As the familiar beat of Queen’s, “We Will Rock You” pulsed loudly in front of Verizon’s headquarters in New York City last Saturday, 15,000 and more Verizon workers and their supporters sang, “We will, we will strike you! We will, we will strike you!” while a spectacular sea of red, the color of the t-shirts worn my union members, filled four New York City blocks.
The huge turnout by Verizon workers, who were demonstrating their resolve to fight to retain their union benefits and union jobs, far exceeded the 10,000 worker turnout that union leaders were forecasting.
Verizon’s contract with its union workers on the East Coast from Virginia to New England expires on August 6, and during the course of negotiations over the last two months, Verizon has made it clear that it wants significant concessions.
Verizon wants its union workers to give away their pensions, health care, sick days, and holidays, suspend weekend differentials and replace regular pay raises with merit pay. “These are standards and benefits we’ve won. We’re not going back,” said Larry Cohen, international president of CWA, which represents 35,000 Verizon East workers. “We’re going to stand and fight.”
In the past, Verizon has tried to reduce health care benefits and impose other big concessions, but union workers have always successfully resisted these attacks. “Verizon needs a history lesson, and school is in,” said Edwin D. Hill international president IBEW, which also represents Verizon East workers, referring to past union contract victories.
During the rally, Myles Calvey, who directs the IBEW T-6 Verizon council, called for a mass movement of union members across the East Coast to stop Verizon’s attempts to lower its workers’ standard of living. “It will take every union member on the East Coast to stop Verizon from this attack on the middle class. Our unions are drawing the line here at Verizon,” Calvey said.
“In all my years negotiating a contact, I’ve never seen the kind of crap that Verizon has put on the table,” said CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton. “What they want to do is to throw away 60 years of bargaining. We’re not going to let it happen!”
“What they really want to do is to bust your union,” Shelton said. “They want to gut the middle class and they’re starting with you,” Shelton told the crowd. “Are we going to let that happen?” he asked. “NO”! responded the crowd.
While the successful rally buoyed everyone’s spirits, CWA’s Online Communication Coordinator Beth Allen told CWA members in an email after the rally that it was just a beginning. “Saturday’s rally was amazing, but Verizon ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Allen said. “There’s only one thing that will move this company: continuous mobilization. Every work site, every day. We need to show that same level of unity and commitment where every manager can see it.”
More rallies are scheduled this week. New Jersey’s IBEW Local 827 on Thursday, August 4 will be hosting a “Rally at the Ridge” at Verizon’s headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
On Wednesday, August 3, IBEW Local 2222 in Boston will be participating in a press conference that will include community leaders and members of Jobs with Justice who are protesting Verizon’s proposal to end Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday. On August 4, Local 2222 will hold a march and rally in Boston.
CWA will continue its work site actions throughout the region. For more information go to Unity@Verizon.