CORTLANDT, N.Y. – The Communications Workers of America arrived in Cortlandt Monday night after starting on foot that morning from Wappingers Falls. The CWA began the walk from Albany, and is marching 160 miles south to join "Occupy Wall Street" protestors. CWA is protesting proposed pension and health care cuts by their employer, Verizon.
Jake Lake, vice president of a Binghamton Local CWA Chapter, said “Will power" is how he and about a dozen other workers have managed to march 20 miles a day, arriving at Cortlandt’s Verizon garage at 5 p.m. Monday to protest. They had marched 100 miles total by the time they arrived in Cortlandt.
“I haven’t done anything special, you just set little goals, get to the next rally, get to lunch, get to the next rally. It’s become easier as the days have gone on,” said Lake, who is a lineman with Verizon, and has been with the company 11 years.
Verizon earned $106.6 billion in annual revenue in 2010, ranks 16 among fortune 500 companies, and paid out $22 billion in annual compensation and benefits. The company also counts its wireless branch as the largest and most profitable in the industry.
Lake said that huge profits are one reason he and fellow CWA workers from around New York State decided to march to New York City to join “Occupy Wall Street” protestors.
“I think the corporate greed is a big one, and just being part of that 99 percent. We’re at a tipping point in America, where it could go either way. If people don’t stand up and fight for fairness and equality, it seems to me the rich are going to get richer and the poor are going to get poorer, and the only people that make out are the rich,” said Lake. “I think the ‘occupy’ people share a similar view. So I can relate to that 99 percent.”
A CWA spokesman said that some of the specific changes that Verizon has presented to them include a proposed additional contribution of $3,000 to $6,000 in annual health care costs, pension fund limits, and no pensions for new employees.
Bob Master, political director for the CWA’s northeastern District 1, said, “The company made $22.5 billion in the last four years, and they paid their top five executive $258 million. Their executives are not in the top one percent, they’re in the top one-10th percent. But they’re saying to us, you don’t deserve a pension.”
Vicki Cianfaglione is a local Cortlandt CWA member who splices fiberoptic cables for a living. She said her mother was a communications worker and a union member also. She called the new contract offered by Verizon "despicable."
"It's ridiculous to try to wipe away so many years of progress," she said, adding that the union members had chosen to join the "occupy" movement because they shared the same values. "Basically, they're standing against corporate greed. We need to stand unified."
Representatives from Verizon were not immediately available for comment.