A sea of red T-shirts flooded the streets, while those wearing them roared with anger in front of Verizon’s corporate headquarters in Manhattan on July 25. Some of the shirts read “I can’t calm down, I need a contract,” “Will strike if provoked” and “We walked before, we’ll walk again,” referring to a 2011 strike.
The estimated crowd of 12,000 union members and allies, representing 39,000 fixed-line and FIOS workers in nine states from Maine to Virginia, were rallying to tell the giant telecommunications company that they’re ready to strike if they don’t get a better contract offer by the time the current one expires at midnight on Aug. 1.
Why strike? The contract Verizon brought to the bargaining table June 22 contained significant, deal-breaking cuts: decreases in pension benefits, huge increases in workers’ medical costs, unlimited reassignment of job locations, elimination of job security and expanded outsourcing of jobs — on top of an existing two-tier wage system for new hires.
No wonder that 96 percent of members of the New England Council of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voted on July 17 to strike, while the Verizon East district of the Communication Workers voted by 86 percent to strike during the week of July 20.
Speakers at the rally included CWA President Chris Shelton, who blasted management for trying to rob workers of their retirement. He ended a rousing speech with the chant: “Ready to fight and ready to win!” Barbara Bowen of the Professional Staff Congress at City University of New York and Secretary-Treasurer Earl Phillips of Transit Workers Union Local 100 gave solidarity messages and offered their support for a strike.
Caesse Villegar, a Black sister representing Cablevision workers, talked about how CWA and IBEW had stood with them during the three-year battle they eventually won and now Cablevision workers would stand by Verizon workers.
Verigreedy lives up to the workers’ nickname for Verizon. Listed 15th in this year’s Forbes Fortune 500, the company raked in $29 billion in net income in the last five years and $4 billion in just the last quarter. The five top executives have been rewarded handsomely, with a total of $44 million in annual salary and bonuses in 2014. They will never have to worry about their retirement.