OWS Protesters Join Verizon Workers in March Against Corporate Greed

Verizon delivered excellent news to its shareholders on Friday: Third-quarter earnings rose to US$1.38 billion from $659 million a year earlier. A jump in subscribers — it signed on 882,000 new wireless customers for the quarter — and smartphone sales led to the doubling in profits.

Another group looked on with interest as Verizon unveiled its earnings: its many disgruntled workers.

Some 1,000 of them were expected to march on Friday in a sideshow to the Occupy Wall Street protest. By the time it began, however, the number of marchers was an estimated 2,000, according to Bob Master, a political director for the Communications Workers of America. Master participated in the event, which was organized by the CWA.

Hundreds of OWS protesters joined the Verizon group when the march began at the company’s headquarters, Master told the E-Commerce Times, with more swelling their ranks as it proceeded, circling Zuccotti Park and ending at a Verizon Wireless store on Broad Street.

The march went very smoothly. There was a “very heavy police presence,” noted Master, but there were no disruptive incidents of any kind.

The march’s purpose was to call attention to the Verizon workers’ grievances against the company. “Verizon and Verizon Wireless are emblematic of all the issues of corporate greed and unfairness that have been at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street message for the last five weeks,” said Master. “Our members are at the front line of the fight against corporate greed.”

A Short-Lived Strike

Verizon and its workers have been at odds over several issues, including their contributions to pensions and healthcare plans. This summer, 45,000 union workers went on strike after failing to reach agreement with the company.

Three weeks later, the workers returned to Verizon. Though they did not have a new contract, the union believed progress had been made in defining the contours of the debate.

By joining their cause with Occupy Wall Street, the workers hope to kick up some public support for their positions as negotiations proceed.

The march is “misdirected outreach,” according to Verizon.

“We hope the Occupy group stays clear of the union’s labor campaign that is only trying to spread inaccurate, disparaging and misleading information,” Verizon spokesperson Rich Young said in a statement provided to the E-Commerce Times.

“I’m sure that Occupy Wall Street is very anxious for the advice of the five verizon executives who made $258 million over the last four years on the direction their movement should take,” retorted Master in response to the Verizon comment.

OWS’ Wagon

Verizon does have reason to worry. Occupy Wall Street has captured the imaginations of many, and media interest is high. The movement has spread to major cities around the world.

Any cause that succeeds in linking itself to OWS’ wagon gains a ready-made audience. Even with its aggressive marketing and PR department, Verizon could find itself hard-pressed to put a favorable spin on such a turn of events.

That, however, appears to be the worst-case and least-likely scenario, according to Arthur “Jerry” Kremer, chairman of Empire Government Strategies.

“My gut tells me that this march is not going to help them except maybe get some temporary support,” he told the E-Commerce Times. Kremer is a former New York state assemblyman who chaired the Ways and Means Committee for several years.

“There is so much going on the New York city area that this story just won’t have any legs,” he added.

Going back to work without a contract may have been a tactical error, he suggested. “There are plenty of instances of labor disagreements being settled after people have gone back to work, yes, but generally the workers lose their leverage when they do so.”

Chris Rhomberg, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Fordham University, was a bit more optimistic about the Verizon workers’ prospects.

“I wouldn’t say going back to work was a bad move — they were able to get some movement from the Verizon side before they returned,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “What they are trying to do now is bring the public spotlight back to their cause. This could keep the pressure on Verizon to come back to the negotiating table with a decent offer.”

The workers are going to continue to mobilize, said Master. They plan to leaflet at Verizon Wireless and Apple Stores, asking people not to upgrade to the just-released iPhone 4S until Verizon stops downgrading workers’ benefits.

They’re also planning to organize more rallies, he said, and “if necessary, another strike.”

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