Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), labor community, and clergy held a candlelight vigil in support of the CWA’s strike against Verizon Friday night in West Nyack.
The vigil, which started at Birchwood School and made its way to Verizon Chairman Ivan Seidenberg’s house a few blocks away, lasted for almost two hours.
“It’s important because Ivan Seidenberg, who was the CEO of Verizon, now the Chairman of Verizon, lives down the road,” said Chris Shelton, the vice president for the CWA’s District One, which covers the states of the northeast. “He’s one of the people that has decided to put 100 demands on the table, trying to get back everything that we’ve bargained over the last 50 years.”
The vigil started when an SUV pulled up with a casket on the roof. According to Mike Salvia, the president of Local 1120 in Poughkeepsie, the casket represented the death of the middle class. Eric Goodwin, the vice president of CWA 1107, said the CWA had initially planned a garden party, but ultimately opted for a candlelight vigil, illuminating the disappearance of the middle class.
“I think the turnout was great,” he said. “Middle-class America needs to wake up and realize it’s not just unions that are fighting this fight, it’s all middle-class Americans fighting against corporate greed. The last time that one percent of the American population controlled 20 percent of the money, we were in the Depression. And that’s exactly where we’re headed now.”
The crowd lit their candles before starting their procession toward Seidenberg’s residence. Along the way, supporters started chants of “God bless the CWA; save the middle class,” and displayed signs.
“This vigil is important to get the public to understand that we’re trying to save the middle class,” said Frank Bevilacqua, the Chief Steward at 999 Nepperhan Avenue in Yonkers for the CWA, as well as one of vocal leaders of the event. “This is about saving American jobs. This is about not sending jobs overseas. This is about fair bargaining and a fair contract. We only want what’s fair for us.”
When they arrived at their destination, they placed the casket down on the street, stood outside Seidenberg’s house for approximately 30 minutes, and chanted “God bless all unions; save the middle class.” After CWA leaders spoke to the crowd about the importance of the vigil, the casket was picked up and walked back to the school parking lot, where the crowd reconvened before leaving.
The estimated turnout of the event dwarfed the pre-start expectation of 500-800 people. A number of supporters needed to bypass the school, circle around, and find parking elsewhere.
“I think the turnout is absolutely amazing,” Shelton said. “On short notice, we turned out- the cops are telling us about 3,100 people, from not only our union, but other unions and other neighborhood organizations. It was a very controlled crowd. They didn’t cause any trouble.”
Other groups made their way to West Nyack to support the CWA’s cause. Members of the Local 32 BJ SEIU expected 20 members to show. Members David DeSisto, Mike Sugrue, and Ray Osborne arrived almost an hour before the vigil began.
“It’s important for us to support the Verizon workers because it’s actually an attack on the middle class,” DeSisto said. “Verizon loses and has to give back all their kickbacks and everything, it’s going to be a catastrophic effect all the way down on the middle class.”
“Fire, police- everybody,” Osborne said.
Sugrue echoed those sentiments.
“We live in New York; we don’t live in Wisconsin,” he said. “We don’t want to have what happened in Wisconsin happen in New York. If we don’t support these people, our standards of living are going to go down, their standards of living. Our families will suffer. It’s not a good thing.”
Some on-lookers took pictures of the vigil or watched from their driveways. Bob Sanborn, who was not part of the vigil, sat on a bicycle in his driveway and looked on while the vigil passed his house.
“I understand they probably don’t want to lose any of their income,” he said. “My business is taking a big hit right now; a lot of people don’t want to spend money. So I’m basically working for free for the last two years. And I’m not walking the streets right now protesting. Everybody needs to take a little hit.”
As of the start of the vigil, there had not been an update in contract talks.
“The last status update that I had is that the company, after a month and a half of the draconian demands, they’ve finally taken one demand off the table,” Silvia said. “Unfortunately, that was the demand, which would have given us at least some sort of a pay-raise.”