May 24, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York , NY – “Just take a sign. Any one of those signs,” a striking Verizon worker tells his son, a boy about 9 in a gray Knicks cap. “Put ‘CWA.’” The kid’s first effort with a marker has thin, off-center lettering, but his next try produces a picket sign with “CWA” in red and “No Greed” in green.
The Verizon strikers’ rally in Brooklyn May 21 was a family affair, with children around one-fifth of the about 150 people who marched from Borough Hall to a Verizon Wireless store two blocks away in Brooklyn Heights. The children picketed in a circle while Ron Carterino of Communications Workers of America District 1 and an 11-year-old named Brandon led chants of “Scabs Go Home” and “One Day Longer, One Day Stronger.” Adults dished out sandwiches, popcorn, and cotton candy while Carterino exhorted the kids to dance to the DJ and a trio of drummers. A couple carrying a toddler with a pudding-bowl haircut held a Sesame Street-themed sign reading “Elmo Says—Contract Now Please.”
“Let the company know they will not defeat us,” CWA Local 1109 secretary-treasurer Tony Barone told the crowd.
The rally was one of 34 held at Verizon stores from Massachusetts to Virginia that day, including two in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Speakers included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, state Senator Martin Malave-Dilan, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, and New York City Central Labor Council head Vincent Alvarez, who said it’s “not just a slogan” to say the strike is about all workers.
“I believe they wanted us to go on strike,” Barone said of Verizon, telling LaborPress that the company had “drawn a hard line in the sand” by demanding pension and benefit cuts and more ability to transfer workers and outsource work, even when it’s making $1.8 billion a month in profits.
The 1,800-member union, which represents Verizon technicians in Brooklyn, is “not out for money,” he added. “We’re out for job security.”
“That’s why we have our families out here,” said Greg Calabrese, a 42-year-old field technician and father of three, as he held his daughter on his shoulder. “The company is so profitable, there’s no reason.”
The picket line included several United Federation of Teachers members. “All of the unions need to be out here for the strike to be successful,” said paraprofessional Mia Foley. “It should never be unions fighting in isolation.”
Two men standing outside the store went inside when the crowd chanted “Scabs Go Inside.” Other huddled behind the door, some taking pictures of the picketers. A woman came out to threaten a news photographer with arrest for violating an “injunction.”
“They’re mad because they haven’t made any money in a long time,” said Local 11009 executive-board member Joe Iorio. “The people in this community have been great to us. No one’s going in the store.”
“I would like to get back to work and take care of my family,” said Ethan Patterson, a central office technician. “It’s tough, but it’s good when people keep fighting for what they have. This is going to affect all unions.”