By Mary Frost
CADMAN PLAZA PARK — Striking Verizon employees rallied in Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn Wednesday before marching over the Brooklyn Bridge to urge the Mayor’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) to postpone a scheduled vote on a $120 million, two-year contract with Verizon.
UPDATE: The Panel, in a vote Wednesday night, approved the deal 8 – 4.
UPDATE2: Verizon workers end strike on Saturday, though without new contract.
The contract would provide local telephone and high-speed internet services for 1,600 public schools. Christopher Calabrese, executive vice president of CWA 1109, told the Brooklyn Heights Press, “Today we’re walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to meet other locals as well as the Teacher’s Union to ask the mayor’s committee on education to cancel tonight’s vote.
“We want Verizon to get the contract,” he said. “But we want them to postpone the vote until this dispute is over.”
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said late Wednesday that the vote would proceed as planned. “We are proceeding with the Panel vote as scheduled. This contract provides phone and Internet services at significant cost savings to the City, which is why it is currently utilized by many City agencies, the City Comptroller, the Public Advocate, and the City Council. Voting on the contract will allow phone and Internet services for 1,600 schools to be provided, uninterrupted, at significant cost savings.”
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, however, urged the Department of Education (DOE) to postpone the vote.
In a statement, Markowitz said that Brooklyn’s representative to the education panel, Gbubemi Okotieuro, was instructed to make a motion to postpone any contract with Verizon until the labor dispute is resolved. If the vote proceeds, Okotieuro will vote “no” and encourage his colleagues to do the same.
The $120 million deal has also raised eyebrows because a consultant was arrested in April for stealing $3.6 million from the DOE, and Verizon was implicated in the fraud. City Comptroller John Liu also asked the city to postpone the vote.
‘A Fight for the Middle Class’
More 45,000 Verizon landline (and Fios) workers across the country have been on strike for about 11 days. The workers say the company has asked for nearly 100 concessions, including wage cuts and increased employee contributions to health care plans and pensions. The company has also proposed to freeze pensions for current employees and eliminate it for new hires.
“This strike is not just about Verizon,” Calabrese said. “It’s a fight for the middle class. Verizon is just one of several huge, very profitable companies trying to outsource jobs overseas — while they made $5 billion last year and received a $1.3 billion tax rebate. The middle class is saying enough is enough!”
According to Verizon, the landline business is slowing, though Verizon overall is booming. Verizon’s wireless division is non-unionized.
Verizon has claimed that union members have behaved inappropriately and sabotaged equipment during the strike.
“That’s just propaganda,” said Calabrese. “It’s a public relations battle. Their method is to fight back using the media. In one or two cases there were inappropriate acts, but they’re trying to paint the whole group this way.”