Pittsfield City Council backs striking Verizon workers


PITTSFIELD — The City Council has taken a unanimous stand in favor of striking Verizon workers and against "greedy corporations" that outsource jobs to overseas locations.

About two dozen members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers attended the council meeting Tuesday to hear debate on a proposed resolution in favor of the strikers submitted by council Vice President John Krol and Councilor at large Peter White.

"Many of us have seen our friends and neighbors picketing," Krol said, referring to members of Verizon unions striking over stalled contract talks. IBEW members, and those represented by the Communications Workers of America, say the communications giant is seeking leeway to send more call center jobs out of the country and to reduce current benefits for remaining American employees.

"This is just one piece of a bigger picture," Krol said, also involving international trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade proposal, which the council earlier voted to oppose. He said the trends involve "corporate American culture degrading the middle class," and by extension, weakening the city's middle class taxpayer base as it faces increasingly tight budgets.

White said the picketers, who have lost their health insurance during the 42-day strike, "are taking a stand that many of us might not" and should be supported. "We need to stand up if we are going to keep these jobs here in Pittsfield, here in Berkshire County, and here in the United States," he said.

Christine Casino, treasurer of Local 2324 of the IBEW, told councilors that the strike "is not about wages," but is over company plans to outsource additional jobs to call centers in the Philippines, Mexico or elsewhere and to reduce current benefits for American employees. "This is about keeping middle class jobs," she said.

The union official also said strikers have lost their health insurance and are struggling during the work stoppage. She appealed for help with a food bank for workers and families being set up by the union.

Shortly following the walkout, company issued a statement, stating in part, "Despite Verizon's goodfaith efforts to get to new labor contracts, CWA and IBEW leaders, unwilling to make an agreement or even seek the assistance of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, have called a strike."

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez recently called for renewed talks with a federal mediator, and those reportedly are still in progress, while both sides have agreed not to comment on the negotiations.

Sticking points in the talks include job relocations, offshoring call-center jobs, pensions and healthcare coverage.

In the Northeast, about 39,000 employees are on strike. Pittsfield has now joined more than a dozen communities in the region expressing support for the unions.

Casino also said Tuesday that replacement workers recently hired by Verizon to maintain company infrastructure have created public safety concerns — including a utility pole on West Housatonic Street that was shattered and left hanging after an accident and had yet to be replaced after 11 days.

Speaking shortly after the council voted 11-0 to support the support resolution, Casino said about 95 employees, including about 45 technician workers in the CWA, are involved in the strike in Berkshire County.

Also speaking in support of the union members was Sheila Irvin, chairwoman of the city Community Development Board and long active in the Pittsfield teachers union; Elizabeth Recko-Morrison, Berkshire Community College campus director of the Massachusetts Community College Council, the faculty union, and her husband, Brian Morrison, president of the Berkshire Central Labor Council.

Verizon is "a highly profitable" company, Irvin said, in part on prospering "the backs of its workers," and "has neglected services and infrastructure" in this area and elsewhere.

"Solid middle class citizens need to show support," Elizabeth Recko-Morrison said.

Brian Morrison said, "This is a perfect example of corporate America outsourcing jobs."

Councilor Donna Todd Rivers stressed that the strike is "not for wage increases" but to protect middle class jobs in the U.S.

Councilor Nicholas Caccamo described the union members as "a group of people standing up to greedy corporations," which he noted has become a national issue during the presidential campaign.

"We really need to send a strong message to corporate America," and to elected leaders in Boston and Washington, said Councilor Kathleen Amuso.

The walkout began in mid-April in nine states in the region, including Massachusetts. In Pittsfield, workers have been picketing a Verizon facility at Federal Street and Wendell Avenue Extension, near City Hall.

The local union food pantry, set up by the Berkshire Central Labor Council, is located at the IUE/CWA Local 255 Kennedy Hall, 789 Tyler St. Non-perishable food donations are being sought from union members and the community.

Also on Tuesday, the council formally accepted a $20,086 gift from Haddad Dealerships of the Berkshires for the Pittsfield Community Connection program for teens at risk of gangs or violence, and tabled until June 14 a request from Councilors Lisa Tully and Amuso for a presentation from officials planning the Berkshire Innovation Center, which is stalled over a funding gap for the project planned at the William Stanley Business Park.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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