Editor’s Note: The IBEW is reporting from the political conventions. Here’s another post from our on-the-ground perspective from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
In May, Paul Feeney was one of nearly 40,000 Verizon workers walking picket lines every day, fighting for fair treatment alongside his brothers and sisters at IBEW and the Communications Workers of America.
Just two months later, on the second night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the Boston Local 2222 member was on stage seconding the nomination of Sen. Bernie Sanders and appealing to the Vermont senator’s supporters to unify against Donald Trump.
The story of how he got there has roots in his political activism in Massachusetts, where he took a leave of absence from Verizon last November to run Sanders’ presidential campaign in the state. After the March primary, Feeney went next door to Connecticut to run the Sanders campaign there.
“When I came off the campaign after the April 26 [Connecticut] primary, I went right onto the picket lines,” he said. Like 10,000 other IBEW members and 30,000 more at CWA, Feeney, a central office technician at Verizon in Boston, demanded respect and basic fairness from his employer, something he’d been fighting for the last seven months on the Sanders campaign.
“You know, when that strike finally got settled at the end of May, it was [Labor Secretary] Tom Perez who was instrumental in forcing Verizon to come to the table. If he hadn’t done that – if his position been appointed by a corporate-backed Republican president – we might still be out there walking picket lines,” Feeney said. “That’s why this election is so important to our members and every other person who works for a living.”
On the second night of the DNC, Feeney made that case to the nearly 5,000 gathered delegates, thousands more guests in the arena and millions more watching on television all over the world. He aimed his message especially at the more than 12 million Sanders supporters, some of who were still reluctant to support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Bernie’s campaign,” he told the crowd, “came together around a shared set of values and ideals. Values and ideals like the Fight for $15 [minimum wage], like the fight for unions, like the fight against inequality.
“Those are the central tenets of who we are as a party, but all of those things are nothing more than words on paper unless we decide, as Bernie asked us to last night, to join together and support Hillary Clinton in November for president of the United States.”
Atlanta Local 613 member Ben Myers, a Georgia delegate who attended the convention, said Feeney’s message struck an appropriately unifying tone.
"Paul managed to praise the work of Bernie's most passionate supporters while reminding them of the importance that we all get on the same page in the fall. We were proud to see a brother up there doing his part to bring this party together,” Myers said.
After his appearance, Feeney said that his goal was to honor the work of the Sanders campaign and help supporters understand the hard work of carrying on the movement was just beginning.
“We moved the needle. This Democratic platform is the most progressive one in history, thanks to the Sanders campaign,” he said. “Thanks to our hard work, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have rejected the job-killing TPP [trade deal], embraced the fight for a minimum wage that lifts people out of poverty. How can we not keep fighting for that?”
For his part, Feeney plans to work even harder between now and November to make sure it’s Clinton, not Donald Trump, who gets to appoint the next justice to the Supreme Court, where, if not for the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February, the court would have made every public sector workplace right-to-work when deciding the Friedrichs case earlier this year.
“The stakes are too high for Bernie supporters to stay on the sidelines,” Feeney said. “This election is about principles, not personalities, and we have work to do to make sure those principles are defended this fall.”
As he said from the podium – an experience he called “amazing” – “To my brothers and sisters that have been a part of this historic campaign, I urge you to stay engaged; stay active; stay fired up. Because we have shown this country that people-powered politics can never be defeated.”