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De Blasio Urges NBA to Hold 2015 All-Star Game at Barclays Center, Not MSG

By Alan Neuhauser | February 25, 2013 5:25pm | Updated on February 26, 2013 1:51pm

MIDTOWN — Bench the veteran and bring in the rookie.

That's what Bill de Blasio is urging the NBA to do with the venue that will host its 2015 All-Star Game — to snub Madison Square Garden and host the event at new Barclays Center.

The public advocate and mayoral hopeful has joined a Brooklyn labor union to hold Madison Square Garden Company executive chairman James Dolan accountable for alleged labor violations they say he committed as CEO of Cablevision.

"Choosing Barclays would cement the NBA's expansion and investment in one of NYC's iconic outer borough neighborhoods. And importantly, it would ensure that the NBA does not give a tacit stamp of approval to the unfair, anti-worker policies of the owner of Madison Square Garden, James Dolan," de Blasio wrote in an open letter to the NBA dated Feb. 25.

De Blasio goes on to accuse Cablevision of having "refused to bargain in good faith" and "denied Brooklyn workers a fair contract."

The City Council subcommittee on zoning and franchises convened a hearing on Cablevision's franchise agreement with the city Tuesday morning. The agreement requires the company to "recognize the right of its employees to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing in accordance with applicable law."

The alleged grievances date to January 2012, when some 300 Cablevision workers voted to unionize and join the Communications Workers of America. About a year later, 22 of those workers were "permanently replaced" after attempting "to spend a few minutes discussing their grievances with one of their managers," according to a press release distributed by the union.

By being permanetly replaced, the employees were barred from working and stripped of their pay, but they were neither formally fired nor suspended. Instead, they were placed on a "priority recall" list, a lawyer representing Cablevision testified at the subcommittee's hearing Tuesday, making them eligible to be rehired when positions open with the pay and seniority levels they held when they were first replaced.

Six employees of the 22 employees have since been rehired, Cablevision said. Nevertheless, the replaced workers, joined by members and leaders of the Communications Workers of America, were incensed by the corporation's action, labeling it "union busting — the worst we've ever seen," said CWA District 1 vice president Christopher Shelton.

"The Cablevision technicians have used the [company's] open-door policy on many, many occasions to air their problems. On this occasion, this is what they were doing — they made it very clear they were not striking," CWA organizing coordinator Tim Dubnau said.

"They had the keys to their trucks in their hands. At one point, they company asked, 'Are you refusing to work?' And everyone in unison said, 'No.'"

Since then, the union and its members have castigated Dolan and, most recently, mounted a campaign to stymie Madison Square Garden's bids to place four, 77-foot-tall LED screens on the arena's exterior and renew the building's permit to operate as a large-scale arena.

Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella the workers had "refused to work after several requests to do so."

Still, de Blasio, who has been courting unions and other groups in his bid for mayor, asserted that Cablevision subjected "its employees to unfair treatment and summary termination without just cause."

"We have a responsibility to stand up to such injustices — not reward them with the privilege of hosting an event as popular and prestigious as the 2015 NBA All-Star Game," he added.

The Barclays Center, however, is not without its own labor issues, DNAinfo.com New York found earlier this month. Although the arena brought 2,000 jobs to Prospect Heights, only 100 of the positions are full-time.

De Blasio trailed City Council speaker and presumed mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn by 24 points among registered Democrats in the most recent Quinnipiac poll on Jan. 17.

Madison Square Garden and the NBA declined to comment. Barclays Center did not return calls and emails Monday.