A group of about twenty union members and labor activists demonstrated in front of the Verizon store on 6th Avenue today, confusing downtown workers on their lunch breaks who were trying to buy a sandwich next door at Jimmy John's. The demonstrators were out to show solidarity with striking Verizon workers. The cheery demonstrators shouted slogans like, "We won't back down! Seattle is a union town!" and waved signs asking passersby to "HONK IF YOU SUPPORT KEEPING JOBS IN AMERICA."
Verizon's landline workers went on strike a few weeks ago in an attempt to prevent huge cuts to their benefits; Verizon wants to increase the amount that workers pay into their healthcare and pension plans. The Communications Workers of America, the union that represents the striking workers, says that the proposed benefit cuts would amount to $20,000 in lost benefits per worker every year.
"This is money that would go into the pockets of CEOs," said one of the organizers, Kamaria Hightower of the Young Emerging Labor Leaders of Washington. "Verizon doesn't need this money. They're trying to take advantage of people's fears of the current economic situation and ram through wage and benefit cuts."
I asked the organizers what outcome would constitute a win for labor. "We just want to get back to the bargaining table," said the CWA's Susie Macalester, before she accused Verizon of negotiating in bad faith: "They're not bargaining. They drew a line in the sand and aren't willing do budge. They haven't been willing to make concessions. We're just trying to protect the benefits we already have."
The protest was unusual because, apart from Macalester and a few other CWA workers, most of the demonstrators weren't on strike themselves. The King County Labor Council, a local labor umbrella group, organized and promoted the demonstration as part of a coordinated statewide effort to raise awareness of the CWA strike.
"We're here to show support for America's working families," said Max Brown, the KCLC's spokesman. "Labor groups up and down Washington are out showing support for our brothers and sisters on the East Coast."
The strikes have been marked by the unions' sharp rhetoric and Verizon's mudslinging tactics. The communications giant has accused striking employees of sabotaging company property in order to disrupt service.