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Vol. 75/No. 36      October 10, 2011

Workers at Verizon pay
for concessions on safety

On September 14 Verizon worker Douglas LaLima, 37, was killed on the job in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., while he was installing cables from a hoisted bucket that came in contact with a high-voltage electrical line. LaLima had worked for Verizon for 15 years.

Verizon spokesman John Bonomo told the media the incident was “highly unusual.” But electrocutions of electrical and communications workers in bucket trucks are not uncommon. At least four other Verizon workers have been killed in similar incidents over the last five years in Plymouth and Sharon, Mass.; Baltimore; and Rhode Island. The letter below from Stu Singer, a meat truck driver in New York City, describes discussions with Verizon workers recently on strike about the fight for safety.

I talked with Verizon workers during the strike, and actually for many years beforehand about safety on the bucket trucks. What I’ve noticed is that there is frequently only one worker on the crew.

Every Verizon worker I ever spoke to about it was furious. It was a concession the union agreed to years ago and it is unquestionably dangerous. You must have at least a two-person crew when using a bucket truck, or even just a ladder or climbing with spikes. If the spotter goes away, makes a phone call, whatever, you come down. No spotter, no work.

When a worker goes up in a bucket, there must be at least one spotter on the ground, following every move and especially watching for proximity to power lines. And watching for traffic and other dangers. Half the time they are working in the middle of a busy street with their work area just protected by a few traffic cones.

I worked as a lineman for a while in the 1970s before I got hired at an iron ore mine in Minnesota. We were hanging the first cable TV system and used bucket trucks where there were paved roads and used spikes strapped to our legs to climb telephone poles out in the country. We would try to spot for each other when using the trucks. But there was no union.

The picture at the right is of one of the Verizon strikers’ roving picket squads during their strike. The guy climbing down from the pole is a manager scab. The strikers used their own cars and followed the Verizon trucks that were working during the strike. They would surround the work area yelling and chanting and making it difficult for the scabs. These are the little actions I saw all over Brooklyn and Queens.

Stu Singer
New York, N.Y.

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