Is the NYPD running a scab escort service?

May 10, 2016

Lena Weinstein and Danny Katch report that cops in Queens decided to "protect and serve" Verizon scabs by driving them through a picket--literally--outside their hotel.

A MONDAY morning protest by striking Verizon workers to give an early "wake-up call" to scabs at their Queens hotel ended with a police hit-and-run on a picketer--and hundreds of workers angered that police had turned themselves into taxpayer-funded chauffeurs for a powerful corporation.

Verizon, which has posted profits of $39 billion over the past three years, provoked a strike with its 39,000 workers in the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) by demanding that workers accept the elimination of job security and forced two-month transfers to other states.

Since the strike began on April 13, the company has run an extensive scab operation, with out-of-state independent contractors attempting--and often painfully failing--to do the work of union technicians, electricians and customer service workers.

One of the most effective tactics for striking workers has been to confront the scabs--both on the job and in their hotels. Not wanting to deal with the disruptions of angry picketers, more than a dozen New York City hotels have kicked out their scab guests, and a number of chains have announced they won't accept scabs at any of their hotels.

A Verizon striker, injured by a New York City police officer driving a scab truck, is taken to the hospital
A Verizon striker, injured by a New York City police officer driving a scab truck, is taken to the hospital

But when several hundred members of CWA Local 1106 and 1109 gathered on May 9 outside the City View Inn, they found an NYPD determined help Verizon scabs steal union members' jobs.

After a several-hour-long standoff--which included scabs attempting to provoke picketers by screaming obscenities at them from the safety of police protection--cops escorted the replacement workers into police vans and unmarked company trucks (in an effort to hide its scabs, Verizon hasn't put them in its normal white, red and black vehicles).

Then, to the amazement and disgust of the strikers, the cops got behind the wheels of the scab trucks and NYPD vans--and drove the scabs out of the hotel.

One police-driven vehicle hit a striker near the hotel gates and then sped off, leaving the injured worker on the ground--the vehicle clipped another car in its haste to get away from the scene. It took 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and take the victim to the hospital.

Jose Collado of CWA Local 1106 described the chaotic scene. "There was a lot of shouting when the cops tried to move the scabs out. The cop panicked, and that's when the union brother was knocked to the ground. And then they called in even more police for backup."

Verizon workers were stunned and outraged at the actions of police. "This was a bad call on the part of the NYPD, putting NYPD officers behind the wheel like that," said Mike Ciancarelli, president of CWA Local 1106.

One striker added: "Other people would have been arrested for hit-and-run if they'd done the same thing. I was never a fan of the police before, but this has opened the eyes of some people."

Another CWA member said: "For them to drive scab tricks and assault us, it's disgusting. It's unbelievable that police would act as private security for Verizon--they're supposed to be public servants."

THE COPS' actions are even more outrageous when you consider the many crimes of the corporation they are providing private security for.

Verizon is infamous for avoiding taxes. It paid negative 1.8 percent in federal taxes from 2008 to 2012--meaning this massively profitable corporation actually got money from the government rather than giving to it.

The company has increased the "digital divide" by not carrying out installation of broadband networks in working-class neighborhoods across New York City, causing Mayor Bill de Blasio to accuse the company of reneging on its franchise agreement with the city.

And now Verizon is trying to destroy the living standards of the workers who built the landline business that is the foundation for everything the company has achieved in wireless.

Gary Morgan of Local 1106 talked about the seriousness of Verizon bringing in so many replacement workers. While the company has its managers driving company trucks, the unmarked vehicles are different. "These are the real scabs," he said, "the ones taking our jobs. The company has been preparing for this strike for years. They envision a future without the union."

Collado and Morgan have been on picket lines against Verizon before. The company has changed since previous strikes, however, said Collado. Noting the smaller percentage of union members at Verizon today as compared to years past, he commented, "We don't have the same leverage that we had before."

Everyone on the picket line knows that the stakes are high. According to Ingrid Cuello, a field tech with 24 years on the job, and a shop steward and picket captain:

We're trying to save our jobs. They've brought these scabs in from out of state, and we've been following the trucks around, and we can see they're engaging in unsafe practices. The company would rather pay all of them more than give us what we're asking for because they want to do away with the union.

That's what makes confrontations like the one outside the City View Inn yesterday morning so important. Unions like the CWA got to where they are today with militant strikes that confronted scabs and stopped the company from getting its work done. Chasing scabs on their jobs and out of their hotels takes an important step in that direction by making the work of being a scab harder.

The tactic of targeting hotels began in the first week of the strike with members of CWA Local 1101 in Manhattan, and it's been spreading across the New York City area. After yesterday's incident, the question is whether strikers are going to have to confront cops scabbing for the company. Workers report that CWA District 1 has filed a formal complaint with Mayor de Blasio over the actions of police yesterday.

Far from being intimidated, workers in Queens reacted to the police scab escort service by being more determined than ever to take the fight right at Verizon. That militant spirit is going to be necessary to escalate the fight against a company that's out for blood.

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