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May 23, 2016 5:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Striking Verizon Workers Push For Better Terms

Striking Verizon employees protest work being done by a non-union crew on Jobs Lane in Southampton Village on Wednesday, May 18.  DANA SHAW
May 24, 2016 5:38 PM

Local Verizon employees, clad in red shirts, have taken to the streets in Southampton Village to protest what they say are unfair contract terms.

For more than 40 days, roughly 15 local strikers—along with nearly 40,000 other workers on the East Coast—have been without pay because of a contract dispute between union leaders and Verizon representatives.

“Basically, we are on strike to keep our jobs,” said Rebecca Kelleher, a Southampton resident who has been working as a field technician for the company since 1997. “We would be happy to have just kept the same contract.”

The two striking unions—the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—have been without a contract since August 2015.

As Ms. Kelleher stood in front of the Verizon building on Windmill Lane last week with her fellow strikers, wearing a CWA sign, she explained that local union members are most upset that a profitable company like Verizon would outsource call center jobs to Mexico and the Philippines. They also are upset that their employee health insurance contributions keep increasing, and that their pensions will be frozen after 30 years of service.

“From what we have been told from our union representatives, every time the company would come to the table, they wouldn’t budge from their position, and the union even gave back, and budged, and was giving back,” she said. “What set us off was they gave back some serious language for us, and the company ... there was no budge at all. And that is when we walked.”

Ms. Kelleher said she was not privy to the specifics of the negotiations. However, a public policy and regulatory spokesman for Verizon, Richard Young, said Monday that the company’s final offer included a 7.5-percent wage increase and good health care and retirement benefits over the term of the contract. He noted that the employees on strike have an average salary and wage package of at least $130,000 a year.

Ms. Kelleher and another Verizon employee, Rob McDowell, both said that an additional major issue for the union is that the company will not maintain the copper wire system, which is for phone landlines, and will instead build up Fios, which offers internet, voice and video services. Over the years, landline use and traditional TV subscriptions have gone down, while the wireless business has taken center stage.

As it happens, the majority of local union workers on strike are landline and cable workers.

“The other issue is the temporary transfers,” Mr. McDowell said, referring to language in the contract that would allow mandatory employee transfers to cities as far as 100 miles away. “They want to do ... maybe two months in Boston, two months in Virginia, when I live and work here,” he said. “I’m in the fire department, and I’d like to stay here.”

As part of a local effort, the strikers are also picketing employees the company hired temporarily to fill their positions. Last week, when those employees were fixing cable wires in a manhole on Jobs Lane in Southampton Village, the union members went to Jobs Lane and made their voices heard—loudly.

“These guys are scabs—they took the job that Verizon is advertising, and it says, you are crossing picket lines, and doing this, and Verizon is paying them quite a bit more than they pay us to do it,” Ms. Kelleher said. “So we came out in force. We haven’t been paid since we went on strike.”

The picketing ultimately worked, in her opinion: Police officers parked a patrol car over the manhole to prevent the temporary employees from continuing their work—at which point the union members went back to picket in front of the Verizon building in the village.

“It worked because we made enough noise so Verizon cannot work, and instead of picking on the little guy, they [the police] picked on the big guy—make Verizon stop working,” Ms. Kelleher said.

Mr. Young said the company relies on local police to ensure that its employees can work in a safe environment without being harassed, “so that our customers can connect, wherever and whenever it’s needed.”

There has also been an injunction in New York since April 28 prohibiting CWA employees from interfering with Verizon business activities by harassing the company’s employees and intimidating them, as well as picketing within 15 feet of them.

“While there are currently no service issues related to that incident, it’s important to note that when there is an issue, we often rely on local authorities to work with us to ensure critical communications services, such as the ability to call 911, are available when our customers need them,” Mr. Young said. “Someone dialing 911 doesn’t care if there’s a strike going on—they just want the ability to make that connection.”

Nearby business owners said they were not happy with the strike, either. Frank Lenihan, the owner of Le Chef restaurant, close to where the confrontation occurred, described the protest as “very much in your face and borderline violent.”

“The Village Police were a great presence who kept this protest under control as much as they possibly could, but, unfortunately, after two nights and two days of protests, it was obvious to us that it was disturbing our business tremendously,” Mr. Lenihan said.

“We are awaiting the outcome of the negotiations,” he added, “and hope ... a decision is reached soon.”

Ms. Kelleher said other local unions, such as the Police Benevolent Association and the Riverhead Teachers Union, have been giving the strikers a great deal of support, because the picketers belong to two of the largest unions in the country.

“Most of it is because they know if we go, they go,” Ms. Kelleher said. “They understand the stakes are high, they are very high.”

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$130,000 average wages??? Who came up with that number? 7.5 raise over how many years.
What are the big boys paid, what raise will they give them selves after the strike?
By knitter (1941), Southampton on May 24, 16 11:43 AM
1 member liked this comment
Fire them all and soon !

These VERIZON workers this time and every time they strike are a bunch of spoiled thugs, they stand on the edge of the street and disrupt traffic, while looking for an argument.

I passed the above incident last week. go ask the police what was going on that day. It was disgusting what they were doing to that man in the vest.

Fire them, there are plenty of others to take there jobs.
By They call me (2826), southampton on May 24, 16 11:59 AM
i did not see them this time, but still remember how offended i was by the display of vulgarity i witnessed from them a few years ago on david whites lane. so much so that when It was time to get a new phone it was the reason i changed companies
By Erin 27 E (1281), hampton bays on May 24, 16 12:07 PM
1 member liked this comment
Nothing says "Thug Life" quite like playing a triangle in the street.

The purpose of protest is to make noise and attract attention.
By Yamka (12), Southampton on May 27, 16 2:12 PM
Double the average wage for out here: defined benefit pension plan while a lot of the population must contribute to their own, is that true as well? Oh and we contribute to our own health care ; and have no one to strike against for a bigger piece of the pie. People are dropping their land lines as the cost has become too expensive. Now we know why!
By hbaysboomer (15), Hampton Bays on May 24, 16 12:45 PM
You probably didn't feel that way when they came out in weather to fix your phone. They live in your community, volunteer in FD, ambulance and spend their money here, not in other states.
Yes, they may have gotten vulgar, but they are fighting for their livelyhood.
By knitter (1941), Southampton on May 24, 16 12:45 PM
WELL SAID !
By toes in the water (884), southampton on May 25, 16 8:08 AM
Fixing my phone in the rain is there job ! A job they seem to get paid very well for. and that is fine, as it is fine for them too negotiate for a better deal just do it in private and not on the street were my children have to watch you act like a hostile low class mob as we pass by in our car. No one really cares if you're on strike so do it in your union hall
By widow gavits (219), sag harbor on May 24, 16 5:20 PM
In the above video the man in the red is shouting Scum Scum Scum go back to where your from !

I was glad to see he took his own advice today.

I guess its in their contract they do not need to disturb the peace if its drizzling.

If you don't like your life change it ... stop acting like union thugs...

Whats the matter Obama did not give you what your union promised. TRUMP 2016
By joe hampton (3461), Hamptons on May 24, 16 5:34 PM
The union was pro Obama and they didn't think Obama care was their worry. Well costs have gone up over 100% thanks to Obama now its time to chip in. Sorry union you have been Obamaed.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 24, 16 6:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
Or you could say Trumkad
By joe hampton (3461), Hamptons on May 24, 16 6:59 PM
The great thing about a landline is when the power goes out and you lose your modem, you lose your phone. Unless you have a UPS or generator.

If all else fails, that landline could save a life.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 24, 16 7:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
yup, cause the billionaire who doesn't pay taxes is ion YOUR side, joe Hampton, chief, et al.
You believe that, right?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 24, 16 11:16 PM
Do you believe Hilary is on your side?
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on May 25, 16 9:03 AM
Of course not. Neither is getting my vote.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 25, 16 5:32 PM
Brewsters Millions?? None of the above?
By razza5350 (1911), East Hampton on May 25, 16 9:28 PM
Johnson and Weld
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 12, 16 4:06 PM
Trump is pro business, therefore he gets my vote. Pretty basic decision if you work for a living!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on May 25, 16 5:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
I didn't realize organized crime and multiple bankruptcies is good business. Who knew...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 25, 16 8:23 PM
Many enormously successful business founders have a string of bankruptcies prior to achieving success.

Risk taking is an integral element of business success and bankruptcies are common among entrepreneurs.
By ChrisDiPetta (37), on May 25, 16 8:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
I see you ignored the part about ties to organized crime. How about settling a lawsuit not once, but TWICE with the Justice Department? Apparently they didn't take too kindly to bigotry and racism in the rental market, nor was it seen as good business. But wait, "The Donald" NEVER settles lawsuits...

If he gets elected, he's already been nicknamed "Liar in Chief", LOL.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 25, 16 9:52 PM
You really want to talk about a corrupt justice department? lol lets talk about how Loretta Lynch is protecting Hillary form the FBI
By They call me (2826), southampton on May 26, 16 8:19 AM
Apparently you don't get it, so we'll just have to spell it out for you. Trump doesn't care about you. Trump will lie, cheat, sue, and damn near steal to get his name in the history books, all at America's expense.

He's a fame whore, and I'm sure you all know what star ******g is.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on May 26, 16 8:49 PM
TRUMP 2016 !
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on May 30, 16 10:21 PM
Trump is pro Trump and nothing else. He has experience in the Real Estate business. That's it.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 12, 16 4:07 PM
I graduated southampton high school in 1975 went into air force got a job in new York tel we are not thugs we are trying to keep middle class jobs in the USA and not outsource good jobs to the Philippines. We are members of the Southampton community I have been a volunteer fireman for 30 years.
By North sea (3), SOUTHAMPTON on May 25, 16 7:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
I never said you were a thug for serving your county, or working for Vzn... I never said that you striking was not your right.

I think you know the difference between peaceful demonstration and civil unrest. the behavior we are speaking about is a disruption to the community and is effecting others ability to peacefully go about there day.
By joe hampton (3461), Hamptons on May 26, 16 8:42 AM
2 members liked this comment
These thugs are part of the community fireman, ambulance members, elks, and others involved in our great town.
By North sea (3), SOUTHAMPTON on May 25, 16 7:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Mostly out of town
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on May 25, 16 9:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
There are very few unions left who can stand up to outsourcing, and the intransigence of multinational corporations who are acting like credit card companies when it comes to informing their employees of 'changes to their contracts' (i.e. when the credit card company decides you are going to be paying more interest and the billing period is 25 days instead of 30, that late fees will be increasing by 150%, and cash advance interest rate is 400% of the normal interest rate, etc, etc.). Verizon obviously ...more
By InnerBay (72), Southampton on May 26, 16 9:30 AM
Why do you compare a union workers pay to executive salary of a privately held company ?
By joe hampton (3461), Hamptons on May 26, 16 12:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
They like any other people's money don't you know that by now
By widow gavits (219), sag harbor on May 26, 16 5:14 PM
Sorry that was supposed to say counting other people's money
By widow gavits (219), sag harbor on May 26, 16 11:19 PM
"Thug Life" is defined as playing a triangle in the street.
Tupac Shakur himself was known to appear onstage and play a triangle.
He once appeared in court triangle in tow.
By Yamka (12), Southampton on May 27, 16 2:15 PM
1 member liked this comment