Can you hear them now? Verizon workers picket Bay Ridge store

Off the job, and onto the streets, including in Bay Ridge.

After 10 months of negotiation, nearly 40,000 Verizon employees unionized under the Communication Workers of America Union (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) went on strike against Verizon on the morning of Wednesday, April 13, citing the union’s struggle to close a deal with the corporation.

While picketers protested in larger numbers in Manhattan, a smaller group of union protesters stood on the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge on Thursday afternoon, April 14, directly in front of the Verizon store.

“The things they are asking us to give back are things we’ve bargained for, for decades now. These are good middle-class jobs and in order for this country to stay strong, in order for the government to keep getting the taxes that it gets, it should maintain these types of jobs,” said Verizon field technician and CWA 1109 Chief Steward Al Pemberton, who was present at the 86th Street protest. “It’s to the benefit of the country and the government and the people to maintain good working class jobs.

“If Verizon was fair, they would even offer us a 10-year contract, an eight-year contract, something so that we don’t have to do this every few years. After 10 months of stonewalling us, it’s gotten to this point,” Pemberton continued.

The CWA’s website says that although Verizon’s profits have increased, worker rights and benefits have not. The union says that the company has so far offshored nearly 5,000 customer service job, and has been developing its usage of what the CWA calls “low wage, non-union contractors,” mainly used for line maintenance and installation.

The union levied other complaints against Verizon, including the consolidation of call centers still located in the United States, forcing workers to relocate out of state for up to two months at a time, and the company’s failure to provide a “fair first contract to Verizon Wireless retail workers,” who unionized in 2014. The CWA strike press release states that the businesses retail workers have continued to be some of the lowest paid employees within the company, despite earning large profit margins for the corporation.

Verizon, in response to the strike, issued a press release on its website, stating that despite proposals of wage increases, medical benefits, and the continuation of retirement benefits, “union leaders decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.”

However, union workers maintain that Verizon is attempting to strip away some of these benefits.

Presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders, who is in New York City campaigning in anticipation of the April 19 New York Democratic primary, lambasted Verizon at a CWA picket line in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday. “They want to outsource decent paying jobs. They want to give their CEO $20 million dollars a year in compensation,” said Sanders. “This is just another major American corporation trying to destroy the lives of working Americans.”

Current Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton also attended a picket line in Manhattan, and issued a statement saying that “Verizon should come back to the bargaining table with a fair offer for their workers.”

“We work hard. We just want fair treatment and a job that just allows us to survive. I think that it’s just rich or poor now, and Verizon is just trying to close that margin,” said Curtis Trotter, another picketer at the 86th Street event. “We’re fighting to keep that going where the middle class worker continues to be able to be viable. We live in New York — we’re not demanding, oh, you pay us an inordinate amount of money — we want it to be fair. Verizon operates in the black consistently. They never lose money. So now what they’re saying is, we never lose money, but how can we get more money? We can attack the working guy.”

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