By Mischa Gaus
August 11, 2011
Union picketers are turning away customers at
Verizon's wireless stores in the Northeast,
though injunctions could threaten that tactic.
Photo: Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. Make
sure to check out Verizon striker Pam Galpern
on "Democracy Now!" http://tinyurl.com/3rtpum5
Verizon's strike in the Northeast is into Day Five, and
big picket lines are turning away customers at
Verizon's wireless stores.
Injunctions could threaten one of the union's most
effective tactics, mass picketing at stores. But
another-mobile picketing-is causing havoc for the
company. Techs are chasing scab managers through the
field, making them cross their very own personal picket
line at the bottom of a pole or while they try to work
in a manhole.
The strike covers 45,000 members of the Communications
Workers and Electrical Workers (IBEW) from
Massachusetts to Virginia. Verizon wants to eliminate
pensions, as well as limit raises and force big health
care costs onto current workers and retirees. The
concessions would take $1 billion from workers, at a
company which made almost $20 billion during the last
"Everybody's very motivated," said Barbara Smith, a
member of CWA Local 1109 in Brooklyn. When her local
pickets wireless stores, "pedestrians stop and thank us
because they understand that this fight is about more
Operating Engineers, crane operators, and other
construction and building-service workers in New York,
New Jersey, and Massachusetts are refusing to cross
picket lines. Teamsters at UPS have refused to deliver
to Verizon offices, denying the company wireless and
fiber-optic equipment. Even some non-union workers are
refusing to cross. Dozens of unions, from nurses to
janitors to teachers, have bolstered picket lines in
Busy UPS drivers are double-parking their trucks next
to the vans operated by scabs and managers, boosting
efforts by CWA and IBEW members to delay and deny
scabs' access to the work.
Bob Master, CWA District 1's legislative and political
director, said cars driven by scabs have struck
picketers, at least 20 so far, sending at least two to
Verizon has secured several injunctions. In
Pennsylvania the injunction limits the number of
picketers at a location to six, and mandates they stay
15 feet from scabs. The Delaware complaint alleged that
members shut off power to Verizon facilities and glued
shut locks on trucks and garage fences.
In Philadelphia, management hadn't moved trucks off the
property ahead of the strike and tight, packed picket
lines prevented them from going anywhere.
"We had them pretty much shut down for three days,"
said Justin Harrison, a unit secretary in statewide CWA
Local 13000. Mobile picketers are chasing trucks around
town now that they're out of the yard.
The company was in court Wednesday in New York seeking
similar limitations on picketers' activity. CWA
attorney Gay Semel said that to win an injunction the
company needs to claim that police can't protect
Verizon scabs and property, and that the company
produced 20 instances of alleged violence.
An injunction delivered to strikers Thursday limited
the number of picketers, from six to 50, based on the
size of the location. Mobile picketers in New York are
limited to six, and while in traffic they must follow
45 feet behind the scab van, Semel said. While courts
are no friend of the worker, Semel added, she called
these injunctions among the least restrictive she's
Wireless stores are unaffected, although Verizon is
returning to court today to secure additional
injunctions against those pickets.
CWA is targeting heavily trafficked New York City
wireless stores and big, noisy lines are turning back
customers. The pickets are orderly, and feel somewhat
cramped, because watchful police keep picketers
circulating inside metal pens.
Management is desperate to limit disruption at these
wireless locations, especially ahead of September's
expected rollout of the next iPhone. The hot-selling
gadget will be available at (mostly unionized) AT&T
retail stores as well-and Verizon picketers would be
more than happy to let customers know the closest
location to patronize.
In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg's administration has
dispatched police to follow Verizon vehicles around, a
taxpayer-provided security blanket for a company that
paid no federal taxes in 2009-10 (and actually claimed
a $1.3 billion refund).
Moving the Work
Reacting to the Northeast telecom unions' long history
of militant strikes and inside campaigns, Verizon has
tried to limit their power over the years by
aggressively contracting out work and moving it around
the country and overseas. Eddie Blackburn, a service
rep who handles fiber-optic products in Providence,
Rhode Island, has seen his union, IBEW Local 2323, cut
in half in his 11 years at the company.
Most media accounts relegate the unions to history's
dustbin, because they have not yet been able to
organize most of the burgeoning wireless business. They
ignore the merciless campaigns waged by Verizon,
Sprint, T-Mobile, and others to keep unions out.
But Blackburn says the huge spurt in wireless has a
positive side in the strike. Even with a shrunken
union, the rapid-mobilization capabilities of text
messaging and Twitter feeds delivered to smartphones
are enabling members to zero in on scabs' locations and
drive them nuts.
When a member discovered a downed line Tuesday, members
converged to picket it. They kept residents from being
hurt, Blackburn said, and waited for scabs to appear.
(Utility workers also won't cross their lines.) But
when a call came of a scab van 15 minutes away, they
dispatched another five picketers to surround it
"They weren't prepared for how flexible and fluid our
mobilizing can be," he said. "It gets in their head.
They're not as effective."
Plus, he said, members are flocking to the activity,
which he admits is "sort of fun." Videos have surfaced
"highlighting the hack, garbage work management is
doing," Blackburn said.
But the other side is carrying cameras, too, and giant
anti-union megaphones like Fox News are only too happy
to paint the strikers as out-of-control vigilantes.
Reports of vandalism and a striker "endangering" his
child have been amplified.
"You could be Mother Teresa on the picket line, and
they'd still find a way to go after you," Blackburn
More importantly, he said, the mobile picketing gives
members something effective to do, rather than
picketing office locations where managers do inside
work and there's little opportunity to take action.
Meanwhile, the union dispatched its negotiators back to
the table Wednesday. Verizon removed its proposal that
attached wage increases to management-determined
productivity measures, but union officials say the
company is still dithering in negotiations.
"The only serious thing here is the traffic I'm stuck
in," said CWA Local 1400 President Don Trementozzi, on
his way back to Rye, New York, for another bargaining
The unions are planning a vigil at Verizon chairman
Ivan Seidenberg's house in the pricey Hudson river
community of Nyack on Friday. Magazine | Archives |
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