By Dave Johnson
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of corporate greed than Verizon, a company making billions and tripling its CEO’s pay while demanding givebacks from its workers. Today the 99% Spring movement let Verizon know that 99% of us are trying to bring big corporations back under democracy’s control. Today’s Verizon shareholder meeting in Huntsville, Alabama was disrupted six separate times by members of the 99% Power coalition, part of the 99% Spring movement.
The People Fight Back
The Verizon shareholder meeting comes as the company is in negotiations with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). The highly-profitable company — the 16th largest corporation in America — is asking its workers for givebacks amounting to as much as $20,000 each, while tripling the compensation of CEO Lowell McAdam from $7.2 million to $23.1 million. The company made $22.5 billion in profits over the past four years while paying its top five executives $283 million over that period. Because of this the company has earned the nickname “Verigreedy.”
After today’s meeting was opened by McAdam, and as he was introducing Verizon’s Board of Directors, a group of people stood up with one shouting “Mic Check” three times. Then the leader continued, with the rest of the group repeating, “Verizon wants to … slash worker benefits … 20,000 dollars … per worker … per year! … We say … SHAME on you! … Meanwhile … Verizon CEO … Lowell McAdam … got a … 220% raise … up to 23 million dollars … Shame Shame Shame on you …” The last line was repeated as the group was led out of the meeting by security, with many in the audience applauding them. There were no arrests.
After several minutes another group disrupted the meeting, and was led out by security as many in attendance applauded and chanted with them. Then the same sequence again, and again, for a total of 6 times.
Rally Says “We Dare”
At a rain-soaked rally before the shareholder meeting Al Henley, President of the Alabama AFL-CIO demanded that Verizon be a better corporate citizen. “Verizon is on the run from their own workers, and thought that by taking the meeting to Alabama, a “right-to-work” state, but they misjudged our sense of solidarity here in the South.”
Also at the rally, Ron Collins, CWA Chief of Staff, said, “Enough of the attacks on idle-class jobs while paying executives obscene salaraies and dodging taxes.”
Scott Douglas, Executive Director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries, said, “We may be down South, but we are not offshore. Today we say with new meaning the Alabama state motto, we dare defend our rights. … Now more than ever, it is important for people of conscience to join together to recognize our common struggle against injustice and to fight back united.”
Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice said, “Verizon’s CEO makes $23 million per year. That’s over 600 times more than an average frontline worker makes. This is fundamentally an issue of fairness.”
Patrick Welsh, a Verizon retiree, talked about the promises made that if you work hard, follow the rules and pay your taxes then you’ll have a good retirement, and Verizon has broken that promise.
Also speaking were Jasmine Salas of the Student Labor Action Project and Jennifer Travis, a worker fired by Verizon.
People arrived at the rally in 12 buses and several vans from Florida, New Orleans, Mississippi, Birmingham, Knoxville, Atlanta, Nashville, Columbia, Chattanooga, and other cities throughout the region. They represented several groups, including CWA, Jobs with Justice, Occupy Huntsville, Occupy Birmingham and the Student Labor Action Project. Students from Orlando and Tallahassee took a 14 hour bus trip and slept in the local Plumbers Union hall.
There were also rallies supporting Verizon workers in 15 cities including Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Boston, Portland, Miami and Orlando.
Charity in Lieu of Taxes
In a PR move before the meeting Verizon yesterday donated $100K to the Alabama Governor’s office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the United Way of Alabama, for disaster relief to help recovery from tornados that occurred just over a year ago. (This brings their total disaster-assistance giving to $400K) Gov. Robert Bentley said these funds are important because “government dollars aren’t available.” The Governor could have added, “Because Verizon doesn’t pay taxes.”
Signs, Moving Billboard and Cow Helps
Burma Shave-style signs with poems, all ending with, “Verizon is Verigreedy” appeared around town overnight on roadsides and elsewhere, placed by “a team of elves.” Large signs condemning Verizon’s greed were placed in strategic locations around the meeting site. Also, a large moving billboard vehicle, reading, “Verizon Is Verigreedy” was circling the location of the shareholder meeting.
In other, unrelated news, a cow got loose in the middle of the night, keeping police occupied, which had nothing to do with the rest of this. Meanwhile, Huntsville’s fried catfish and hush puppies are worth the trip, even though you can’t really tell the air from the rain because of the humidity, and it’s only the beginning of May.
Verizon is outsourcing U.S. jobs, cutting worker pensions and gutting them for new hires, charging current and retired employees thousands of dollars more for health benefits, and cutting disability coverage. This is how the middle class in the U.S. is being hollowed out. Pushback began last year with Occupy, and has now been expanded by the 99% Spring movement. People are finally fighting back.Φ
Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California. Recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the U.S.