May 31, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
Washington, DC – After 45 days of the longest large strike in recent U.S. history, almost 40,000 workers at Verizon have won a tentative contract agreement containing what their main union calls “big gains.”
The proposed four-year deal, reached May 27 after 13 days of mediation by the U.S. Labor Department, will reduce outsourcing of customer-service and wire-line technicians' jobs instead of expanding it, the Communications Workers of America, one of the two striking unions, said in a statement May 29. Verizon also dropped plans to close 16 call centers, except for two in upstate New York that had only three workers each. Instead, it will add 1,300 union call-center jobs, and increase the number of union crews working on telephone poles in New York State by 25%.
The deal will also raise wages by about 10.9% by 2019, plus a signing bonus and $700 a year in profit-sharing. About 65 workers at Verizon Wireless stores in Brooklyn and in Everett, Mass. will get their first union contract, the first recognition of a union in the company's wireless division.
"After more than six weeks on the picket line, Verizon workers won an excellent new contract that will protect good jobs and preserve our standard of living. The members' unity and determination defeated company proposals to outsource and contract out work, and the new agreement will create 1,500 new union jobs up and down the East Coast," Dennis G. Trainor, vice president of CWA District One, said in the union's statement. "Together, we are turning the tide from cutbacks against working people to building a stronger labor movement and strengthening the power of working Americans.”
The 39,000 strikers have been out since April 13. They will begin returning to work on the night shift May 31, and must vote on whether to ratify the proposed contract by June 17.
“Our determination was much greater than the company expected,” CWA official Robert Master told LaborPress. “I think they thought that after two or three weeks, our will would be broken and people would come back.” Instead, he said, “the strike got stronger” after Verizon cut off workers' health benefits May 1.
The walkout, he added, “severely affected” sales at Verizon Wireless stores, which were regularly picketed by the two striking unions, the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and supporters from other unions. It also left the company with “little capacity” to install FiOS high-speed Internet service, as its strikebreakers didn't have the necessary skills.
“TREMENDOUS JOB LOCAL 1101 MEMBERS!” CWA Local 1101, which represents Verizon technicians in Manhattan and the Bronx, exulted in a message to members on its Web site.
Measured by the number of workdays lost, the strike was the biggest in the U.S. since a five-month walkout by more than 60,000 United Food and Commercial Workers members at three Southern California supermarket chains in 2003-04. That strike ended with the union conceding a two-tier wage system. The largest strikes over the last 10 years have included a 15-day walkout at Verizon in 2011, an eight-week strike against Boeing by the International Association of Machinists in 2008, and a two-day work stoppage by 74,000 United Auto Workers members at General Motors in 2007.
“This strike has been emblematic of the growing gap between our largest corporations and front-line workers when it comes to living standards and employment security,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who spoke at a picket line in Brooklyn on the strike's first day, said in a statement May 27.
Verizon chief administrative officer Marc Reed said the new contracts will be “good for our employees, good for our customers and will be good for our business,” in a statement issued May 30. “They also include key changes sought by the company to better position our wireline business for success in the digital world.”
The unions made some concessions on health care, including increases in copayments and deductibles. Premiums for some plans will rise from $55 a month to $110. “We knew that was going to happen,” says Master. “The strike was about all the other things the company was demanding.”
Verizon withdrew demands to cut pensions, disability benefits, and family leave. Instead, the contract would give three 1% increases in pensions. The company will also terminate its “Quality Assurance Review” program for New York City technicians. Master says workers “hated it” more than anything he's seen in his nearly 30 years with the CWA, because it “micromonitored everything they're doing” and left them feeling “completely belittled and abused.”
In another major issue, the company will make no changes to its transfer policy. It had sought the right to move workers anywhere from Massachusetts to Virginia for up to 60 days a year, later moderating that demand to anywhere within roughly 80 miles commuting distance.
“Because we fought together as a union, my kids will be able to see me at night,” Pennsylvania call-center worker Christina Martin said in the CWA statement. “We were all so worried about the potential of transfers and more offshoring, but now Verizon is going to bring more jobs back. All American companies should be doing more to keep good jobs in the country.”