An Open Letter to Verizon Wireless Customers: Don’t Cross the Picket Line

Verizon employees on strike in Silver Spring, Md.

If you live in the northeast, you’ve probably heard about the 39,000 men and women who walked off their jobs at Verizon and Verizon Wireless more than three weeks ago. While you may not have directly felt the impact of the strike yet, Isaac Collazo definitely has. The field technician has worked for Verizon for 19 years in New York. When asked how he can afford to go on strike and still support his three kids, he says “I can’t.” He adds, “It’s because of my boys that I have no choice but to strike.” After months of failed negotiations, the strike is the only way for the working people at Verizon to be heard by company executives.

For the rest of us, the question is whether we’re listening too.

Isaac Collazo, a Verizon field technician who is on strike in New York, and his sons.

Verizon doesn’t believe that people who work for a living ought to earn a living, and that’s why Isaac is risking his livelihood to stand up to corporate greed. Isaac and his co-workers want you to know that — no matter where you live — you can still play an important role in their struggle: please, don’t cross the picket line. In other words, whether you’re a current customer or not, don’t go into a Verizon Wireless store during the strike.

Why is respecting a picket line so important? Here are just a few reasons:

Working people strike not just for themselves but for others in similar positions.

No one wants to go on strike. It puts an immense amount of financial stress on striking employees and their families. Just this past week, Verizon ended health-care coverage for the strikers, and they haven’t received a paycheck since walking out on April 13.

But Isaac and the 39,000 people on strike at Verizon are making a sacrifice because they know how much is at stake, both for their families and for the future of Americans having the means to set working standards that let us spend time with our families while earning enough to support them. The telecommunications industry is one of the few places left where a 40-hour workweek still allows someone without a college degree to support his or her family. But if companies like Verizon get their way, it will become harder for Americans — including your friends and family — to achieve a fair return on their work. The working people at Verizon are holding the line for all of us. It’s an uphill battle, and they need to know you have their backs. This is our moment to stand with them.

The point of a union is that we’re stronger together. Employees on strike can make a stronger case to their employers with your support.

When Indiana passed its discriminatory and inappropriately named “religious freedom” law, politicians, musicians and other people with influence decided to use their position to discourage business and travel in the state, effectively creating a virtual picket line around Indiana’s borders until elected officials agreed to change the law. The same thing is happening now with North Carolina in response to that state’s move to discriminate against transgender people. Picket lines can and should have the same effect — with people coming together to say there will be financial consequences if a company stands on the wrong side of working people.

When consumers refuse to cross a picket line, it has real financial consequences for companies.

Strikes don’t just have financial costs for the men and women on the picket line. They can also have a very real impact on employers. And if that impact is bigger than the costs of what working people are negotiating for, they’ll often concede. By honoring a picket line, you’re keeping your wallet closed while making your voice heard loud and clear and putting even more pressure on the company to return to the table and negotiate fairly.

If you’re there for them, they’ll be there for you.

This is perhaps the single most important reason to respect a picket line. There is a moment for each of us when we need help — when a family member is sick, when our car breaks down or when we lose a job. And, in turn, there’s a moment when we can pay back our friends and neighbors, by offering our support. Our communities are built on this trust, on having each other’s backs. When someone is on strike, the very best way to show your support is to honor the picket line they’re out walking every day.

Just as we are all consumers in the global economy, we also have to work for a living. And while Verizon employees like Isaac are taking a big risk by going on strike to fight for an economy that works for all, the rest of us get to benefit from their bravery without taking any risks ourselves.

Honoring their picket lines and the call to stay out of Verizon Wireless stores during the duration of the strike is the least we can do in return.

Even at stores where there isn’t a physical picket line, there is a moral line. I hope you’ll be on the right side of it.

Sarita Gupta is the executive director of Jobs With Justice and co-director of Caring Across Generations.

You can stand with working people at Verizon by pledging to not cross their picket line, or better yet, join them at Verizon pickets across the country.

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