More than a dozen local striking Verizon workers stationed themselves outside the Southampton estate where in an attempt to engage him in conversation Wednesday afternoon, strike leaders say.
Strike leaders say they do not wish to cause any unrest and were not picketing, instead saying they hope to speak with Biden to gain his support. The vice president has traditionally been a fervent supporter of unions.
The workers marched about one mile from a Verizon office on Windmill Lane to the Biden camp on First Neck Lane. Upon arriving at the estate, strikers gathered on the grass across the street, periodically starting call-and-response chants. After about 15 minutes a caravan of cars left the property; one beige SUV transported a man resembling Biden, though strike leaders believe the vice president remained in the compound.
Police eventually moved the group about 20 feet down the street at the request of the Secret Service.
During the mobilization, passersby either showed support or signaled opposition to the strikers. Several utility trucks and other cars honked horns, with a few passing policemen giving thumbs-up. One pedestrian accused workers of being "lazy."
"I can't count the amount of people who have driven by and said 'we need you to win,'" Anthony Romano, a picket captain, said. They know if we're not earning a living wage they don't have a chance, because everything trickles down when it comes to the middle class."
The Communications Workers of America announced a strike of Verizon Sunday night. Currently 45,000 union-represented workers are on strike across the country, with about 40 individuals in the Hamptons, according to union officials. Picket leaders have noted local picketing has been relatively peaceful, but other areas have not been so calm.
On Wednesday, Verizon announced it will begin advertising rewards for information regarding vandalized equipment. Romano said that other utilities unions are supporting the CWA, including UPS, which won't cross picket lines.
"I think we're fighting for middle class values," Robert McDowell, a shop steward who has worked for Verizon for 25 years, said. "Verizon refused to put anything decent on the table…it was unacceptable."
Though strikers say they are prepared for the long haul, union representatives are preparing to return to the negotiating table, Ivan Millian, the business agent for the local strikers said. Still, in addition to the wages is an ideological struggle that will take time to sort out, he said.
"This is not union vs. management, this is middle class vs. corporate greed," Millian said. "All we're looking for is to keep what we've earned and what we've made the last 50 years."
In 1989 Verizon predecessor Nynex experienced a 17-week strikeout.
"The strike is our last resort," Millian said. "It's nothing anyone wants to do."
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