April 14, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – More than 35,000 Verizon workers walked out on strike April 13, as the company failed to agree on a contract by the 6 a.m. deadline with two unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
“Verizon makes $1.5 billion a month in profits, yet they still want to outsource and offshore jobs. That’s really the central issue,” CWA District 1 research economist Pete Sikora said as more than 400 strikers picketed outside the company call center in downtown Brooklyn. The union, he added, had agreed to share more than $200 million in savings on health-care costs, which management had said was the main issue before the contract expired last August, but “they still want more. There comes a point where you have to stand up, and that point is now.”
The Brooklyn crowd was loud, cheering when passing truckers honked their horns in solidarity, and singing and blowing airhorns along with the since-the-’80s picket-line anthems of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” The picket line stretched almost a full block around the corner, from the McDonald’s on Fulton Street to past the H&R Block on Flatbush Avenue Extension. A woman with a bullhorn led a rapid-fire chant of “What’s disgusting? Union-busting!” backed by pounding drums.
Verizon took out newspaper ads the day before the strike saying that its proposals would “make changes to legacy constraints in our contracts. Union leaders need to move out of the past and recognize that it is no longer the Ma Bell era of Princess phones and phone booths.” “The company is seeking greater flexibility to manage and utilize its workforce to gain operating efficiencies and better customer experiences,” it said in a statement posted online.
Sikora said he suspected that language was code for “outsourcing.” Verizon has already contracted out customer-service calls to more than 5,000 employees in the Philippines, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and other overseas locations, CWA District 1 said in a statement. The company, it added, is “pushing to dramatically expand its outsourcing of work to low-wage non-union contractors,” particularly work on outside lines such as installing and maintaining telephone poles.
“They want to outsource all of us, not just the customer service,” said Linda Halsey, a customer-service representative from Brooklyn. “They want to outsource the technicians. She said she was on strike for “fair wages and keeping our jobs in the U.S. They need to look at what it costs to live in Brooklyn. A one-bedroom apartment costs $2,000. My paycheck doesn’t cover that.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders arrived at 11:30 a.m., coming over from Transport Workers Union headquarters several blocks to the west. “Today, you’re not just standing up for justice for Verizon workers. You’re standing up for millions of Americans who do not have a union,” he told the crowd, clutching a yellow sheet of handwritten notes in his left hand. “You’re telling corporate America they cannot have it all. You’re telling corporate America that workers in this country are not going to continue to be pushed down and down and down. The working class of this country deserves fair and decent wages, decent benefits, and not seeing their jobs go to low-wage countries.”