NEW YORK—Hundreds of union workers gathered outside the Verizon corporate headquarters on the afternoon of Thursday, June 20, calling on the company to keep 1,100 jobs in Lower Manhattan. Last month, Verizon announced a plan to move its customer service employees from Manhattan to a newly renovated building in Brooklyn.
“We don’t feel that’s fair for the community,” said Ron Spaulding, representing the Local 1101 Communications Workers of America—the union group holding the protest. “We shop down here, we have lunch down here, we go to our doctors down here, we have childcare down here.”
Verizon has occupied the landmark art deco building at 140 West Street as its headquarters since the company was formed in 2000. After the structure was damaged in the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Verizon received $185 million in taxpayer relief funds to rebuild and restore it. Some protesters argue that the post-9/11 funding came with an implicit obligation to keep jobs in the area.
“When they took those tax breaks they said they’d stay in Lower Manhattan,” said Bill de Blasio at the protest. De Blasio is NYC’s Public Advocate and a Democratic candidate for mayor. “Now they’re trying to sneak away in the middle of the night.”
But even the protesters acknowledge there was no written contract requiring Verizon to keep those jobs in Lower Manhattan.
“That money was solely for the purpose of helping that rebuild,” Verizon spokesman Ray McConville said in a phone interview. “There were no job conditions attached to it.”
Verizon also says it won’t be abandoning Lower Manhattan. It will keep the building as its headquarters, with general operations being maintained by several hundred employees on floors 1 through 10 of the 31-story building. It plans to rent out the other floors for high-end condos, and possibly hotel space, as well as retail stores and restaurants on the ground floor.
The remaining 1,100 employees—mostly in customer service—will be moved three miles away to a newly renovated state-of-the-art call center at 395 Flatbush Avenue Extension in Brooklyn. There are already 300 Verizon workers in that Brooklyn building.
“Employees will enjoy working there and also it will help us provide better customer service,” said McConville. “All said and done, not a single Verizon job is leaving New York City.”
For the protesters, there is little they can legally do to stop the Verizon jobs from moving. If all goes according to Verizon’s plan, the move will happen by the end of 2013.