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Verizon workers arrive at the shareholders meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Thursday. (Photo: @OccupyWallStreetNYC/flickr/cc)

Verizon Strike Surges as Workers Demand Right to 'Make a Decent Living'

Arrests in Albuquerque as protesters converge on Verizon shareholder meeting to deliver petition asking for reforms to corporate governance

Nadia Prupis

Hundreds of protests took place around the country on Thursday as the Verizon strike entered its fourth week, with workers in Albuquerque, New Mexico converging outside the annual shareholder meeting to fight for reforms of the company's labor policies.

Striking employees say the company and CEO Lowell McAdams are refusing to pay them livable wages and have made no effort to stop offshoring and outsourcing jobs—shortchanging not just the workers, but the customers who are losing out on service because of the strike.

"Verizon's CEO makes 243 times more than the average worker, while customers in towns up and down the East Coast can't get the quality service the company promised them," said Richard Hesterhagen, a Verizon employee and shareholder who is participating in the work stoppage. "Striking workers aren't just fighting to protect good middle-class jobs, we're fighting for a better Verizon that invests in communities."

According to a press statement, worker-shareholders say they will vote in favor of proposals—crafted by unions including the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and endorsed by investors like CalPERS—that seek to improve the company's policies and increase accountability for its governance. That includes ensuring that severance agreements be subject to shareholder approval.

Fifteen people were arrested on Thursday outside of the meeting in Albuquerque, as the protesters unveiled a 70-foot banner reading, "Verizon: Good Jobs, No Greed" across Rio Grande Boulevard and laid down to block traffic. Others entered the meeting to deliver more than 300,000 petitions calling for reforms.

Protests also took place in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, Kansas City, Wichita, Oklahoma City, Austin, Dallas, Indianapolis, Nashville, Knoxville, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

"As long as corporate executives put short-term profits ahead of the workers who make those profits possible and the communities they promised to serve, the calls for a change of course at Verizon will only grow stronger," said one protester, Bianca Cunningham, a former Verizon worker who was allegedly fired for helping other employees unionize. "Verizon workers aren't asking for the $18 million...McAdams received in compensation last year. They're just fighting to keep their jobs and to make a decent living and support their families."

The strike also garnered support from organizations like the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank on labor issues. The group wrote an open letter to McAdams on Thursday expressing its solidarity with striking workers and stating:

Despite making $39 billion in profits over the last three years and paying an effective tax rate of negative 2.5 percent from 2008 to 2013, Verizon—a wealthy multinational corporation—has been looking for ways to further enrich its executives and stockholders at the expense of its workers.

[....] At a time when CEOs are paid 300 times more than the typical worker, it is unreasonable that Verizon is attempting to slash the job and retirement security of its East Coast workers.

"I'm going to Albuquerque to look Lowell McAdams in the eye and tell him how his choice to put short-term profits and executive payouts over the good of the company and its workforce is endangering my family and the families of my coworkers," said Don Dunn, a Verizon field technician of 21 years and president of the Local 1108 union in upstate New York.

Thursday's protests, advocates say, are part of a growing demand for workers' rights and an end to the corporate stranglehold on the global economy.

"Verizon strikers are fighting for the future of every American striving to make a decent living," said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, one of the organizations coordinating the action. "If companies like Verizon keep funneling all their profits into executive payouts while sending good jobs offshore, it will become harder for the rest of us to earn a fair return on our work."

Mike Watson, a Verizon employee and shareholder from Delaware who took part in the Albuquerque action, added, "What we’re seeing today and throughout the month of April is a mass-movement of workers, shareholders, and consumers telling Verizon's leadership that good jobs for working families are more important than golden parachutes for corporate executives. It's time for Verizon to come to the negotiating table in good faith, end this strike, and invest in the quality workforce and services that will set this company on a sustainable path."

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