More than 400 Verizon workers lined up along the sidewalk outside of Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove Wednesday afternoon, wearing red sweaters, hoodies and coats, with signs hanging from their necks stating, “On Strike. Fighting Corporate Greed at Verizon Wireless.”
About 39,000 Verizon landline and cable workers on the East Coast walked off the job Wednesday morning after little progress in negotiations since their contract expired nearly eight months ago.
“It is a battle of us fighting for jobs and fighting for service for customers,” said Don Dunn, a Verizon outside field technician and president of Communications Workers of America Local 1108, based in Patchogue.
Dunn and other local union workers on strike were demonstrating just yards away from the Verizon Wireless store at Smith Haven Mall.
CWA Local 1108 represents 700 Verizon union workers, including operators and inside and outside field technicians, mostly in Suffolk County and some in Nassau County.
About 15 years ago, the local union had about 1,800 members, Dunn said. “We live here. We are the ones spending money at the malls, and mom-and-pop shops. If those jobs disappear, it takes that money away from Long Island.”
Verizon wants to freeze pension payments at the 30-year mark, be able to permanently transfer union workers to other states, and is asking for workers to contribute more toward health insurance premiums, he said. In 2011, Verizon union workers first started contributing toward their health insurance.
“It is about keeping what we already had,” he said. “And they are asking for concessions.”
Verizon spokesman Rich Young said the company was very disappointed that union leadership has called a strike. He said it has trained thousands of nonunion workers to fill in for striking workers and “we will be there for our customers.”
The telecom giant has said there are health care issues that need to be addressed for retirees and current workers because medical costs have grown and the company also wants “greater flexibility” to manage its workers.
Mark OBraitis, 53, of Manorville, a material systems technician who installs equipment at Verizon buildings, said at Smith Haven Mall that he has worked for the company for nearly 29 years.
“All we are trying to do is work for our families,” said OBraitis, who is married and has three children, including one in college. “We are not trying to get rich. We just want what is fair.”
Several state, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town politicians showed up to support the union workers on strike, including town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, who wants Verizon’s FiOS Internet and television services to be provided in the town.
“Not only do we want FiOS, but we want to make sure you have health benefits and pensions when you retire,” Romaine told the crowd from an impromptu stage.