Cable firm accused of illegal acts

May 04, 1994|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore's cable television company has been accused in a lawsuit of plotting illegal actions to get rid of black, pro-union employees -- including a suggestion that cocaine be planted in the car of an unwanted general manager.

The allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed last week in Baltimore Circuit Court by the Nevada-based National Signal Theft Task Force against the city's United Artists Cable and its parent company, Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI).

The case is the latest legal action linked to a labor dispute at the city cable company, in which employees have made allegations of racial discrimination in three other lawsuits. The company also has been accused of unfair anti-union actions in a complaint pending before the National Labor Relations Board.

Investigator Steve Rust heads National Signal, a private firm that provides security services to the cable television industry. He said he was hired by the cable company to look into alleged internal theft and drug dealing.

Instead, the suit alleges, Mr. Rust found himself in the middle of a racially motivated anti-union campaign aimed at eliminating black workers who wanted to be represented by the Communications Workers of America.

The suit alleges union-busting activities planned by the company that included paying extra salary to an anti-union employee to encourage pro-union workers to take drugs or drink alcohol at work so they could be fired before the union election.

It accuses United Artists Cable and TCI of planning to put cocaine in the car of the Baltimore general manager, Euan Fannell, and to bug his office and telephone -- ostensibly because he didn't support the company's anti-union campaign.

Mr. Fannell, according to the lawsuit, was described to Mr. Rust by TCI executives as not "sufficiently enthusiastic in his support of the company's efforts to discourage employees from voting for the union."

Mr. Rust claimed that he rebuffed a suggestion by TCI executives that cocaine be planted in Mr. Fannell's company car that he could be arrested.

To Mr. Rust's knowledge, according to his lawyer, Arnold Weiner, no drugs were ever planted and no cable employee was arrested.

Mr. Weiner, who filed the National Signal suit against the cable companies, said, "It's altogether shocking that a large corporation would behave in this manner in the 1990s, by the manner in which they dealt with their own employees and the depths to which they were willing to sink to accomplish their objectives."

He said Mr. Rust "refused to join in the unlawful conspiracy and was punished for behaving honorably." The suit claims that because he refused to conduct illegal activities, the cable companies confiscated Mr. Rust's files and failed to pay him $75,000 for work he had done.

National Signal is seeking millions of dollars in damages, contending that the cable firms' actions prevented it from pursuing further contracts with TCI and other firms.

Lawyers for the cable companies did not return a reporter's calls.

In February, three other lawsuits were filed against the parent company, TCI, based on racial discrimination complaints by black employees.

Those lawsuits described an October incident in which more than 20 black employees of the Baltimore cable company were herded into a room, frisked and interrogated by white investigators about drug use and theft while under armed guard for more than seven hours. Several of those employees were suspended or fired.

The day of the interrogation, according to the National Signal lawsuit, Mr. Fannell was called to the cable company's Bethesda's office and fired.

The Communications Workers of America lost its election to organize Baltimore cable technicians by a vote of 46-31 on June 18, 1993. Doris Crouse, a CWA organizer, said the union is awaiting the outcome of its unfair-practices complaint filed with the labor board.

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