Verizon Workers and NYC Teachers Unite!

Although it looks like the Verizon strike may be coming to an end (though it is not yet over) and the outcome looks grim, thousands of workers have experienced their own power and the an outpouring of solidarity over the last two weeks—a feeling not easily forgotten. In what has been referred to as “the Wisconsin of the private sector,” last week saw one of the most dramatic moments of solidarity since the “cheesehead rebellion.” As the Panel for Education Policy in NYC, which has long been a site of protest by education activists, voted to renew a contract with Verizon, hundreds of Verizon workers, teachers and parents rallied outside and inside against the vote. Below are two reports and three videos from the protest.—AS

No Reception at the PEP Meeting
Source: Ed Vox
By Katie O’Hare
August 18, 2011

A crowd of disheartened and discouraged parents, teachers and striking Verizon members left tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting after the panel approved, by a vote of 8-4, the controversial $120 million Verizon contract.

Before the meeting, hundreds of parents, teachers, elected officials and union members gathered to speak out against the DOE proposed contract with Verizon. Speakers included Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, and representatives from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) – the union representing 45,000 striking Verizon workers across the country. The speakers made it clear they are a united front behind the striking Verizon workers and the children on New York City.

The contract, which covers phone service and data connectivity for all 1,600 schools and central DOE sites, is questionable not only because of the current labor dispute but also because Verizon was recently implicated in a $3.6 million fraud against the DOE. According to a the NYC Special Commissioner of Investigations (SCI) report, contractor Ross Lanham billed the DOE at exorbitant rates and paid his subcontractors a lower price. Verizon, one of Lanham’s major sub-contractors, was aware of the situation but “no one ever went to any official at the DOE to report Lanham’s activities”. The report concluded that “Lanham utilized Verizon personnel to deceive the DOE and Verizon profited from the deception.” How do we know this won’t happen again? Our students cannot afford to lose any resources because of corrupt contractors.

Verizon has not repaid the funds they received through this fraud. Furthermore, although the Verizon contract has been active since January, it was only recently available to PEP members to review – a common practice on the PEP. In state law, there is no allowance for retroactive contracts unless adopted on an emergency basis if the “chancellor determines that immediate adoption of any item requiring city board approval is necessary for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare”. This emergency procedure has not been followed for the Verizon contract.

Verizon has a rocky history not only with the DOE but also with its employees, 45,000 of whom have been on strike since August 7th. Verizon employees and union allies are protesting thousands of dollars of proposed concessions per worker, including freezing pensions and paying more for health plan premiums. Jolli Muhammad, a Verizon striking worker from CWA Local 1101 explained, “We are striking to maintain what we have our benefits and pensions…it’s our hands that do the work.” Verizon has asserted that the cuts are needed to make up for a shortfall in its first half revenue, which declined by 1.2% from last year to $20.4 billion. However, revenue of its wireless business has increased 10%, and the company reported $3 billion in profits in the first half of 2011.

This week, several elected officials submitted letters to the Chancellor asking for a postponement of the PEP vote so that the questions raised in the SCI report could be addressed before approving a new Verizon contract. A motion was made to postpone the vote but it was voted down. So despite the ongoing labor dispute, the fraud involvement and 20 other items of “significant adverse information”, the DOE deemed Verizon a responsible vendor and 8 mayoral appointees on the PEP voted to approve the contract, while the 4 borough appointees from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx dissented. The PEP has once again demonstrated that it serves as a rubber-stamp for the Mayor, but fails to serve the children of NYC.

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Last night’s PEP meeting on Verizon contract and its “Norma Rae” moment
Source: NYC Public School Parents
By Leonie Haimson
August 18, 2011

Last night’s meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy meeting was exhilarating, stirring, and depressing all at once. Over a thousand parents, teachers, and striking Verizon workers showed up for the pre-meeting rally, and hundreds more filled the auditorium afterwards at Murry Bergtraum HS, chanting, booing Walcott and the DOE, and speaking up passionately for the need for more caring education priorities, and against the $120 million Verizon contract, which will steal even more resources from our children and the company’s workers.

This contract had at least five strikes against it, each of which would have convinced any individual with a conscience to oppose it, but was nevertheless rubber-stamped by the mayoral appointees (known collectively as the Panel of Eight Puppets, though the chair, Tino Hernandez, was absent), with four borough reps all voting no.

This, at a time when our school budgets are being slashed to the bone for the fifth year in a row, and while spending on testing, technology, consultants, bureaucrats, and private contracts like this one are ballooning into the billions. The resulting cuts are forcing principals to raise class sizes to thirty (even in grades 2 & 3) teach classes themselves, and patrol the halls, as today’s Times article makes clear.

Here is some media coverage of the meeting from the Times, Daily News, Post, NY1. None of it really captures the intensity of the evening, though the NY1 video comes closest.

Two unmentioned yet electric moments: Patrick Sullivan, Manhattan rep to the PEP and blogger here, revealing that the Verizon contract actually releases the company from any legal obligation to fulfill their duties in case of a strike(!). Also, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens rep, who, in response to DOE counsel Michael Best droning on how Verizon has agreed to pay back any profits they inappropriately received through the fraudulent scheme masterminded by Ross Lanham, pointed out that the letter the company executives sent yesterday to the PEP contradicts this, as it claimed that they did nothing wrong. Dmytro called this “insulting,” and Walcott admitted that he did not “appreciate” the letter. (!!)

See below, for a “Norma Rae” moment, as Amy Muldoon, a passionate Verizon striker and mom, calls out the DOE for their contempt for workers, kids, and NYC taxpayers, while holding her baby in her arms.

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Video of the rally outside:

Great speech by The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman narrator Julie Cavanagh:

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