Union picketers picket... mother of five?

Who thought that this was a good idea?

A Quincy mom has disconnected her support for striking Verizon workers yesterday after a group of mouthy picketers surrounded non-union repairmen and turned a phone-line fix at her home into what she is calling a “ridiculous” protest scene.

“I looked in the street and there are picketers, 10 of them or more, doing a circle around the Verizon truck,” said Karen Austin, 64, a mother of five who lives on Forest Avenue. “Every time (the repairmen) would walk up to my house they would follow them. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is ridiculous. Why are they picketing my house?”

The above quote demonstrates why it was a bad idea, by the way. We’ll get into why in a moment.

For those not following RedState’s own LaborUnionReport on the story, Verizon is currently dealing with a strike by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions. As has become usual, said strike now involves targeting the CEO personally; the unions have also been credibly accused of sabotage and caught on camera endangering their own children. As LUR notes, there’s a certain amount of desperation on the unions’ part: they represent a small-and-shrinking part of Verizon’s business (the landlines*; Verizon wireless is apparently largely union-free). This admittedly-partisan website indicates that the dispute is mostly about having the unions pay more of their health care costs, with an ominous (to union leadership) discussion of ‘work rule flexibility’ – which translates as ‘subjecting union-negotiated pay structures to market forces’ (I suspect that the pet Democrats dutifully shilling for the unions would call it something else). The union leadership is, of course, resistant to both measures – but at the moment they’re not in a position to cause trouble for Verizon’s main business, which is of course cell phone service.

And that’s why taking the picketing to residential neighborhoods is a bad idea. To be clear about it: CWA/IBEW strikers don’t have that many customers to service that they can afford to casually alienate any of them, and sending a team in to disrupt a service call qualifies as ‘alienation.’ The picket line works because it traditionally represents a choice for the consumer: you can cross it and do your business with a company whose workers are on strike, or you can keep walking and find a place where labor isn’t fighting the bosses. When it’s put in those terms, working-class people don’t like to side against other working-class people**.

But a homeowner who needs her phone fixed doesn’t have a choice; she has to use the people who operate her phone line. And until she gets it fixed, she doesn’t have a phone. This fact colors her interaction with any strikers who show up: they are now not fellow-members of the working class. They are the people who are keeping her from having a phone. She will be almost as hostile to them as she would be to somebody picketing gas, water, or power technicians, in fact; phone service is one of those nebulous things thought of as an ‘utility,’ and you don’t mess with utilities.

If you do, you run the risk of seeing the local/regional papers write hostile articles on the topic that make you look like idiots (H/T Glenn Reynold, by the way).

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*The unions yell “They also do FIOS!” at this point; Verizon yells back “That’s still not offsetting costs.”

**Yes, that hook is planted deep in a person’s psyche. I don’t cross picket lines by choice.