Support for Striking Verizon Workers Spreads from Coast to Coast

Labor’s battle with Verizon Communications Inc. has spread to the West Coast as 45,000 striking telephone workers in the Northeast rally support nationwide for middle-class jobs.

The strike erupted Aug. 7 after contract talks broke down between the New York-based Verizon East telecommunications giant and about 35,000 members of the Communications Workers of America and 10,000 members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The dispute centers on concession demands that would gut benefits, eliminate job security and wind up costing the average Verizon East worker $20,000 a year, despite company profits from continuing operations estimated at $13.9 billion for 2010, up 16 percent from 2007.

About 5,000 West Coast telephone workers in CWA District 9, based in Sacramento, remain on the job, working under contract with Verizon West for another 18 months. But the strike includes a small unit of Verizon Wireless workers in New York, and has quickly spread to encompass the company’s Verizon Wireless operations nationwide, which remain nonunion outside the Northeast.

That's why rowdy pickets of CWA members and their allies have been showing up daily at Verizon Wireless retail outlets. Members of the San Francisco Labor Council staged one of the biggest Bay Area rallies Wednesday, including members of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, NABET and other CWA units as well as other labor allies. (Scroll down to see video from last week's picket in Oakland.)

The Guild plans to repeat the lunchtime rallies at least weekly – every Wednesday at noon at the Market and Fourth streets location – until the dispute is resolved. Similar actions are being held nearly every day at Verizon Wireless locations throughout the Bay Area. A schedule of ongoing events is being assembled and will be announced soon.

Union organizers view the solidarity movement with the Verizon East workers as a proving ground for national rebellion against Wisconsin-style assaults on worker rights. Public reaction has been overwhelmingly positive to the roving pickets. And anti-labor propaganda sounds increasingly out of step with polling data showing resentment at corporate profiteering in the midst of recession.

Even President Obama was starting to sound angry during his recent Midwest motorcade stops. Clearly, the mood is shifting as labor makes its case on the streets.