By David Cruz
Nothing attracts the elected class quite like a large union rally, and today’s massive rally outside the State House, featuring Verizon union workers and union members from around the state attracted state and federal lawmakers, almost all Democrats, in a boisterous show of support. Almost a thousand union workers and their supporters crowded the sidewalk and street in front of the State House, blasting Verizon and rallying their allies.
“In a few minutes you’re going to hear from some of our political leaders, and I want you to take notice who’s here today and who’s standing with you because in a few short months we need to stand with them,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the NJ AFL-CIO.
But how much impact can all the elected officials here today have on the outcome of this strike?
“I think actually a lot because Verizon relies upon them for these massive tax breaks and for deregulation,” noted Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey director of the Communications Workers of America.
Outsourcing of call centers and pay and health care costs are at the center of the 2-week-old strike. Verizon says it’s an international company and it needs call centers around the world, while workers say the multi-billion dollar company is just trying to break the union by operating centers in the Philippines, India and Mexico.
“If you believe in America, you don’t send jobs overseas and try to undermine American workers; that is wrong,” shouted Congressman Frank Pallone. “Don’t fly that American flag and don’t say that you care about America, if that’s what you’re doing.”
“I would like to think that collectively, if we really wanted to, we could have an impact,” said Sen. Ron Rice. “I’m always ready; my concern is always those who get elected with me on anything I do. I’m going to always stand for people and working people, and if we’re wrong, we’re wrong and we have to admit that, but this time, we’re right.”
CWA Staff Representative Seth Hahn said Verizon has done well under the Christie administration. “When they wanted their cable franchise act, they got it; when they wanted deregulation, they got it,” he said. “When they wanted out of their responsibility to build fiber optic, they got it. Well, guess what? We’re telling them, that until they treat their workers right, we are here to shut it down!”
Verizon was unimpressed with today’s turnout.
“Contract agreements are negotiated at the bargaining table, not on the steps of the State House in Trenton,” read a statement from the company. “Rallies like we’ve seen today do nothing to make that happen.”
There is a lot of enthusiasm here; workers have been chanting one day longer, one day stronger but they will need all the strength they have because after two weeks no talks have been scheduled.