August 15, 2011
By Harry Kelber
Verizon’s 45,000 unionized employees went on strike Sunday, August 7, after several weeks of futile negotiations, with the company demanding dozens of costly concessions as the price of agreeing to a contract.
The strike is the largest since 2007, when 74,000 General Motors workers walked out for two days. Union leaders warned that the Verizon work stoppage could last much longer because the two sides remain far apart.
The strikers are members of two unions — the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) that have carried on a joint struggle against Verizon for over a year. The company has been very profitable overall, earning $6.9 billion in the first six months of this year.
Union leaders and workers said the walkout would inevitably cause significant delays in phone repairs and in installations in its fast growing FIOS television and Internet services in customers’ homes. But Verizon officials said they had tens of thousands of managers ready to step in to do the work normally done by the striking workers.
Verizon wants the unionized workers to start contributing to their health-care premiums, including $1,300 to $3,000 a year toward family coverage. The company has also called for freezing pension contributions for current employees, eliminating traditional pensions for future workers, limiting sick days to five per year, and blotting out all job security provisions
Verizon’s chief executive, Lowell C. McAdam, said: “It is clear that some of the existing contract provisions, negotiated when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today,” He added: “Failure to make needed adjustments, when the need for change is obvious, can be catastrophic.”
Labor Is Building Customer Support for Verizon Strikers
Verizon’s arrogance towards its employees has angered a growing number of company customers, as the facts about the strike have become widely known. Many are also upset at the delays they will be experiencing in the delivery of company services and products.
The AFL-CIO is encouraging customers and members of other unions to protest Verizon behavior at their stores and other facilities, and by joining striker picket lines. Many are withholding their payments to the company. Some customers are saying they will switch to other companies if the strike goes on much longer.
Several union members said they were insulted that they were being asked to make deep concessions when Verizon’s top five executives received a total of $238 million in compensation, including stock options, over the last four years.
“What they’re asking us to take is hard to swallow, because the company had profits of $22 billion over the last four years,” said Joe Iorio, a field technician based in Brooklyn, who had worked for Verizon for 15 years. “They’re crying poverty, they say they can’t afford to pay us. We’re just not going to stand for it anymore.”
Concession bargaining has become a standard feature in contract negotiations, with almost every employer demanding giveaways from unions and their members as the price of avoiding layoffs and as a condition for negotiating a contract. One of the greediest in demanding the size and quantity of givebacks is Verizon.
The 45,000 Verizon strikers are risking their jobs to take a stand against the concessions syndrome, especially during an economic crisis when millions of workers are unemployed. Those brave men and women need, and deserve, whatever support we can give them.
The AFL-CIO should establish a Solidarity Fund to provide financial assistance to needy families of the strikers. If the strike continues, unions can set up food banks. There should be picket lines at every Verizon facility, with informational leaflets passed out to the public. Other actions can be devised to spotlight Verizon’s behavior toward its employees.
This is a battle that Organized Labor must win to halt its continuing decline. A victory at Verizon can mark the beginning of the end to concession bargaining.