Verizon: Can you hear us now?
A first-hand account from the floor of the Verizon shareholder meeting
By Rosa Lozano
Verizon Campaign Organizer, Jobs with Justice
May 3, 2012 | Huntsville, AL
The day greeted us with unexpected rain, but the grey and dreary sky didn’t squash the energy of workers, students, retirees, community leaders and occupiers. We were there to greet Verizon for their annual shareholder meeting. We had a simple message to deliver: stop your assault on workers, on consumers, and on American taxpayers and voters.
Energy was high and hope was in the air. Filled with this feeling of purpose, we rallied across the street from where current CEO Lowell McAdam, previous Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, and fellow 1% shareholders were preparing to handle business as usual: with self interest and greed. We heard from strong labor leaders, our very own Sarita Gupta, and students, and faith leaders to highlight what is actually at stake with Verizon internal policy around worker rights, taxes, democracy and the destruction of good jobs.
With this, we sounded the alarm and marched upon the steps of the Von Braun Center in the rain with high spirits and determined to send our message: People over profit! We were a tight knit crowd and prepared to push back if necessary. We were met by Huntsville Police, Von Braun Staff and Verizon reps with a cautious welcome.
As we were led into the conference hall of the shareholder meeting, tensions were high crossing the threshold from our rally to the belly of the beast. In a tranquil but flowing stream, 150 of us spread out into every corner of the room. After a few short moments, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam addressed the room.
Like thunder, the first mic check of the afternoon ripped through the room. “Mic check!” echoed throughout the center. Stunned, you could see the perplexed expression on Mr. McAdam’s face. After nine months of failing to negotiate with workers, now, in front of a packed room of his shareholders, he could not ignore us.
In a matter of moments, the group was escorted outside. As Mr. McAdam began to introduce the Verizon board members, he was interrupted once again by another mic check. Mirroring his refusal to listen to workers, the crowd refused to listen to Mr. McAdam. Over the course of his brief opening remarks, he was interrupted seven times by activists refusing to go unheard.
After many of the activists had been escorted out, resolution after resolution was introduced by Verizon workers and Bell Telephone retirees. These workers made the long journey to Huntsville to fight drastic cuts in their wages, benefits, and pensions. After 30 years on the job, retirees facing massive cuts to their pensions came to confront Mr. McAdam directly. Resolutions were introduced to prevent exorbitant executive compensation and full disclosure of Verizon’s corporate lobbying expenditures.
Our very own Sarita Gupta challenged CEO Lowell McAdam on increasing his own executive salary while gutting workers compensation. While the resolution was blocked by Verizon board members, it received so many votes from other shareholders that it will be up for a vote again next year.
Meanwhile, outside of Huntsville and throughout the country, calls were pouring in by the thousands to Verizon executives. In a matter of hours, over 7,000 voice messages were recorded calling on Verizon to stop its assault on workers and create good jobs, not executive bonuses.
As a result of our massive, historic pressure at the shareholder meeting, we are hopeful Verizon will reach out to its workers to negotiate a contract. Only the bargaining process will reveal the extent to which Verizon cares our nation’s economy and working families everywhere.