March 19, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Frustrated by Verizon’s demands for contract concessions, the Communications Workers of America have launched an ad campaign denouncing the company as “the poster child for corporate greed.”
Verizon’s demands, according to the CWA, include the power to transfer workers anywhere from Massachusetts to Virginia for up to two months; “vastly expanding” outsourcing and giving contractors the handling of all new products and services; closing call centers and moving the jobs up to 80 miles away; capping disability pay and family leave; and not giving larger pensions to workers who stay on the job for more than 30 years. Its contracts with the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers expired last August.
“It’s time for Verizon to stop demanding that its workers give up job and retirement security so it can boost the CEO’s pay even more,” says CWA District 1 research economist Pete Sikora. CEO Lowell McAdam made $18 million last year, more than 200 times as much as the average Verizon worker, and the top five executives have made $249 million over the last five years, he adds. Verizon ranked 15th on the Fortune 500 in 2015, paying stockholders $8.5 billion in dividends on $131.6 billion in revenue. Its estimated profits were $17.9 billion.
“It’s spectacularly profitable,” Sikora says.
About 39,000 of Verizon’s 177,700 workers are unionized, 29,000 in the CWA and 10,000 in IBEW. The unions represent technicians and call-center workers in the company’s wire-line services—copper-wire and fiber-optic cables—in an overlapping patchwork from Massachusetts to Virginia. Verizon’s wireless division is almost completely nonunion, except for about 100 technicians and about 75 workers at its cell-phone stores in Brooklyn and Everett, Massachusetts. It has refused to negotiate a first contract with the retail workers, who joined the union in 2014, Sikora adds.
Last November, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Verizon for firing Bianca Cunningham, a CWA Local 1109 leader at its Bensonhurst store. The company claims she was terminated because she “lied during an investigation”; Cunningham said it was for refusing to show the company text-message conversations she’d had with a fellow worker who complained about being intimidated by her store manager. In January, an NLRB administrative-law judge denied Verizon’s petition to have the complaint dismissed. Verizon has refused to rehire Cunningham, Sikora says.
While the unions have offered more than $200 million in savings on health-care costs and Verizon has come down on its demand for pension cuts, the company is refusing to negotiate “any raises, any benefit improvements, or working-condition improvements,” says Sikora. Instead, it says workers should be “realistic,” he adds.
In early February, Verizon sent workers an email stating that its proposals would provide “greater flexibility in managing the work and the work force while recognizing current job security provisions.” “Giving the company the ability to move you wherever and whenever they want is not how the union defines job security,” District 1 responded in a report to members.
It is also arguing that most of its profits are coming from its wireless services—but it isn’t offering those workers raises, Sikora says. He believes one reason Verizon is reluctant to give union wireless workers raises is that it would set an example for the nonunion ones.
“The company should understand that it should negotiate a fair contract or workers will be forced to strike,” Sikora says. “Unfortunately, that’s the direction they’re moving in.”