Hundreds of striking Verizon workers held a candlelight vigil outside their CEO's mansion Thursday, hoping to draw a stark contrast between the contract demands of blue-collar workers and the quality of life enjoyed by the company's executives.
Wearing red shirts, singing union songs and chanting "What's disgusting? Union busting," union members lit candles outside Lowell McAdam's home as the sun set on Mendham.
"It makes me sick that Americans have to come out and do this," said Joe Mastrogiovanni, a 29-year-old cable repairman from Piscataway. "We're not asking for more; we're asking to keep what we have."
About 45,000 Verizon landline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia have been striking since Aug. 7, fighting management demands for contract givebacks. About 7,000 of those workers are in New Jersey, and some of them were bused Thursday to the wealthy, suburban town where their top executive owns a home, intending to underscore that their benefits should not be cut while the company takes in billions in revenue.
At issue is Verizon's declining landline business in an era of mobile phones. The New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. says it wants to change benefits that date from a time when the telecommunications marketplace was less competitive and landlines were ubiquitous.
The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have been fighting Verizon's call for a pension freeze and for contributions to health insurance premiums, among other things. The company has obtained court injunctions limiting picketing in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, but Verizon has said that hundreds of acts of sabotage have been carried out since the strike began.
"No contract, no peace" was one of the chants heard outside the CEO's home, but union leaders have publicly denounced acts of sabotage or violations of the law. And police said the vigil was peaceful and without incident.
Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said the workers would be better served if their union leaders would focus on good-faith bargaining to end the strike.
"Union bosses surely can find more constructive things for their membership to do than waste taxpayer dollars, public safety resources and their membership's time with these cheap theatrics," Gierczynski said.
The community of Mendham is also home to Gov. Chris Christie, who was at the center of another round of CWA protests in June over his push to curb collective bargaining rights for public workers and raise their contributions for pension and health benefits. Thousands of members of CWA, teachers unions and other groups protested for weeks outside the Statehouse.
But Hetty Rosenstein, the CWA's New Jersey director, said this dispute was different because in the public workers fight, union members knew the state's entitlement system was underfunded and at risk.
"This has nothing to do with the pension system being in trouble, the company being in trouble," Rosenstein said. "This is pure greed."