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Strike Supporters “Adopt” Verizon Wireless Stores to Picket in New York City

Outside Verizon retail stores, unionized workers and allies are calling for job security and a fair contract.

Members of Socialist Alternative join striking Verizon workers on a picket line outside a Verizon Wireless store in Brooklyn, New York, May 15, 2016. (Photo: Matt Surrusco)

At the base of three escalators, tucked in a corner of a Brooklyn mall, striking Verizon workers and their supporters said they’re standing up to the company’s corporate greed.

The workers, joined by about a dozen supporters, formed a picket line outside a Verizon Wireless retail store in the Atlantic Terminal Mall near downtown Brooklyn on Sunday, calling for job security, a fair union contract and an end to outsourcing.

“You give away your life for this company, and they want to take away your job.”

Some 36,000 Verizon employees, mostly “wireline” or landline workers, represented by Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have been on strike since April 13. The protest in Brooklyn was part of CWA’s campaign calling on community groups to “adopt” Verizon retail stores to picket in solidarity with striking workers.

On Sunday, members of Socialist Alternative’s Brooklyn and Manhattan groups protested with workers in Brooklyn and outside another retail store in Harlem.

A majority of Verizon Wireless retail workers in six New York City stores voted to join CWA in May 2014, but have yet to secure a contract with the company. However, most Verizon retail workers are not union members.

One Verizon central office technician, a union member who has worked with the company for 20 years, and asked that his name not be published, said he was on the picket line “to fight against corporate greed.”

The worker, a 43-year-old single father of an 18-month-old daughter, said that after Verizon cut striking employees’ health care benefits two weeks ago, he was forced to purchase insurance for himself and his child.

“You give away your life for this company, and they want to take away your job,” he told Truthout. “If they are able to break down this union, American jobs are in trouble.”

“This strike is different. It’s not an economic strike. It’s about job security.”

Situated behind metal barricades draped with a red, black and white CWA strike banner, in front of a shuttered store entrance, and next to the open Verizon store, protesters yelled out to approaching mallgoers, saying, “Please don’t cross the picket line” and “Don’t shop at Verizon.” Protesters spoke with a few shoppers, explaining why they were distributing information about the strike and outlining workers’ biggest concerns.

Anita Long, a telecommunications technician associate, who has worked for Verizon’s landline side of the business for 37 years, was on the picket line at 11 am outside the Brooklyn store. She’s been on strike for more than a month, and the current strike — the largest US labor strike in nearly five years — is not the first one Long said she’s participated in while working for Verizon.

Compared to the last strike by Verizon workers in 2011, Long told Truthout, “This strike is different. It’s not an economic strike. It’s about job security.”

Both Verizon landline and wireless workers, represented by CWA and IBEW, have been without a new contract for two years. The unions say Verizon is hoping to cut costs by outsourcing more jobs to Mexico and the Philippines, raising out-of-pocket health insurance costs and requiring workers to relocate for up to two months at a time, anywhere in the Massachusetts-to-Virginia region in which Verizon operates — potentially transferring employees out of state and away from their families.

“The corporate field is ready to shift their jobs overseas. There’s no [job] security guaranteed.”

Inside the Brooklyn store, some Verizon Wireless workers were still on the job. Long said some retail workers were likely fearful of losing their jobs since they did not yet have a union contract, adding that they shouldn’t be considered scabs, and would eventually be welcomed into the union.

Duaa Osman, a member of Socialist Alternative, organized the solidarity action. Along with the Harlem action, it was the first Verizon picket in which Socialist Alternative members in New York City participated.

“The corporate field is ready to shift their jobs overseas,” Osman told Truthout. “There’s no [job] security guaranteed.”

Last month, days before the presidential primaries in New York State, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voiced their support for striking workers.

“Verizon is one of the largest, most profitable corporations in this country,” Sanders said in April, as Truthout reported. “[The company wants] to outsource decent-paying jobs. They want to give their CEO $20 million a year.”

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam takes in $6.4 million in total cash compensation, or nearly 91 times the typical median Verizon worker’s pay, according to PayScale. The company had “$39 billion in profits over the last three years,” according to a union flier.

Sanders was endorsed by CWA in December 2015. The union also represents Truthout’s employees.

Long acknowledged the support Democratic presidential candidates and some New York State senators have shown Verizon workers. She said she hoped Sanders would “keep speaking for us” and “keep saying our name.”

Osman agreed that Sanders could continue supporting workers by using his platform to build public pressure against Verizon. She said she hoped he would “use the Verizon workers’ strike as a prime example” of why workers can and should stand up to corporate greed.

“We’re the ones — the workers at the bottom — that made that profit. Why can’t we share in that?” said Long, 59, who lives in the Bronx and hopes to retire with a pension from Verizon in the coming years.

Even those who have already retired from Verizon are affected by the stalled contract negotiations. According to Labor Notes, “The company is proposing to raise the price on [80,000 retirees’] medical benefits at the same pace as current employees’ benefits, even though retirees are on a fixed income.” Both current employees and retirees say they’re concerned about maintaining their pensions.

Verizon is “trying to destroy the word ‘union'” and “get rid of the union,” added Long, later recalling a more than four-month strike in 1989 in which union members — then working for NYNEX, which later merged with other companies that became Verizon — retained their medical coverage, unlike what has happened during the current strike.

As the strike has now entered its second month, Osman said Socialist Alternative members plan to continue showing their support by joining Verizon workers on picket lines outside retail stores.

“We’re prepared, with the Verizon workers, for the long haul,” she said.

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