Law and Politics

Bernie Bolsters Striking Verizon Workers; Telecom Jeered As ‘Un-American’

April 19, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

Striking Verizon workers on 42nd Street.

Striking Verizon workers on 42nd Street.

New York, NY – Striking Verizon workers fearing for their jobs after decades with the multi-billion dollar telecommunications giant took to the streets of Times Square yesterday, confident that they will ultimately beat back what they see as a naked assault on union rights. 

“The company itself wants to do away with the men and women that are out here today,” 55-year-old Manhattan installer Kevin McGaughlin told Laborpress. “They do not want to provide services to the customers. They want to collect monthly bills, but they don’t want to provide the service.”

Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers from Massachusetts to Virginia who have been without a contract since August, hit the picket line last week in opposition to the conglomerate’s continued attempts to outsource work overseas call centers and non-union contractors, while simultaneously making life hell for union workers with decades of experience.

“Verizon is attacking good union jobs,” 37-year-old field technician Kamika Ingram said. “They’re taking away what working class families are accustomed to in order to provide for our families. They want to raise our medical insurance premiums and what we pay into the coverage. They want to cut our pay. They want to cut our job security. They want to transfer us away from our families for unspecified amounts of time. Basically, just disrupt our livelihoods.”

The enmity that Ingram now feels towards Verizon’s corporate leadership is in stark contrast to the way she felt 20 years ago, when she started working for the telecom straight out of high school. The Long Island resident not only earned a middle class living, but was able to earn a bachelor’s degree while doing it. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, Verizon has some $4.5 billion in cash on its balance sheet and is close to purchasing yahoo.com. The telecom reportedly rakes in $1.8 billion each month — enough to lavish its top five executives with $44 million in 2014 alone. 

“They’re trying to break the union, and we’re not going to let that happen,” Communication Workers of America Local 1109 President Tony Spina told strikers. 

After nearly 20 years on the job, Staten Island resident Loren Shulman, 48, still endures a daily three-hour commute to her job on Long Island as a Verizon 411 operator.

“They want to move us all over the place,” Shulman said. “They already sent all of our work to the Philippines and then they tell us they have no work for us. I work with people who have been here decades — where are we going to go? I’m going to be 50 — where am I going to get another job?”

Senior conduit worker Damerette Moses, 40, calls the rampant reassigning and outsourcing simply “ridiculous.”

“They’re giving our work to tiny independent contractors. They want to take away everything — our pensions, our 401Ks, our benefits. They want to charge more for our medical coverage. They want to take away what we already have and have rightfully earned.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stood with striking Verizon workers last week and returned once again on Monday to help bolster the picket lines. The Brooklyn-born senator from Vermont has made fighting corporate greed and the “rigged economy” a central plank in his presidential campaign platform. 

Working Families Party Founder Bill Lipton saluted Sanders’ unwavering support of workers and blasted a “rigged economy” which continues to allow giant corporations including Verizon to jettison good middle-class jobs while raking in billions in profit. 

Standing up for working families everywhere: Damerette Moses and Loren Shulman

Standing up for working families everywhere: Damerette Moses and Loren Shulman

“For every dollar the top corporations pay in taxes, they got $27 from the taxpayers between 2008 and 2014,” Lipton told strikers. “If that’s not a rigged economy I don’t know what is. The same one-percent is out there rigging our political system for their own gain. But what you’re doing today is standing up for yourself, your families and your co-workers. You’re standing up for working families across America.”

Tens of thousands of Verizon workers last went on strike in 2011. On Monday, members of the Professional Staff Congress — the union representing faculty and staff at the City University of New York — were among the fraternity of unions who turned out in support of striking Verizon workers rallying on 42nd Street. 

“The state operates a lot like Verizon as an employer,” Kate Pfordresher said. “And we’re really sympathetic with efforts to expand the union base.”

Fellow teacher Sarah Hughes said, “And we know that these big corporations like Verizon are funding the campaigns of politicians who then decide our budget. Our struggles are actually intricately interlinked between how much money the CEOs can take home and how much they contribute to political campaigns. And what that means when we’re trying to get a budget passed that is good for our students and us as workers at CUNY.”

CUNY workers, who haven’t had a contract in six years, will soon hold a strike authorization vote, and could soon find themselves on the picket line as well. 

Striking Verizon workers already picketing in Times Square on Monday said they are convinced Verizon will back off. 

“We’re ready to stand as long as we have to,” Shulman said. 

April 19, 2016

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