For 12 days, in the pouring rain and under the scorching sun, striking Verizon workers in Braintree have kept up a steady pace, walking nearly eight hours a day – some nine miles.
Their walk takes them in a circle, from one end of a driveway on Lundquist Drive to the other and back again. They take turns in the shade, sitting in beach chairs – a brief reprieve from the walking, and from the occasional awkward moment when someone pulls into the parking lot to work and they rush around them, making sure to avoid physical contact but armed with the frustration of people working without a paycheck to ensure their next one isn't unrecognizable.
Over on Washington Street, they stand in front of a Verizon building, waving at the dozens of cars that beep their horns, and on Thursday afternoon collected bottled water from a passing National Grid worker.
Some of the workers, who like most union members would not speak on the record because they were not authorized by their leadership, expressed mounting concern about Verizon's attempt to cut their benefits, but also fatigue from striking every day for eight hours, including weekends.
"Nobody wants to strike," one of the workers said. "It's a no-win situation. The customers get mad at us. Nobody makes any money."
Thursday marked nearly two weeks of picketing in Braintree for IBEW Local 2222, part of a union that on Aug. 6, sparking a strike of 45,000 employees on the east coast, some 6,000 of whom work in Massachusetts.
Verizon's proposal, according to what a Verizon spokesman told the Globe, would increase the cost of health benefits, freeze pensions, eliminate some holidays and get rid of pay-boosters like Sunday overtime and nighttime differential.
In a letter to the editor in the Globe on Thursday, Donna C. Cupelo, president of Verizon New England, said, "We need to face this reality and make reasonable changes to union contracts built around a monopoly market that no longer exists. Very few companies can offer employees free health care premiums, lifetime job guarantees, and other contract terms that reduce the flexibility to serve customers in a highly competitive market."
A worker picketing on Washington Street brandished Cupelo's letter on Thursday, saying that she was disconnected from the reality of the workers' lives.
"We have taken diminishments over the years," another, retired employee said. He also said the strike was part of a larger fight to keep jobs in the United States, and that much more of the Verizon system relies on the non-wireless end than people realize.
Several union members said they have been without pay since the strike began, and that unemployment money may or may not materialize. In the meantime, they have been relying on savings or spousal income. Some may look for extra jobs when the two-week, eight-hour day picketing requirements established by the union are reduced to two, six-hour shifts a week per employee.
The picketing in Braintree has also spread at times to other communities, because the facility on Lundquist Drive houses trucks that work all over the region. A group of union workers, for instance, followed a truck to Woburn and protested around it there, said William Mitsiopoulos, a union steward and Thursday's designated picket captain. While in Woburn, a woman came out and offered lemonade.
"We're not physically intimidating anyone," Mitsiopoulos said. "We're not blocking anyone from doing their job. We're here to let the public know we are real people."
Between 75 and 100 people gather every day at the Lunduist Drive site off Granite Street, Mitsiopoulos said, compared to eight regulars on Washington Street. Mayor Joseph Sullivan, Rep. Mark Cusack, D-Braintree, other officials, and workers from Local 369, Boston Gas and similar groups have stopped by, offering support and bringing refreshments.
Both sites have police details, starting from about 6 a.m. each morning until 7 p.m. in the evening. But so far there haven't been any major problems, Mitsiopoulos said.
"When everything is said and done we have to go back and work as one company," he said. "When we're done we'll go back, shake hands, and take care of the customer."