As the first week of bargaining between unions representing Verizon Communications’ East Coast workers from Virginia to New England and the company ended, the Communication Workers of America, which represents about 65,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast, told its members that preparations for a strike vote are underway and that all locals will have an opportunity to vote on whether to authorize a strike. The current contract expires at Midnight, August 6.
In a newsletter to members, the CWA bargaining team said that “in all of our experience we have never seen such an aggressive agenda as the package of proposals the company brought to the table. Verizon has made it clear they want to take away every protection we have as union workers.”
The list of proposed take aways is extensive. Some of the key company demands include eliminating annual wage increases and basing progression raises on performance evaluations, freezing pension accruals beginning December 2014 and moving everyone into a 401(k)-type retirement plan, replacing the current comprehensive health care plan with a high-deductible plan, reducing the number of sick days and paid holidays, eliminating job security provisions in the contract, and expanding the practice of contracting out work.
Verizon appears to be pursuing an even more extreme overreaching strategy than the one GE used in its recently concluded contract negotiations with UE and IUE-CWA.
“There’s no way to sugar coat the reality that’s facing us,” said Ed Mooney vice-president of CWA District 13, which represents Verizon workers in Pennsylvania and Delaware. “Verizon is looking to strip the level of benefits and job security that the union has fought years to earn.”
“Verizon is pursuing a long-term strategy that’s trying to eliminate unions,” said Ron Collins, vice-president of CWA District 2, which represents Verizon workers in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.
Verizon, whose unionized workers comprise 30 percent of the company’s workforce, has undertaken an aggressive, anti-union bargaining strategy despite the fact that it has done well under the current union contract. Its revenue for 2010 was $106.6 billion ranking it 16th on Fortune’s 500 list and it paid $5.4 billion in dividends to investors in 2010.
Addressing a rally of CWA members, Chris Shelton, vice-president for District 1, which represent Verizon workers in New Jersey, New York, and New England, said that despite Verizon’s success, Verizon is saying that it can’t afford its present union contract and will try to justify its concession demands by claiming “that all across the country workers are suffering, so Verizon workers have to suffer too.”
Shelton went on to say that Verizon’s executives aren’t suffering: Verizon’s chair and chief executive officer Ivan Seidberg received $18 million in compensation in 2010 and Verizon’s president and chief operating officer Lowell McAdams received $7 million.
CWA which has been joined by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in bargaining with Verizon is telling its members that the key to fighting off these take away demands and making progress is for members to stay engaged, join in the mobilizations that the unions are calling, and to stay united.
“There’s lots of different ways that we’ll be fighting with Verizon to protect and advance our rights,” Shelton said. “We’ll fight them politically, we’ll put pressure on them at the bargaining table, and, most important, we’ll put pressure on them at the workplace.”
An example of the workplace pressure that Shelton was talking about was the practice picket line that went up at Verizon shops throughout the East Coast on June 22 when bargaining began. Thousands of union members set up picket lines before work and during their lunch breaks to demonstrate their solidarity.
So many workers took part in CWA Local 1104’s practice picket line in Long Island, New York that it spilled out into the street and backed up traffic.
In other actions, members throughout the East Coast passed out flyers criticizing Verizon for not paying any federal income taxes in 2010, put up “No Contracting” signs in parking lots in reference to Verizon’s plan to outsource work, and put “We Are United” sun shades on their cars window visors.
The next big action is a rally planned for July 30 in New York City. “We need to continue to stand strong and get our message out that we are more committed than we’ve ever been to fight to protect our wages, benefits and working conditions,” said a District 1 CWA bargaining report to members. “Now more than ever we need to mobilize! mobilize! mobilize! mobilize!