May 6, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Blowing airhorns and whistles hard enough to resound like the world’s biggest car alarm, more than 1,500 people marched through Lower Manhattan May 5 to demand that Verizon give its striking workers a fair contract.
“This is not just a strike against Verizon,” Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton told the crowd as it packed the block outside a Verizon Wireless store on Wall Street. “This is a strike because this country’s lords and corporations have decided they want to get rid of unions. It’s about every person with a union card. It’s about every person who works for a living.” Along with the striking CWA members, the rally also drew large contingents from the Hotel Trades Council, SEIU Local 32BJ, and District Council 37, with smaller groups from unions including RWDSU Local 338, the Teamsters, the Transport Workers Union, the American Postal Workers Association, and the New York State Nurses Association. (The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents slightly less than one-third of the 39,000 strikers, but those workers are outside the city, in New England, upstate New York, and the Middle Atlantic states.)
Keith Purce, president of CWA Local 1101, led the crowd in a chant of “one day longer, one day stronger.” “We just gotta keep the pressure on the company until we hurt their bottom line,” he said. “Don’t shop at Verizon Wireless, don’t get FiOS, nothing. All they care about is money.”
The unions also launched picketing of Verizon Wireless stores around the nation, beyond the Massachusetts-Virginia area where its workers are on strike. It’s been drawing support “more than ever before” from other unions, community organizations, and the general public, CWA District 1 research economist Pete Sikora told LaborPress. With the rich getting richer and the decline in middle-class jobs, he added, “it’s not even so much about picketing, it’s that the public understands that there’s a crisis in America.” “I’m out here for the other guys,” said Errol Henry, a 61-year-old inspector from Queens who plans to retire soon. Verizon is making money, he added, so “they should take care of their workers.” Workers say the biggest issue is Verizon’s demands for “flexibility”—the ability to transfer workers more easily, lengthen their commutes drastically, and outsource their jobs. “We’re going to hold these lines,” CWA Local 1109 President Tony Spina said. “Workers want to get home and see their families at a reasonable time.”
Verizon denies that it wants to contract out work currently done by union members. Spina says that’s spin. What the company is doing, he told LaborPress, is not replacing union workers when they retire, and then outsourcing the work they do. “They want to downsize the union,” he said “We have drawn a line in the sand for the labor movement,” said CWA District 1 President Dennis Trainor. Al Medina, 43, a power technician from Brooklyn, echoed that sentiment. While the union’s strike pay is “not much,” he said, “this is one of the last big fights. We have to stay strong. You know how unions are these days. A lot of people are looking at us to see what we do.”