Jerome Thompson, a Cablevision technician, was fired on Aug. 20, several weeks after making an analogy of the company’s treatment of its Brooklyn employees to a “slave ship.” The comment was made at a meeting with Cablevision senior management to discuss branding and marketing, according to the Cablevision lawsuit.
While Thompson later told the New York Daily News that no one took offense to the comment, the company called it “a provocative and incendiary statement.”
The company also said that Thompson was terminated after “a long history of misconduct that no employer could be expected to tolerate.” Cablevision said that, among other things, Thompson drove a company vehicle into a company building and failed to report the incident, showed up to work improperly dressed, sideswiped a vehicle, and spoke to his supervisor in an unprofessional manner. But Cablevision said that despite their knowledge of his work record, the CWA District 1, Local 1109, and union official Chris Shelton sent out fliers and emails that falsely accused the company of racism.
Shelton, the lawsuit claims, sent out emails on a blind distribution list accusing Cablevision of firing Thompson “with racially discriminatory intent.” It also contends that the union handed out fliers outside a Sept. 18 event held by Cablevision CEO James Dolan, contending that Thompson was “fired” for “talking about slavery” but that the company had rewarded an employee for using a racially insensitive term. That employee, the company said, actually sent out a letter of apology to the company’s Brooklyn employees.
Cablevision contends that the statements have harmed its business reputation with elected officials, investors and the general public.
The union and Cablevision have been engaged in a protracted labor dispute, with complaints pending before the National Labor Relations Board.
Shelton, who is VP of communications at CWA District 1, said in a statement, “This is just another in a string of baseless and frivolous lawsuits from Cablevision, which, like all the earlier ones, will be dismissed. Rather than stop the outrageous behavior at Cablevision and pay Brooklyn workers the same wages as other Cablevision employees, James Dolan is again turning to expensive lawyers to try to intimidate workers and their allies. It’s time for him to sit down and negotiate in good faith with Cablevision workers.”
Update: The union also released a lengthy response to Cablevision’s claim that Thompson was dismissed for a history of misconduct, defending his work record. For example, CWA says that Thompson didn’t sideswipe a vehicle; he was sideswiped, and there was no damage. His lateness to work was due to asthma, and he obtained certification from his doctor for family medical leave.
The “slave ship” remark? The union says it came during a discussion of Cablevision’s branding of its Optimum service. “He said that, as a Cablevision employee, he did not want the Optimum brand to be tarnished by the unfair treatment of the Brooklyn techs the way that the American brand has been tarnished by slavery.”