Verizon on the Bimah: JUFJ’s Jacob Feinspan Discusses Religion and Politics


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“Even though they earned $6 billion in profits last year, they’re asking their workers to take $1 billion in cuts to their contract and benefits, which we just think is totally outrageous,” said Jacob Feinspan, who was among the hundred protesters who picketed a downtown Verizon Wireless store on Aug. 18.

Feinspan, who is the executive director of Jews United For Justice (JUFJ), said, “An attack against 45,000 Verizon workers, who have worked hard for the stability that they’re able to provide their families, is an attack against all workers.”

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) recently ended the 15-day strike. At least for now.

Aug. 22, 45,000 Verizon workers returned to their jobs, without a new contract in place. Union leadership is hopeful that Verizon is sincere in its commitment to negotiate in good faith, but there’s reason for skepticism. Speaking to The New York Times, a Verizon spokesperson said, “The company hasn’t conceded any of its proposals.”

During the strike, Verizon launched an unprecedented ad buy. In the Washington Post, the company routinely took out one or more full page ads, including one that stated, “They claim we want to strip away 50 years of contract negotiations. THEY’RE RIGHT.”

Jacob Feinspan picketing outside a Verizon Wireless store in downtown D.C.

Each fall, in congregations across the region, JUFJ helps sponsor Labor on the Bimah in an effort to highlight “the importance of putting labor back in labor day,” said Feinspan. More than 40 congregations are participating, many of which are holding events this weekend.

“This year, because of the attacks that have been happening on workers across the country, we’re focusing specifically on union rights and particularly the right of collective bargaining,” Feinspan said.

Historically speaking, it’s not unusual for the religious community to enter into the political arena unapologetically from the left, on the side of workers, according to Feinspan. “The religious right has done a fantastic job of branding itself as being religion in politics and religion in public life, and it’s totally false.”

“If you look across this country, all of the progressive things that have happened in America over the last hundred, hundred and fifty years, from the civil rights movement to ending slavery [and] even further back [to] women’s suffrage, the religious community has been central to that fight.”

Feinspan continued, “It’s only in the last fifteen or twenty years that somehow the conservative movement has been able to brand religion as being in step with them, because really the reality is religion in America has been on the side of progressive values almost since our founding.”

(For more information on the Verizon strike, check out local labor journalist Brian Tierney’s article in The Nation, as well as Ralph Nader’s “Dark Horizon for Verizon.”)

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