Verizon giveback demands force 39,000 on East Coast out on strike

Ten months of Verizon stonewalling and giveback demands, lasting through dozens of bargaining sessions, forced the 39,000 Communications Workers and Electrical Workers toiling for the telecom giant from Maine through Virginia to go out on strike at 6 a.m. this morning.

“Verizon made $39 billion in profits over the last three years — and $1.8 billion a month in profits over the first three months of 2016 — but the company is still insisting on givebacks that would devastate our jobs,” the two unions said in a statement.

The unions said they are striking very reluctantly. Their bargainers, responding to Verizon complaints about rising health care costs, offered alternatives to save the firm hundreds of millions of dollars yearly. They were met by Verizon’s “arrogant disrespect” in the talks.

Key issues that forced the workers to strike after weeks of talks and dozens of protests — including one that Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders joined in early April in Philadelphia — include an end to no-layoff protections for workers hired before 2003, a freeze on pensions after 30 years of service and elimination of profit-sharing with workers.

Verizon also demanded the unlimited right to shutter call centers and move those jobs to Mexico and the Philippines and wants techs to work as long as two months in a row away from their families. And it refused to discuss better wages, benefits and working conditions for at least 100 Verizon Wireless retail workers, who joined CWA two years ago.

“We’re standing up for working families and standing up to Verizon’s corporate greed,” said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor, whose area covers New England, New Jersey and New York. “If a hugely profitable corporation like Verizon can destroy the good family-supporting jobs of highly skilled workers, then no worker in America will be safe from this corporate race to the bottom.”

“Verizon is becoming the poster child for everything people in this country are angry about,” added CWA District 2-13 Vice President Edward Mooney, who represents workers from Pennsylvania through Virginia. “This very profitable company wants to push people down. And it wants to push communities down by not fully repairing the (wire) network and by not building out FiOS [bundled Internet access, telephone, and television service that operates over a fiber-optic communications].”

Sanders spoke at a Verizon workers’ Philadelphia rally where he told them they had the support of 20 U.S. senators. They wrote Verizon’s CEO, Lowell McAdam, last month, urging him to bargain in good faith. “We want to be sure Verizon preserves good family-supporting jobs in our region,” said the solons, led by Sens. Robert Casey, D-Pa., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Nineteen Democrats and Sanders signed the letter.

And while the senators said they realize Verizon must make changes to account for declining landline use, they also said Verizon should “negotiate a new contract…to provide improvement in wages, healthcare, retirement security and work rules for the wireless retail workers and technicians” whose performance led to the high Verizon profits the unions cite.

“The company’s greed is disgusting,” the unions said in announcing the strike. “McAdam made $18 million last year. Verizon’s top five executives made $233 million over the last five years. Last year alone, Verizon paid out $13.5 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to shareholders. But they claim they can’t afford a fair contract.

“And it’s not just workers who are getting screwed. Verizon has $35 billion to invest in the failing internet company, Yahoo, but refuses to maintain its copper network” for telephone landlines, “let alone build FiOS in underserved communities across the region.

“And even where it’s legally committed to building FiOS out for every customer, Verizon refuses to hire enough workers to get the job done right or on time,” the unions said. Several states, led by New York and Pennsylvania, are investigating Verizon’s FiOS failures, CWA notes.

“It’s time for Verizon to acknowledge that working families also have a right to do well in America. It’s time for a contract that’s fair to Verizon’s working people and the customers we serve,” the two unions concluded.

Photo: Communication Workers of America (CWA) website.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.