Elected officials joined union members outside a Bensonhurst Verizon Wireless store (2141 86th Street) on Friday, January 22 in an effort to urge the company to rehire an employee they say was unjustly fired in September and to settle its contract with the Communication Workers of America (CWA).
“I am proud to stand with members of the CWA as they work to build their union and settle a fair contract with Verizon,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer, noting that, first and foremost, he wanted union leader Bianca Cunningham to get her job back.
According to CWA officials, Cunningham – a Verizon Wireless employee and member of CWA Local 1109 – had been told by management at the end of August that they intended to fire her as of September 9, and that she would, in the meantime, be placed on administrative leave.
According to President of Local 1109 Tony Spina, Cunningham’s job was threatened after she took a phone-call from another union member – an employee at the Bensonhurst Verizon Wireless store – who was “hysterical crying” and “afraid of [her] manager.”
In November, the Federal National Labor Relations Board authorized the issuance of a federal complaint against Verizon for violating federal labor laws when it fired Cunningham.
“First, we’re joined today to tell Verizon to ‘Bring Back Bianca!,’” said Schumer. “Second, we’re urging Verizon to finally negotiate and settle a fair first contract so that its hardworking employees can live a better quality of life.”
Assemblymember William Colton, also on hand for the rally, agreed.
“Know that we are here to support you. We’re going to be up there, we’re going to be working with CWA and we’re going to be working with you until you get contracts,” he said.
According to the CWA, the 65 newly-unionized Brooklyn workers are the first retail workers in all of Verizon Wireless to form a union, and management has already begun to target other union activists.
“Verizon just announced $5.5 billion in profits in the fourth quarter of 2015 and pays its retail workers about 300 times less than the company CEO,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District One. “But management would rather intimidate its workers by firing their leader for standing up for her rights than settle a fair contract. It shouldn’t take federal charges for Verizon to bring Bianca back and settle fair and just contracts.”
When contacted for comment after the group’s first protest in September, a Verizon Wireless spokesperson told this paper that the company is not targeting Cunningham.
“The leadership of the Communications Workers of America is flat-out wrong,” said Verizon rep John Bonomo. “The company is not targeting Bianca Cunningham or any other employee for their union activities. This employee’s conduct is subject to the same standard as all employees at Verizon Wireless.”