Hotel pickets worked, so they were banned

May 16, 2016

Dominic Renda, chief steward in Communications Workers of America Local 1105, and Danny Katch report on an injunction issued against Verizon strikers.

ONE MONTH into the strike by 39,000 workers against telecommunications giant Verizon, the union tactic of protesting hotels where scabs are being housed has emerged as one of the most successful ways to disrupt the operations of the powerful corporation.

More than a dozen New York City hotels, eager to get rid of the disruptions of angry chanting workers, have told Verizon that the replacement workers have to go. The sight of scabs scurrying out of their hotels and carrying belongings hastily stuffed into garbage bags has given a shot of confidence to striking members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

Last Monday in Queens, police caused an uproar when they aggressively confronted a protest outside the City View Inn, loading scabs into police and company vehicles, and then driving them out of the hotel parking lot. The cops hit a striker in the process, sending him to the hospital overnight.

The day after the Queens incident, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the union's hotel protests, and a few days later, the injunction was extended through June 9. As some of the striking workers have been saying, "If it's good for labor, it's illegal."

Verizon workers walk the picket line
Verizon workers walk the picket line (CWA District 1)

The courts ought to be less worried about what strikers are doing and take a hard look at the scabs that the company is replacing them with. One was arrested after allegedly brandishing a large knife and threatening picketers, while in Westborough, Massachusetts, another scab hit a striker and a cop with his truck as he was driving drunk through a picket.

THE RULING by Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York claimed that union protests outside hotels constituted "secondary pickets" against a business unconnected to the strike, and were thus illegal under federal law. Secondary pickets are permitted in many countries, but the U.S. has some of the most anti-union labor laws in the Western world.

Even within the bounds of these restrictive laws, however, Donnelly's ruling doesn't hold water. According to the union, Verizon has been using hotels not just for housing scabs but also for parking their work trucks and dispatching assignments, so the hotels are worksites that can be legally picketed.

Like judges and lawmakers throughout this country's history, however, Donnelly was more concerned with the rights of corporations to eliminate obstacles to making profits than the rights of workers to defend their livelihoods.

The law against secondary pickets goes back to the infamous Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which also outlawed wildcat strikes (strikes not officially authorized by a union), solidarity strikes, political strikes, mass picketing and closed shops--and allowed states to pass "right-to-work" laws, which now apply in 26 states.

Taft-Hartley was passed by a Republican-led Congress. Democratic President Harry Truman vetoed the bill, winning the support of millions of union workers who helped him to get elected that November. But both Republicans and Democrats in Congress overrode his veto to make Taft Hartley law, and Truman himself used the law 12 times against strikes.

That's basically been the story of unions and the Democratic Party ever since. Democrats have run for office promising to repeal Taft-Hartley and other anti-labor laws, only to turn their backs on workers once in office.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has a better record of supporting unions than any recent major presidential candidate, but the overwhelming favorite to win the party's nomination is Hillary Clinton, a former member of the board of directors for Walmart. Workers shouldn't expect labor laws to improve under a Clinton presidency--or a Trump presidency, obviously.

In a political system that, as Sanders likes to point out, is rigged, it won't be changes in the law that help unions win strikes, but unions winning strikes that help get the law changed.

That means Verizon strikers have to continue the mobile picketing of scabs--and keep trying to think of new ways to disrupt production and stay one step ahead of a legal system that is stacked against us.

It's also important to continue to urge the public to boycott Verizon Wireless. Despite the laws against us, the strike is hurting profits, as the company's Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo has admitted.

Finally, solidarity from workers across the country is crucial to winning a much-needed victory for a new and just contract. To quote a phrase that CWA Local 1105 members are familiar with: "In unity, there is strength!"

Further Reading

From the archives