BURBANK, Calif. – From Massachusetts to Virginia, nearly 40,000 strikers – many represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) – are standing up against Verizon Wireless. Members of several unions, including the CWA, Association of Flight Attendants, National Writers Union, Office and Professional Employees International Union, and the American Guild of Musical Artists, as well as Bernie Sanders supporters (the CWA has officially endorsed him) and other pro-union activists, showed up in front of a Verizon store in a vast shopping mall here Thursday morning.
Verizon workers taking on corporate greed have pledged to strike for as long as it takes. The largest such labor action in the U.S. in many years, the strike is now in its fourth week.
The corporate Goliath has refused to negotiate a fair and mutually beneficial agreement with workers and is eager to move jobs overseas and undo decades of collective bargaining progress.
Verizon workers are not on strike in California, Mike Frost, Executive Vice President of CWA Local 9003, explained. Not long ago Frontier bought out most of Verizon’s operations in the state. There are only 186 Verizon employees left in California. He summed up his union’s position on the t-shirt he was wearing: “United, we bargain,” it read, “Divided, we beg.”
We asked why the CWA was demonstrating here if there was no strike. “What the company does in one place,” Frost said, “they’ll try to spread it around to other places.” He cited obscene corporate salaries at the top as one reason the workers are now being denied their opportunity for a little dignity and respect. Aside from his corporate jet, Lowell McAdams, Verizon’s CEO, alone makes $18 million a year – 300 times what Verizon Wireless retail workers make. Verizon banks $1.5 billion a month in profits, thanks to its employees.
Recalling the famous date of Cinco de Mayo as the day on which this nationwide demonstration of support was called, Frost said it was “the appropriate day to take action.” President of CWA Local 9003 Marisa Remski called in her greetings and appreciation to the gathered crowd.
One young man headed into the Verizon store to make a purchase asked what the demonstration was all about, and when he found out, he turned 180 degrees around, walked back to his car and left.
Two Burbank policemen showed up and engaged in some informal conversation. There were no incidents.
Last August, Verizon workers began renegotiating a contract with the corporation that would protect their right to a union, push back on the outsourcing of jobs, and prevent the company from relocating workers away from home. The negotiations have lasted over ten months, with Verizon refusing to budge on some parts of the contract that would benefit and protect workers.
Nearly 40,000 Verizon employees finally went on a strike last month. Up and down the eastern seaboard, workers have left their posts to stand up for their colleagues, families, and friends. According to the CWA, Verizon insists that layoff protections for employees hired after 2003 be removed from the contract. Verizon also wants to force technicians to work for up to two months away from home.
CWA recognizes that this fight is more than just about Verizon, and it figures that the union is a principled backer of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. The CWA informational flyer handed out at the demonstration said, “Verizon represents everything that’s gone wrong with the American dream: the rich getting richer and richer, while the hard-working employees can’t even get a raise.”
If you would like to sign your pledge to boycott Verizon stores until they meet and settle a fair contract with workers, please do so here.
Photo: Eric A. Gordon | People’s World