By Tom Momberg
More than 200 Verizon workers rallied outside Verizon Wireless’ Bayside offices to demand that the company’s landline unit start negotiating new contracts for its employees, represented locally by Communications Workers of America, after the contract covering 39,000 workers in nine states expired Aug. 2.
The workers’ Aug. 20 demonstration, organized by CWA Local 1106 in Queens, gained the support of many of the borough’s lawmakers, including state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), state Sens. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village).
Gianaris said because income inequality is on the rise, it is important for elected representatives to get involved in workers’ concerns.
“These fine people are working without a contract right now,” Gianaris said. “And when you hear about the demands Verizon is making on them, you would think they would be rewarding them with more benefits so they can care for their families and instead the executives are making money hand over fist and are trying to squeeze the workers for even more.”
CWA, negotiating with Verizon alongside the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, contends the company also wishes to cut jobs and freeze workers’ benefit pensions or eliminate 401k benefit matching.
“We respect the rights of our employees to hold rallies, but we truly believe the best way to achieve a new contract is not at a (street) rally, but through serious and meaningful negotiations,” Verizon Northeast Bureau spokesman John Bonomo said in a statement. “We’ve had discussions with union leaders from both the CWA and IBEW this week and we stand ready to meet with them again,”
CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor said the workers’ battle against Verizon across the Northeast for a fair contract is really a battle against all corporations that abuse bargaining power.
“We are still bargaining right now … And now three weeks in, the company has not moved at all back off (its) agenda to cut our benefits. We are going to rally and take this fight to the public to show the company that we have had enough of their demands and we want them to stop,” Trainor said. “If this was a company that was struggling, we would be bargaining a different way, but they are making billions.”
Kevin Martin of Seldon, N.Y., a 20-year Verizon field technician who works out of Bayside, said the company only recently has seemed to put its workers under siege.
“This was a company that at least on the surface looked like it cared about its workers. We were taken out around the holidays and thanked for our hard work, but that doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.
Among demands brought to the table by the telecom giant are that workers increase their health care contributions and make concessions on pensions, according to CWA. Martin said after as much time he has put in with the company, he and his colleagues would demonstrate as much as possible to retain the benefits they have.
“We have to do this, because to fight big brother, we really don’t have a lot of tools and we don’t have a lot of leverage,” Martin said. “So, I am hoping that in showing solidarity that we can make the company stop and think.”
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb