Comcast increasingly reliant on under-paid installation contractors, Slate report says

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) is downsizing its installation staff and using more outside contractors, according to a Slate article, which seems to be based on anecdotal claims.

The national news pub quotes two Detroit-based Comcast installation contractors -- one past, one current -- who say the company is ramping up its reliance on outside vendors to save money.

Hourly employees, former cable installer Zachary Goodgall told Slate, "are not going to work at contractor speeds." He noted that contractors are paid on a per-project basis.

"We're meant to just pick up the overflow," Goodgall added. "But honestly, we're the primary source of Comcast's work around here."

In keeping with a media industry trend, Slate tries to paint a damning picture of the cable industry, subheading its story, "Comcast and others are using more contract workers to install their services. That means brutal hours, low wages, and an app that schedules every moment of their days."

How much of a trend this actually amounts to is very debatable. 

Jenni Moyer, a Comcast spokeswoman, didn't necessarily confirm Slate's angle, but provided the pub this statement: "Based on the seasonality of our business, we do work with a select group of contracting companies to help manage workload. "[But] we have tens of thousands of employees that work directly for Comcast today, and we're hiring hundreds of Comcast technicians this year."

Comcast reps haven't yet provided FierceCable with any additional comment. 

Charter Communications (NASDAQ: CHTR), meanwhile, has said on numerous occasions that it is aggressively growing its own installation force and downsizing its reliance on contractors. With its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and Bright House Networks set to close in the next few weeks, Charter will very soon be the No. 2 cable operator, and it said it plans to deploy its in-house strategy across its acquisitions. 

Slate writer Virginia Sole-Smith does venture on slightly more substantiated ground when she claims that reliance on outside contractors is "a chief complaint of the 36,000 Verizon workers who went on strike" last month. 

And she does quote Scott Dutton, director of product management for cable-industry business services vendor CSG International, who says the reliance on contractors is increasing as the complexity of residential cable-service complexity has gone up.

"Now people have video, internet, voice, home security, and even whole house automation where you can turn on your air conditioning remotely. It's much more complex, so they use many more subcontractors," Dutton said to Slate.

But the story is driven by Goodgall, who said he was enticed to work for local installation company LeCom based on rumors that indie cable techs can earn as much as $10,000 a week.

"It seemed like drug money," Goodgall said.

However, after averaging 165 projects a month and working a steady stream of 13-hour days, Goodgall filed a 1099 showing he only took home around $936 a week, before taxes. 

For more:
- read this Slate story

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