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Queens electeds back Verizon strikers in Forest Hills

Verizon workers on strike and picketing in Forest Hills last Thursday had several borough lawmakers supporting their cause.

The workers, who work in the neighborhood’s multilingual call center at 107-15 70th Road, had been on strike since midnight Aug. 6 along with 45,000 others along the East Coast, according to a union official.

“We would like to see [Verizon] go back to the bargaining table,” said Robert Shannon, vice president of the Communications Workers of America.

The union had been in bargaining talks since June 22, he said, in which Verizon has proposed axing several benefits and freezing employee pensions.

City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) spoke emphatically at the 70th Road rally.

“There is no better example of corporate greed than what is going on here,” he said, gesturing to the large, brick building behind him. “They forget who provides the services. They forget who does the work and who brings in the money.”

Dromm was referring to the billions in profits that Verizon pulls in per year. According to the telecommunications company’s website, in 2010 it earned $106.6 billion in revenue, with roughly $2.5 billion in profits, and was also listed 16th on the Fortune 500 list, which ranks large American corporations by revenue.

The company also employs 196,200 employees, and in 2010 paid $22 billion in compensation and benefits and about $3.6 billion in health care coverage costs for about 798,000 employees, retirees and family members, according to the corporation’s financial report.

A spokesman for Verizon said the new contract would address rising health care costs and would help the company service customers more efficiently. He also said the contract would not take anything the workers had already earned and would still give them one of the best benefits packages in the industry.

“We have proposed some adjustments to bring this contract up to date,” Ray McConville said.

In addition, the Forest Hills employees work in the landline side of the operation, and McConville said the wireless division is the one that brings in the majority of the company’s profits.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) also made an appearance at the strike.

“I wanted to demonstrate my support for what you are all fighting for,” he said. “That is for the opportunity to put food on your tables and the ability to have the opportunity to send your kids to college and to afford proper health care coverage.”

Crowley had also helped the workers in 2009, when they wanted to delay Verizon’s decision to move the call center from the Bronx to Forest Hills, which eventually  happened.

Roberto Perez, treasurer for the union, has worked for Verizon for 30 years and said the company should not trying to freeze pensions and make employees pay for health care while at the same time collecting huge profits.

“A company that makes billions with a ‘B’ refuses to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “Everybody came to this corporation hoping to retire and have a decent pension.”

The call center specializes in multilingual service, with operators speaking English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.

The company wants to farm out the jobs of the Forest Hills workers to other states like Florida and Texas, which have lower costs of living and less stringent labor laws, Shannon said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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