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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Filed Under: covid, employees
Companies: charter


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  • identicon
    Glenn, 29 Nov 2021 @ 7:06am

    Charter... making robber barons look good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2021 @ 7:50am

    Huh - "Emergency" anything usually means shorter timesscales and greater pressure, so pays more. Is this flipping another US thing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2021 @ 7:53am

      Re:

      (replying to self 'cuz had n't finished ...)

      Try telling the emergency locksmith, motor mechanic or plumber that you'll be paying less than for a scheduled appt, and see where that gets you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2021 @ 7:56am

      Re:

      (replying to self 'cuz had n't finished ...)

      Try telling the emergency locksmith, motor mechanic or plumber that you'll be paying less than for a scheduled appt, and see where that gets you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2021 @ 7:56am

    Huh - "Emergency" anything usually means shorter timesscales and greater pressure, so pays more. Is this flipping another US thing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 29 Nov 2021 @ 7:58am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 29 Nov 2021 @ 10:14am

      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.

      Off-topic side note: That is likely the big reason why WWE classifies all of its performers as “independent contractors” instead of “employees”.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        MightyMetricBatman, 29 Nov 2021 @ 12:54pm

        Re:

        And worker's compensation insurance for all those insane injuries.

        WWE also studiously avoids having any actual employees or work sites in California to avoid AB5 and invalidating their equally abusive non-compete clauses.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 29 Nov 2021 @ 10:15am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 29 Nov 2021 @ 8:59am

    When compared to Comcast, Charter looks bad. That shows what a dumpster fire Charter is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2021 @ 9:19am

    If you don't get screwed at Charter, please... get screwed somewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2021 @ 11:04am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Nov 2021 @ 4:15pm

    Corporation proves once again profits matter more than lives... what puzzles me is why people seem to think that they would ever stop this behavior.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2021 @ 8:34am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rscheepsma, 30 Nov 2021 @ 6:03pm

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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