Hundreds of striking workers from Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and their supporters, including local labor leaders and clergy, held a vigil Friday night outside the home of the company’s chief Executive in West Nyack, N.Y.
Many of the people demonstrating near Ivan Seidenberg’s home carried placards and held candles.
A total of 45,000 unionized Verizon workers have entered their second week of industrial action against the company, outraged by drastically reduced health care benefits in a new contract, among other issues.
Contract negotiations between unions and the company have stalled
Virtually all the strikers are from the company’s wireline business.
According to local media, one protester dressed as a priest chanted "God bless the CWA" (referring to the Communications Workers of America union, which represents most of the strikers) while another worker dressed as the Grim Reaper shouted: "Burn in hell, Verizon."
Ron Canterino, a union representative for CWA in Brooklyn, told reporters: "We can't get a raise. We can't do nothing. The middle class is dying here, and we're here to be together as one class, one people — whether it's union or non-union working people. We need a break."
Chris Shelton, another union official, told media that Verizon has asked more than 100 concessions from the union (believed to total some $1-billion).
"We're asking to be able to maintain our living standard,” he said “We're not asking for outrageous raises. "Verizon has absolutely decided that they are going to bust this union, and that is not going to happen."
Another union member complained: "They [Verizon] put 100 retrogressive demands on us six weeks ago, and they're not budging. So what do we do? We have to do something."
Eric Goodwin, a union vice president of CWA, praised the vigil to reporters.
“I think the turnout was great,” he said. “Middle-class America needs to wake up and realize it’s not just unions that are fighting this fight, it’s all middle-class Americans fighting against corporate greed. The last time that one percent of the American population controlled 20 percent of the money, we were in the Depression. And that’s exactly where we’re headed now.”
A spokesman for the company told reporters that the striking workers need to understand the new realities of the global economic landscape.
"I think the union needs to come to grips with the fact that our industry has changed," said John Bonomo. "We are no longer a monopoly telephone company as we were in the '60s and '70s, when many of the rules included in the last contract were put into place."
Bonomo also cited that the company’s wireline business is in serious decline as more amd more customers replace their landline telephones with cell phones and other mobile devices.
"This part of the business that they work in has seen significant declines," Bonomo said. "You can't exist like that without becoming irrelevant, and we don't want to become irrelevant."
Verizon’s proposals in the new contract reportedly include: the elimination of disability benefits for workers injured while on the job; the elimination of all job security provisions; the elimination of paid sick days for new hires and limiting them to no more than five for any workers; the freezing pensions for current workers and eliminating them for future employees; and the replacement of the current health care plan with a high-deductible plan requiring up to $6,800 in additional costs.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.