Verizon and Its Unions Are Disconnecting

Some 36,000 of the company’s workers across the East Coast have gone on strike

Verizon workers wearing red and clutching signs swarmed the outside of the company’s office in downtown Brooklyn starting at six a.m. this morning, the start of a strike across the East Coast involving nearly forty thousand workers. Verizon, the Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have apparently reached a stalemate in contract negotiations that began in August 2015.

Lakesha Williams, who's worked at Verizon for 21 years, encourages passing traffic to get involved. (Simone McCarthy)

Lakesha Williams, who’s worked at Verizon for 21 years, encourages passing traffic to get involved. (Simone McCarthy)

“We were hoping Verizon would negotiate fairly so we wouldn’t have to walk out. But we were forced,” said one of the demonstrators, Patricia Acloque, who has worked for Verizon for 15 years. “It’s not something anyone wants to do, we have families, children, mortgages, but we have to be here to support our union.”

The strikers’ central concerns include job security and the international out-sourcing of jobs, pension caps, and changes to medical insurance. It is one of the largest job actions in recent years.

Maureen Sydnor, a business agent for CWA 1105, a local based in Lake Success, New York, said that in addition to outsourcing jobs, the Verizon contract offer contains a proposal that would enable the company to send workers to live in call center locations away from their homes for several months at time. “We live in New York, we buy Verizon services in New York, and here they are making billions of dollars off of us and sending our jobs to the Philippines or transferring us from our homes,” she said.

In mid-morning, Bernie Sanders stopped by the downtown Brooklyn rally, which was held in front of a Verizon communications call center, to show his support. Cars and trucks honked as they went by, and union officials and organizers took turns at the megaphone right outside the entrance, standing beneath the Verizon sign and urging strikers to chant “CWA, CWA” along with them. The mood was not hostile, but strikers seemed resigned to stand up to a company that many of them had worked at for years.

The crowd of strikers outside the Verizon office on Flatbush Avenue Extension. (Simone McCarthy)

The crowd of strikers outside the Verizon office on Flatbush Avenue Extension. (Simone McCarthy)

“We’ve given the best years of our lives to this company and now the job is changing,” said LaShawn Dawson, who has worked at Verizon for 25 years and commutes over two hours to work from Orange County, NY. Dawson is particularly concerned about the potential pension cap at 30 years. “We could leave here after so many years and have to go work at Shop Rite—don’t get me wrong, I like Shop Rite, but there’s no loyalty, no appreciation. Where will we go?”

Workers found out that the strike was set to start this Wednesday from a union email sent out on Monday, but the possibility has been on the table for months as talks between the unions and the corporation floundered. “They’ve been sitting around at the round table for ten months, so you’ve got to prepare, you save up, you make as much overtime as you can, pay down some of your bills, create a harvest for yourself, because you’re going to need it later on,” said striker Nicole Love, who’s worked at Verizon for 17 years.

Tatiana Hill and Bianca Cunningham have been involved in negotiations. (Simone McCarthy)

Tatiana Hill and Bianca Cunningham have been involved in negotiations. (Simone McCarthy)

Verizon released a statement defending their “good faith efforts” for contract settlement with the unions. In the same statement, the company said it had trained “thousands of non-union Verizon employees and business partners” to fill in during the strike.

“Millions of Americans rely on Verizon for the ability to communicate, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon’s wireline network operations. “We remain fully prepared to handle any work stoppage so that our products and services will be available where and when our customers need them.”

Many strikers seemed prepared for a long road ahead, “We’ve done this before,” says Love, referring to a 2011 strike. “That was two weeks—this time, we think it’s going to be longer.”

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