WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Hundreds of red-shirted Verizon Communications Inc. workers in New York interrupted their strike Monday to attend a ceremony honoring a colleague who was fatally injured on a picket line 22 years ago.
Meanwhile, there was little sign of progress in negotiations toward a settlement of the 9-day-old strike by about 45,000 workers from Massachusetts to Virginia.
The ceremony in Valhalla, N.Y., was in memory of Gerry Horgan, a father of two who died at age 34. The service was an annual rite, but “it had a little more special meaning this time because we’re on strike,” said Kevin Sheil, a vice president of Local 1103 of the Communications Workers of America. “The guys feel that a generation later, we’re still fighting the same fight.”
Colleagues who remembered Horgan spoke about him at the ceremony, then the workers sang “Amazing Grace” and placed a wreath at the site.
Horgan, a union steward, died Aug. 15, 1989, in an incident involving a worker’s car passing the picket line. The union said Horgan was hit by the car, but police said he jumped on the hood and fell off, striking his head. No charges were filed.
That picket line was set up outside an office of NYNEX, a Verizon forebear. The site is now an office park.
The key issue in that strike was contributions to health care, which is also an issue in the current strike.
The striking unions — the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — claim Verizon is seeking $20,000 a year in givebacks per worker by calling for a pension freeze and contributions to health insurance premiums, among other demands.
Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Lowell McAdam has denied the figure. But he said the company must react to “a 10-year decline in our customer base and in profitability” in landline divisions, which is where the strikers work. Wireless service and other devices have cut into the landline market.
The company has alleged 143 incidents of sabotage affecting service for thousands of people, said Verizon spokesman Richard Young. The company has obtained court injunctions in four states to limit picketing by striking union workers, he said.
The union says strikers on picket lines have been “clipped or hit” by the cars of replacement workers 25 times, none of them serious.
Labor and management met through the weekend, said CWA spokesman Bob Master. Young wouldn’t comment on whether progress had been made on major issues, but Master said, “I think there’s a long, long way to go.”
After the Horgan ceremony in Valhalla, a smaller group of workers headed for another ceremony at his gravesite in Nyack, Sheil said. Most of the others returned to their picket lines.