May 4, 2016
By Bill Hohlfeld
West Nyack, NY Long after the photo ops are done and the politicians are back behind their desks, a picket line goes on. Striking workers don’t have constituents; they have families. They don’t issue press releases; they talk about what is going on in their lives.
That is not meant as an insult to those elected officials who come out on those dedicated occasions, and show support for working people. God bless them for doing so. It requires courage to choose sides and make a stand when the whole world is watching. But courage comes in many forms, and there is a time to acknowledge each of them.
So today, long after the crowds have dispersed, the cameras have been put away, and the strains of last week’s bagpipes are no longer audible, a small group of Verizon workers, still out on strike, continue to man their lonely outpost on Route 303. Though they are proud union members, they are not simply anonymous members of some vague collective known as “the union.” They are flesh and blood human beings who do not think or speak in sound bytes. They are neighbors and friends, citizens and taxpayers. They are people.
Rudy is a person. He’s worked at his job as a field technician for 20 years now, starting out in installation and later transferring to the construction division. He grew up in Rockland County and lives in Pearl River now. He raised his children there; was part of the community. He speaks with pride of his two daughters, as well he should. One has become a police officer and the other a teacher. They too will serve their communities, each in their own way. When people have good jobs, it’s a just a little easier to raise good kids. Rudy shakes his head with disbelief and says, “I can’t believe it came to this with a company as profitable as this…”
Chris is a person. For 16 years he has earned a living building and maintaining the fiber optic network that stretches throughout this county. He too is a local resident, a husband and a father. When he isn’t at work he’s spending time with his two sons, aged ten and eleven. Together they do volunteer work for Scenic Hudson, a local environmental group. They study and monitor the movements of
eels in creeks and tributaries. As a family, they are contributing in their own way. Looking up from beneath the rain soaked brim of his baseball cap he says, “all this outsourcing of jobs to other places is just going to backfire. It’s not good for our country.”
Paul is a person. Another 20 year veteran of Verizon, he is a resident of neighboring Orange County, where he lives with his wife and three children. One has finished school, but two more need to complete their educations. One is college bound and the other has chosen to attend a local trade school to learn automotive technology. “ Trade school isn’t cheap either,” says Paul. It’s doesn’t sound like a complaint, merely a reporting of the facts. He goes on to say “This strike has turned my life upside down. Everything is inconvenient. I feel like I’m living like a gypsy.”
Bob is a person. He has the most time under his belt. With 38 years of service behind him, he dates back to the old Bell Telephone days. Originally a Rockland County resident he makes his home in Orange County now. His three children are all grown now and have made him the proud grandfather of two. He comes from a family of “telephone company workers.” When he totals up his aunt’s, uncle’s
and father’s service he comes up with about 135 years. Bob recalls, “When I first started out, the president of the company was making ten times as much as we all were, Now, the CEO makes 400 times as much. The greed is unbelievable.” He takes a minute to wave at a trucker who has just passed by and honked his horn in solidarity. He continues, “The company is trying to take back everything it has
agreed to over the last 38 years. New hires get no pension at all.”
We have all become adept at citing the statistics that bolster our points of view. Key concepts as laid down by John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman now roll off our tongues in an effort to defend our positions. To be sure, there is a place for academic discussion of such theories. But when we pass a picket line, be it this current one or some other, we would be well advised to ask ourselves what pushes an employee so hard that he or she feels it is more important to make a stand than to return to work. Whether we choose to honk or not, when we drive by those picket lines let’s remember that behind that blur of signage are – people.