March 28, 2013 at 15:35 PM EDT
Labor fight could hurt MSG's land use request
This summer, when Madison Square Garden's owners go before the City Council seeking a renewal of their special land-use permit, they are likely to face harsh questions about the labor practices of Cablevision, MSG's parent company. Cablevision, which spun off MSG as a public company in 2010, is currently embroiled in a labor dispute with the Communication Workers of America, centered around the firing—and then re-hiring—of 22 union members in Brooklyn . CWA has filed charges at the National Labor Relations Board accusing Cablevision of illegally firing workers and "bad faith bargaining." And activists, including some leading politicians in the mayor's race, are seeking to punish the company by lobbying to move the NBA All-Star Game from MSG to Brooklyn. MSG is seeking an open-ended renewal of their land-use permit, but some planning experts and elected officials are calling for just a 10-year permit to encourage the arena's owners to consider relocating to allow for the expansion and redevelopment of Penn Station below. MSG opposes the effort. The City Planning Commission is expected to vote in April, after which the issue will go before the council. Both Cablevision and MSG are owned by the Dolan family. A spokeswoman for MSG declined comment. A spokeswoman for Cablevision said the two issues should be treated separately. "For more than four decades, Cablevision has been providing jobs and opportunities for thousands of New Yorkers and their families," she said via email. "However, Madison Square Garden and Cablevision are separate companies, and these are separate issues." Council members told Crain's that they recognize Cablevision's labor dispute and MSG's land-use permit are separate issues. Regardless, they say the two companies will be scrutinized as one. "When people violate the rights of workers in New York City—and in my opinion, violate their franchise agreement for doing so—that doesn't endear to the elected representatives," said Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander. Mr. Lander, who has attended rallies in support of CWA, said the conduct of Cablevision will likely loom over the land use hearing. "When people come before you, you give their particular case a fair hearing, but you are often thinking about what kind of corporate citizen they are," he said. He added, "MSG doesn't come to the council with a stellar track record for paying attention to the citizens of New York City." Queens Councilman Mark Weprin, who chairs the zoning subcommittee, agreed. "They are two separate business entities," he said. "However obviously we know they're owned by the same people. There's no question the council is concerned with the way Cablevision treated their employees in Brooklyn … I can't say that council members won't hold some animus against the Dolan institution."
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