Faith leaders lend support to striking Verizon workers
About a half dozen representatives of Buffalo's religious community paid a visit to a picket line in Cheektowaga to lend support to workers off the job at Verizon for more than three weeks.
As busy traffic passed through the intersection of Walden and Union on Wednesday morning, some drivers beeped their car horns in a show of support for the workers picketing outside a Verizon retail store. Meanwhile on the sidewalk, faith leaders joined them in prayer.
"As religious people we are here saying do the right thing, Verizon," said Reverend Kirk Laubenstein, director of the Coalition for Economic Justice in Buffalo. "You can't continue to treat your workers like garbage and be on the right side of history. The right side of history is a place where workers are treated justly and fairly. God calls us to do that."
Among the issues dividing Verizon and its workers is a desire to shift jobs overseas. Workers at the picket site said they're also opposed to Verizon imposing temporary out-of-town transfers that may divide families for months at a time.
"Verizon and the negotiators believe they have the right to dictate terms and conditions of our members' labor, but I think it's more than that," said James Wagner, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1122. "We've got a corporation here that wants to take away their rights on the job. They're looking to bust this union."
Also speaking among local faith leaders was Sister Judy Justinger with the Sisters of St. Joseph. Recalling the inspiration she received from Pope Francis' visit to the United States last year, she used one of the pontiff's encyclicals to help explain her support of the striking workers.
"Basically what he said, over and over again, is that our communities are built on the labors of women and men," she said. "Unfortunately, what's happening in our world today is that these laborers are taken for granted and being exploited."
Most of the faith leaders came from various Christian denominations but there was one of Jewish faith among them.
"My tradition teaches that justice isn't something that is just assumed. It's something that you have to chase after," said Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein of Congregation Shir Shalom. "It says 'justice, justice, you need to run after it and catch it.'"
For Wagner and those on the picket line, the presence of these faith leaders was appreciated because, as Wagner put it, the workers know they're not going through this alone.
"We believe the spirit for the working class is alive and well in Western New York," he said. "Our pickets are strong. Our resolve is strong and we're in it for the long run."