Verizon workers across New York City picketed outside offices and wireless stores today to protest the corporation's apparent unwillingness to agree on a contract. "This is a fight for the middle class," said Thomas, a Verizon technician who has been with the company for 19 years (and, like others we interviewed, declined to give his last name).
Thomas was leading his colleagues in chants on West 36th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. "First off, we're fighting for a fair contract. This is a company that is making a $1.3 billion profit every month," he said. "It's not like we're asking for gains [in salary]. We want to keep what we have."
Anthony, a technician and 19-year veteran of the company who was picketing outside of a Verizon Wireless store in Herald Square, pointed out that Verizon is trying to freeze their pensions at 30 years of service and to change their health care coverage "by charging us more for less." He also voiced frustration with the three-year contracts, which mean the union members are almost constantly negotiating.
The contract for the 39,000 workers expired last August. Shavonda, who has been with Verizon for 17 years, also voiced frustration that Verizon has apparently stalled in their efforts to bring FIOS to more customers. "When the company has new technology like FIOS," she said, "they tell us [the employees] to tell our friends and family about it and get them excited." The reality of the slow rollout is "disappointing."
"It's regrettable that union leaders have called a strike, a move that hurts all of our employees," Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, union leaders have their own agenda rooted in the past and are ignoring today's digital realities. Calling a strike benefits no one, and brings us no closer to resolution."
Every so often, the picketing workers would boo at temporary workers going into the office or at Verizon Wireless customers:
Passing truck drivers honked their horns in solidarity, too.
The Communications Workers of America union endorsed Bernie Sanders (Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the other union involved in the strike, endorsed Hillary Clinton today), and he visited striking Verizon workers in Brooklyn, telling them, "Brothers and sisters, thank you for your courage in standing up for justice against corporate greed."
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Thomas said of Sanders, "He's been a friend to [CWA] for a long time—and a friend to other workers, too... We will be at Washington Square Park tonight. We'll be at the Brooklyn Navy Yard tomorrow."
Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, on the other hand, called Sanders's views contemptible, writing Wednesday on LinkedIn, "Big companies are an easy target for candidates looking for convenient villains for the economic distress felt by many of our citizens. But when rhetoric becomes disconnected from reality, we've crossed a dangerous line."