By Claire Walla
In solidarity with about 45,000 other Verizon Communications employees from Virginia to Maine, four workers here on the East End have posted up next to a Verizon building on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, holding picket signs in opposition to the contractual changes put forward by the international telephone giant.
“They want to basically take everything from us,” said Verizon technician Mike McKenna, who has been employed by the company for 23 years. He stood next to a couple of signs with red and white lettering reading: “On Strike.” In the span of about 15 minutes, three cars honked in support of the workers, two of whom live here in Sag Harbor.
Verizon employees’ contracts expired this past Saturday, August 6. Though the company had been in discussions with the two unions — Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) — all parties failed to reach an agreement on a new contract this weekend. According to a statement from CWA, Verizon Communications has put nearly 100 concessions on the table, which include cutting workers’ vacation days in half, reducing sick days and freezing pensions.
“We’re not even discussing wages,” McKenna continued. He said workers are merely fighting for benefits at this point; salary amounts and bonus pay are “not even on the table now.”
Above (left to right): Mike McKenna, Rob Cangelosi, Dave Wilson, Stacey Swezey
While standing under the shade of a white canopy — provided gratis by the Awning Company across the street — the electrical technicians all said they felt their company is taking these extreme measures to curb workers’ rights in order to disband the power of their unions.
“They’re breaking away all the job security we have,” said Rob Cangelosi, who has been with the company for 39 years. “These are things we [workers] fought for for 50 years.” Over time, he continued “we even accepted smaller raises to keep medical costs low. It was a trade-off. Now, there’s no trade-off. [Verizon] hasn’t taken any of its demands off the table.”
Though in the past Verizon workers have gone on strike for months at a time — seven months in 1971; fours months in 1989 — in these instances they had been allowed to continue working while negotiations were underway. This time, Cangelosi said, as long as Verizon workers are striking, they must simultaneously forfeit their pay.
McKenna said if these negotiations end up continuing for weeks, he’ll have to start looking for another job.
“I have enough money saved to pay next month’s mortgage and next month’s bills,” he noted. But while he believes in fighting for his rights, he said there is a breaking point. “I don’t want to lose my house over this.”
Dave Wilson — who, at 13 years, has worked for the company the shortest — explained just how devastating it could be if these contract negotiations stall as long as they have in the past. If, in a few weeks, discussions are still not resolved, “that’s 45,000 people with bad credit,” he said, insinuating how impactful this issue could be for the broader community. “That’s a lot of debt!”