Verizon workers push to stay in Lower Manhattan

Members of Communications Workers of America.
Members of Communications Workers of America. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer.

BY KAITLYN MEADE | Hundreds of members of the Communication Workers of America attended Community Board 1’s full board meeting last month to enlist their support to return to work in Lower Manhattan after a decision by Verizon to relocate many of them to Brooklyn.

The C.W.A. workers, who have been displaced from their building on 140 West St. since it was flooded by Hurricane Sandy, were notified in February by Verizon that 1,100 will not be returning to their offices.

“Verizon took over $750 million taxpayer dollars to recover from the Downtown disasters, they now need to live up to their patriotic rhetoric about rebuilding and remain in the area,” said Chris Shelton, C.W.A. District 1 vice president.

Verizon made the building across from the World Trade Center its Manhattan headquarters in 2005 after a $322 million rehabilitation of the landmark Art Deco skyscraper, according to a report by the New York Times. A ceremonial opening was presided over by former governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who praised Verizon for their commitment to Lower Manhattan.

Shelton said that Verizon’s move reneges on the promise not only to Downtown but to the union workers that got the Stock Exchange and the rest of Wall St. back online in just five days after Sept. 11.

“Some of us never left,” said Kevin Condy, a C.W.A. employee and organizer who was there in the building the day of 9/11. “We want to be a part of the rebuilding,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of money and we believe that now that there’s no tax incentives down here, they’re running for higher ground.”

Higher ground might be the literal objective as the notices sent out to employees seem to indicate a desire to find spaces that are not in flood-risk areas. The 140 West St. building was flooded by hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. A total of 781 bargaining unit employees were notified two months ago that they would be moving to Flatbush.

The move will happen throughout the spring and summer and is targeted to be complete by August.

Also at the community board meeting were local business members and politicians who expressed support for the C.W.A. workers and worried that fewer employees would have a devastating impact on the surrounding economy.

These speakers included deli owner Sammy Rayshan from the Cornet Gourmet, whose shop is patronized by the workers who are about to be moved, and Claire Guerette, assistant executive director of St. Margaret’s House who said the union workers “come to St. Margaret’s House every year to provide services and support for the elderly in our community.”

City Councilmember Margaret Chin also spoke on the workers’ behalf and afterword sent letters to Robert Steele, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development and to Verizon’s C.E.O. Lowell McAdam. Her letters outline the “tremendous loss for our local small businesses.”

“To us,” the letter to Steele reads, “packing up and abandoning Lower Manhattan 10 years after taking benefits to stay is disingenuous.”

But Verizon says that it is in no way abandoning the area. Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said in an email to Downtown Express: “We also plan to bring employees into our 140 West Street building from locations we lease elsewhere in the City. So our headquarters building will continue to be a thriving part of the downtown Manhattan landscape.”

However, he said that the moves from other locations to 140 West St. had not been finalized, though they “expect the majority of it to be utilized.”

Bonomo added that the employees would be handling “various aspects of customer service” and that the move was primarily a way to enhance customer service by providing a centralized location for work and training.

— With reporting by
Terese Loeb Kreuzer