But there they stand. It's a tough job, but they are happy to do it. But now, Cablevision is putting the squeeze on them. They have been working without a contract since June of 2003. On February 1, 2005, Cablevision cut off the health insurance for hundreds of these workers and their families.
I was honored to be part of a panel with two of the women pictured at the top of this page on Tuesday, March 22, 2005, at a hearing chaired by Council member David Weprin, (D-Hollis) looking into the Madison Square Garden annual $11,000,000+ tax exemption. The hearing had started at 2:30PM. The "star" of the hearing, the one the press was there to hear, had been council for Mendacity Square Garden, Kevin McGrath. McGrath had squirmed and writhed his way through a serious of unusually tough question. It was now late in the day, he was long gone, and so was the press. Which was too bad for them, and by extension, all their readers and viewers, for they missed the testimony of Laura Ward, 2nd from the left in the picture at the top of the page, and Carole Ibata, the woman on the far right of that picture.
Laura is a suite attendant at the Garden. Her husband works the same job, as well. They live in Hell's Kitchen. Laura makes about $20,000 a year, normally. She has a baby daughter.
Since February, her family has been without health insurance. She has cancelled visits to the doctor for immunization shots for her daughter.
Carole is a server at the Club Bar and Grill. She has worked there since 1991. She shapes her life around the Garden schedule. This year, she is working less than ever.
Most members of Unite Here Local 100 earn between $7 and $10 an hour. Without overtime, they are in trouble. To qualify for insurance, they must work 900 hours a year, for a pension, 1,600 hours. That may not seem like much, but remember, these are irregular jobs. When there is a concert or sporting event, you work. When the Garden is dark, you sit home.
The Garden has been dark an awful lot this year.
First, there was the Republican National Convention. The RNC insisted that the Garden be closed from mid-July through mid-September. Security, I suppose. They were willing to pay Cablevision for the privilege. $14,000,000 dollars worth, according to Marisol Thomer, an organizer with Unite Here Local 100, who is standing at the far left in the picture at top. You can guess how much of that money Cablevision threw to its workers.
Then Cablevision decided, along with the other owners of the National Hockey League, to lock the players union out. No games means no work means no overtime means hard times for the workers of Unite Here Local 100.
One of the few sporting events left at the Garden in recent months was the Big East Basketball Tournament. It was one of the few opportunities to pick up overtime, with double-header games, but management took care of that. They sent the suite runners, the workers who carry the food up from the kitchens in the bowels of the Garden to the luxury suites, home an hour early each night. Consequently, the customers got their food an hour late, but that was okay, because those $7 an hour workers didn't get any overtime.
Unite Here Local 100 is not involved in the stadium battle. They've got their hands full right now, just dealing with Cablevision. They are deadlocked with management.
Cablevision wants to control who works overtime. That may sound innocent, but it's not. These workers depend on overtime to get by. If management gets to pick and choose who works, they will effectively break the union.
It's a Harvest of Shame, right here on West 33rd Street.
Thousands of jobs like this will be created by the West Side Stadium. The Jets, unlike Cablevision, have put the interests of labor, particularly in the minority community, first.
The opposition demeans these jobs. Words like, "Menial." "Insignificant." "Low pay." Like these jobs don't count. Like these people don't count. But these women and men are proud of their jobs, proud of what they do.
They are not lawyers or politicians or designers or writers. They are just the salt of the earth.
I would challenge anyone to look these brave women pictured above in the eye and tell them that they are "menial."
We all should be made of such noble stuff as these women.
A note on the above: Although Newsday writer Elizabeth Sanger was not at the hearing during their testimony, a source tells me that she heard about Unite Here Local 100's struggle and is working on a piece on their situation.(Pub. 3-24-05)
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