Cable Giant Spectrum Endangered Its Employees And Screwed Its Technicians During COVID

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

Most broadband providers saw a major uptick in both subscribers and revenue during the COVID crisis, as working and schooling at home exploded. But at the regional monopolies that dominate the U.S. telecom sector, revenue most assuredly didn’t go to employees at most of these major companies. In fact, Gizmodo has a new report highlighting how cable giant Charter (whose broadband and TV services are sold under the Spectrum brand) doubled its revenues last year thanks to COVID, yet found a way to dramatically reduce pay for its field technicians:

“Like countless other corporations, Charter amassed new pandemic-era wealth? $3.2 billion, nearly double the previous year. Charter did so, in part, by widely expanding its ?self-install? program, which it touted as a major ?cost-saving? measure. But contract workers say the ?savings? came straight out of their pockets through a systematic scheme to mislabel their jobs as lower-paying emergency fixes.”

Charter was widely criticized for putting both the public and its own employees at risk in the early months of the pandemic. Workers whose jobs could be done remotely were blocked completely from being able to work at home — despite repeated instances of positive COVID tests at the office (a stark contrast from Comcast). Meanwhile subcontractors complained consistently they weren’t being given the PPE necessary to enter consumer homes safely. The company has also come under fire for exploiting an FCC COVID broadband discount program to drive customers to more expensive tiers.

At the same time, pay dropped significantly thanks to a procedural classification trick. During COVID, Charter’s new self-install option reduced the need for an on sight technician visit, allowing the customer to connect and install the cable modem themselves. Inevitably cable technicians have to visit these homes anyway, either because the user screwed something up, or because there were inherent problems in the local building or block wiring that the customer couldn’t fix. But Charter used this opportunity to classify these visits as somehow less important than traditional installs, reducing subcontractor pay significantly:

“Under William?s contract company, a TV, phone, and wireless hookup for Spectrum would normally pay a contractor about $64. But the same job reclassified as a self-install pays around $35 through his contract company. He and fellow contractors sent their managers emails with photos showing that they?d done four or five hour jobs for only $35, but it didn?t change a thing. William said that he?s lost 60% of his pay since Spectrum took over his local market five years ago.”

For many years cable and broadband companies have distanced themselves from a lot of dodgy dysfunction by outsourcing work to third-party contractors. These companies are often dodgy as hell, and the employees are treated even worse than traditional contract employees, Gizmodo notes:

“Rob claimed that he lost his house and can?t afford to date because he can?t pay for dinner. He has to cover all of his own work expenses, which include surprises like a $2,000 meter that his company, which has a contract with Spectrum, forced him to buy, only driving him deeper into debt. That?s on top of the $300 per month for required liability insurance and the $8,000 to $10,000 in annual fuel costs. This summer, he couldn?t go to the hospital when he suffered heat stroke, a potentially fatal illness that can lead to organ failure. He worries that he?s one accident away from breaking down. ?I feel brittle,? he said.”

Most regional broadband monopolies don’t see enough real competition for the “free market” (which U.S. telecom decidedly isn’t) to apply any real pressure to do better. Charter union employees have been boxed out and are currently engaged in the longest strike in US history because they wanted better pay and health care. And because for the last 30 years the U.S. has generally operated under the idea that mindlessly deregulating U.S. telecom somehow produces near Utopian outcomes (it’s abundantly clear this isn’t true), regulators have largely become defanged and feckless. Then there’s Congress, which is so slathered with telecom campaign contributions as to be largely useless.

As a result, nothing meaningfully changes, and it’s not that hard to exploit a pandemic to grab more revenue without ever seeing regulatory or policy accountability.

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Companies: charter

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Comments on “Cable Giant Spectrum Endangered Its Employees And Screwed Its Technicians During COVID”

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19 Comments
tom (profile) says:

In no way am I defending Charter/Spectrum but "Rob" needs to wake up and get a different job. Sounds like a "Do you want fries with that" job from McDonalds or being a Walmart greeter would yield more net income then the current independent contractor job with Charter. Which,if true, says a lot about the Charter job setup.

I have to wonder if Rob knows about the Self Employment FICA Tax? If not, he is going to get a nasty surprise from the IRS in the form of a 15% tax on all his income on top of the normal income tax. Another of the wonderful things about being a self employed independent contractor. Avoiding this tax plus getting rid of having to pay for medical insurance is a big reason a lot of companies go the contractor route.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

ISPs have long managed to classify workers as independent contractors, and this has not changed. The difference is that how they get paid is based on what type of job they do. An install is worth significant money. An Install which is classified as a repair of a self-install is not worth as much. You’ve put the blame on the contractor not understanding what it means to be a contractor, when the article is about changes to the financials of being a contractor and how that has rendered a once decent job into a shit one.

He has skills as a cable technician, but monopolies mean he doesn’t have a lot of other options for employers. Knowing people who used to be these techs, this job used to pay well. It was a single-income family job in the bay area in the 90s and early 2000s. If he makes enough as a single individual to make rent, hes doing better than fast food in just about every area.

Anonymous Coward says:

just another way to get ‘something for nothing’, exploit the system (because too many politicians are on the take from these companies, so there will never be any fixes done!) and take money for actually doing nothing! how much ‘public money’ was given over during the pandemic, simply to do what needed to be done but none of the companies were prepared to use their own money?

Anonymous Coward says:

Charter – All the crap we pull is just the barely-legal stuff that gets out.

Wait til you see how many federal felonies we commit on a regular basis – physically threatening customers with violence that refuse to pay for services they never want nor ordered.

How much tax fraud we’re involved in "installing" cable in addresses that don’t exist and never have – to claim government tax rebates and subsidies – MILLIONS of cases.

Rscheepsma says:

Previous supervisor

I was supervisor in charge of a contractor firm in the NY market. Tried and tried to fight that ez connect rescue rule, but was always told it is what it is and there would be no changing spectrums mind. Lost many techs, lost many potential good employees and eventually lost my job because the pay sucked and techs would rather make unemployment instead of working for peanuts. It was a spectacular move by Spectrum.. They recieved government funding and made huge profits at the expense of the contractors they took such advantage of. How could they not take advantage of this situation!!!! In the end they will suffer the most. I still speak to alot of the in house techs that work in the devision. Right now, they are unable to keep techs in the door (revolving door), and most of the senior techs are looking to move out. They have shot themselves in the foot because they will never be able to get the contracting market back that had been their backbone for almost 20 years (when it was Time Warner).

Johnnyimac (profile) says:

Re: Charter Decimating its Technician Work Force and Destroying Lives

In house technicians ranks have been decimated by this unscrupulous Slumlord Cable Company. The Self Install along with other performance goals set so high that it is almost impossible to meet. This is so they can remove the higher more experienced technicians who have worked their way up the ladder with Adelphia and Time Warner and are making the higher hourly wage.

Causing technicians to hurry to do their dangerous jobs has caused untold number of injuries. I was injured trying to meet their goals after the manager and supervisor said I had to complete the jobs in an hour instead of the hour and a half for self installs which are terribly under pointed for all that has to be done to make shoddy equipment work in a customers home.

The supervisor and human resources conspired with ESIS workers compensation insurance person to deny my workers compensation care for my injury by stating it was COVID, that is a felony by making false statements and denying me medical care under Workers Compensation case.

While waiting in Urgent Care to be seen because of stroke like symptoms they called me stating they were going to put me off work for COVID, these idiots forgot a small detail, my medical provider had already cleared me of not having COVID symptoms. I asked both the Human Resources person and my supervisor to wait until I got a diagnosis from my physician before these non medical idiots screwed me by saying I had COVID. My physician and Workers Compensation medical facility both said I had injured my spine.

Workers Compensation first delayed their decision by 3 months and then denied my claim. They cut off the Spinal Doctor from being paid so he stopped seeing me while I was left in a total disabled status. He no longer would sign off on my state disability forms for me to receive any monies. This is all a planned sequence of events scripted by Charter to deny medical care to all of it’s contract and in house employees, this causes technicians not to have their private physician anymore, no monies from sick or vacation because the ESIS delayed and denied Workers Compensation, and no state disability because you no longer afford a physician to care from your disability.

I was fortunate by getting a good lawyer who then got me a lien doctor to continue seeing me for my spinal condition as well as other medical problems, this doctor would continue to sign off on state disability forms so I could get my disability money from the state.

My family (which includes my daughter and her3 year old granddbaby) and I would have been homeless by now with no money to live on, with no medical care for my work place related injury to be treated, and being totally disabled and unable to work.

Social Security Disability has been approved and I thank God for that, while my battles continue in my trying to get my Workers Compensation approved from my work related injury.

Charter Cable is the epitome of evil in destroying workers lives. On the letterhead of a letter sent to my lawyers from Charter’s legal firm, there is over 30 lawyers listed there. Charter Cable commits all of their felonies which allows them to break laws at will because they have the money to lawyer up, and the government lets them because they are filling the politicians’ pockets with money. Evil is as Evil does.

Johnnyimac says:

Charter's Intermittent Internet and WIFI

Charter’s refusal to fix a known intermittent internet and WiFi dropping out problem should result in a Class Action Lawsuit.

Over three years ago I worked as a technician at Charter Cable and because of my electronic repair background it was easy to determine why there were so many trouble calls for intermittent internet and WiFi.

It was a design flaw in both the power supplies for the modem and wireless routers. They both have transformers that plug into the wall, but are too heavy to stay in the electrical outlet. If placed on a power strip, they fit so loosely that you can take your finger and rock it back and forth easily.

Intermittent power to both modem and routers caused them to drop out and reset. A maintenance technician told me that he was monitoring a customer’s modem, and also a neighbor up from their house and one home down from theirs. The signal was perfect in the two houses but the problem modem was dropping out due to the intermittent power.

I told him the fix was to plug both modem and router into a simple green or brown extension cord after bending the prongs in on both transformers, then the plug that goes into the wall should be bent in a little to fit in wall snugly.

I told my manager and supervisor about this fix over 3 years ago and asked if they could forward my report to management, they said they did.

Charter has charged customers millions for this crappy intermittent service and spent millions on trouble calls that do not fix the problems. Ghetto or Slum Lord Charter is as incompetent as the CEO.

Johnnyimac (profile) says:

Re: Charter Blocks Access Modem to Hide Power Issues

Charter intentionally blocks access to modems so the customer cannot see that the modem is dropping out because of known power supply defects to both their modems and routers.

You cannot fix what you cannot see. Charter is counting on this deception.

Fix is to get your own modem and your own router and just get the internet service through the Slum Lord Cable Provider.

Johnnyimac (profile) says:

Re: Re: Modem's Event Log and Flap List Not Viewable by Field Technicians

Field Technicians used to use the event log or flap list that each modem creates while powered up allowing the technician to see what has been happening with the modem which includes signal, transmit levels, syncing issues, CMTS, etc issues. Without this valuable tool all the technician is able to do is swap out the modem.

Keeping the customer in the dark as well as the technician is what the criminal element at Slum Lord Charter Cable excels at. Maximize monies coming in despite it’s substandard service and equipment being nothing but crap.

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