By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — This city just got more annoyed at Verizon.
Peabody is already frustrated that the communications company has declined to wire the city for FiOS, its bundled system providing high-tech TV, telephone and Internet access. Officials feel FiOS would provide more competition for Comcast, giving consumers more leverage.
But Verizon has halted all FiOS expansion.
Now, after a visit to the City Council by some Verizon workers, Peabody officials are in various stages of outrage over the company’s plan to move its repair centers from Springfield and Andover to Rhode Island.
“Why are they doing this?” asked Jeff Crosby of the North Shore Labor Council and a former Peabody resident. “Their expectation is that many people will quit. ... This is just cruel.”
At risk, according to Crosby and Ed Starr, a Verizon employee and representative of the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are up to 140 salaried jobs held by employees who may not be able to make the up to 150-mile commute to Rhode Island.
The workers recently settled on a new contract with Verizon.
Five Peabody residents currently employed by Verizon would be affected by the move, according to Starr.
In a written statement, Verizon spokesperson Phil Santoro says a “relatively small number of jobs in the region will be moved from one New England facility to another New England facility. There are no layoffs or job cuts associated with this plan.”
He mentions an intention to “centralize” the business and points to $.5 billion for “Centers of Excellence” in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “‘Centers of Excellence’ will enable us to continue to serve our wireline customers, while remaining competitive and retaining as many jobs as possible throughout the region,” according to Santoro’s statement.
In order to fight any move, union workers at Verizon have been enlisting the support of local and state politicians. They arrived at the most recent meeting of the City Council with letters and petitions from people like Gov. Deval Patrick and much of the state’s congressional delegation.
The council was only too eager to add their voices to the cause.
“It’s despicable,” said Councilor Anne Manning Martin after hearing the workers’ version of Verizon’s tactics. “Absolutely despicable.”
Added colleague Barry Osborne, “It’s very easy for a councilor to do the right thing and that is to support their petition.”
“It saddens me,” Councilor Dave Gamache told the visitors, “to see you fight for these things and all of sudden the carpet has been pulled out from under you.”
“We’re not doing our job,” said member Arthur Athas, “if we don’t advocate for workers to remain in Massachusetts.”
Councilor Barry Sinewitz, who arranged the workers’ appearance before the council, noted that Mayor Ted Bettencourt is also supporting their cause.
For his part, Osborne later conceded that the Peabody City Council is unlikely to have much clout with Verizon. But he also pointed to the many officials who are now on record in favor of retaining these jobs in Massachusetts.
“It’s important to send a message,” he said, adding that he hopes Peabody becomes part of a growing snowball rolling right toward Verizon.
Verizon officials could not be reached for comment.