Comcast faulted over treatment of employees

by Miriam Hill, Philadelphia Inquirer

Scenes of class warfare dominated Comcast Corp.'s annual meeting yesterday as union members complained about what they say is poor pay, especially compared with the multimillion-dollar packages of senior company executives.

Unions represent just 2 percent of Comcast's 90,000 employees, but their members constituted the majority of questioners at the meeting at the Convention Center in Philadelphia.

"I find myself fighting for my family the way I fought in Iraq," said Chicago employee Jose Hill, who said he served in the Army in 2003.

Hill, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, complained that Comcast pays union workers less than nonunion workers. Hill said he earns about $17 an hour, compared with $24 an hour for a nonunion worker in his job. He can't afford a house in a Chicago neighborhood that would be safe for his children, he said.

Chicago IBEW Local 21 is trying to negotiate a contract with Comcast that expires at the end of this month.

Comcast spokeswoman D'Arcy Rudnay said pay varies with the type of job and where the employee lives. Union membership does not play a role, she said. She added that the unions had agreed on the wages during collective bargaining.

Comcast chief executive officer Brian Roberts, whose pay package totaled $27.8 million last year, thanked Hill for his service but then said the annual meeting was not the place to discuss pay negotiations.

That answer disappointed some in the audience, who occasionally booed or muttered "answer the question." But one shareholder, whose name was not available, agreed with Roberts and accused the unions of badgering management.

The IBEW and the Communications Workers of America said they had the right to speak because they owned shares. They also said Comcast executives had failed to answer questions in other forums, an allegation the company denied.

Harry Arnold, a representative of the CWA, said Comcast had engaged in anti-union practices, including the firing in April of an employee who had tried to organize a union at the company's Levittown facility. Comcast said the employee was dismissed because of poor performance but could not discuss details.

Several shareholder proposals, including one that would have given stock owners a say in corporate pay, failed. Comcast will not release vote figures on those proposals until the end of the second quarter.

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