On Friday morning in City Council chambers, New York loomed large.
“We do not want this to happen in Philadelphia,” said Councilman Bobby Henon, holding up what appeared to be a copy of the New York audit and shaking it in front of the Verizon executives who had taken the stand.
As Henon spoke, Council chambers shook with enormous applause from the Verizon workers who filled the room that morning. The workers, members of Communications Workers of America Local 13000, have been part of a nationwide strike since April 13 and are now a crucial part of a tangled dispute between the city and Verizon. (Henon, the former political director of the powerful International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98, was endorsed by CWA in 2011.)
The matter at hand: As per its 2009 franchise agreement with the city, Verizon promised that, barring a few exceptions, it would complete a citywide fiber buildout by late February 2016 and provide all city residents access to its FiOS service. City Council wants to know if Verizon has made good on its promise. (Remember what city officials say happened in New York.)
That’s where the striking workers come in: Verizon said there have been delays in providing the relevant data to the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology because it doesn’t have a workforce right now.
Dressed in red and white T-shirts and baseball caps, the workers booed Verizon execs, sometimes drowning out their words, and applauded every time the strike was brought up.
Why should you care about all this?
Bryan Mercer, executive director of the Media Mobilizing Project, said it’s a matter of choice.
“There’s been a big impact on people on whether or not they have a choice between service,” he said.
If Verizon doesn’t complete a citywide buildout, consumers only have one choice for internet: Comcast. (Comcast and the city completed franchise negotiations last winter.)
Verizon disputes claims that it hasn’t delivered on its 2009 promise.
“Any claims made at the hearing that we haven’t completed our obligations of our franchise agreement are untrue,” said Verizon spokesman John O’Malley.
On the other hand, Jim Gardler, president of CWA Local 13000, said that Verizon had failed to complete a full buildout because it has been cutting its staff since 2009. The ongoing labor dispute centers around concerns that Verizon plans to outsource jobs and assign workers to months-long projects away from home.
“This is just one more way for the City and the public to see how Verizon not only treats its employees and what we’re dealing with at the bargaining table but how they treat their customers,” Gardler said.