As contract negotiations between Verizon Communication on the East Coast and its unions entered the last week before the contract expires on August 6, the Communication Workers of America announced that 91 percent of its voting members authorized CWA leaders to call a strike if an agreement between the two sides can’t be reached.
The strong support for authorizing a strike shows that “CWA members are determined to fight back against Verizon’s corporate greed and bargain a fair contract, one that reflects workers’ contributions to Verizon’s success,” said Ed Mooney, CWA District 2-13 vice president.”
During the last four years, Verizon has recorded profits of $19.5 billion and paid its top five executives $258 million. Retiring CEO Ivan Seidenberg is paid $55,000 a day. Despite the company’s prosperity, Verizon wants its union workers to accept the substantially lower benefits that its non-union workers receive. Verizon’s non-union workers have no defined benefit pension and pay much more of their health care costs than union workers. Additionally, Verizon wants its union workers to accept more outsourcing and give up their voice on the job.
“Verizon is trying to bust its unions. Its trying to kill the middle class,” said CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton during a virtual union hall meeting to update members on Verizon bargaining. “What would your life be like if these bastards from Verizon get their way.”
During the virtual union hall meeting, a conference call with more than 5,000 participants, CWA President Larry Cohen said that the main issue in these contract negotiations is protecting good union jobs. “We’re prepared to help build (Verizon),” Cohen said. “But not at the expense of workers’ benefits and their jobs.”
Not only is CWA trying to protect its members jobs and benefits, but it wants to extend union-won benefits to all Verizon’s workers. “All Verizon jobs should be union jobs,” Cohen said. “And our members have begun to visit Verizon wireless stores to take this message to the non-union workers who work there.”
During the virtual union hall meeting, a Verizon customer service representative from Maryland said that when she receives a call requesting DSL support, she has to transfer the call to a call center in the Philippines. She wanted to know if the union is addressing this kind of outsourcing.
Cohen said that this was one of the major issues that the CWA is fighting for in the contract negotiations. “We want all outsourced work, whether it has been sent overseas or to some local non-union contractor, to be brought back into our union,” Cohen said.
Cohen told those on the conference call that it’s going to take unity and member mobilization to win a decent contract. He urged all members to come to the Saturday, July 30 rally at Verizon headquarters in New York City. He also said that union members needed to participate in the many unity events at the local level.
Terri Senich, executive secretary-treasurer of CWA Local 13500 in Pittsburg, described some of the unity actions that Cohen mentioned. “We’ve been holding tailgaters at Verizon work sites to keep members informed about the bargaining, we wear red on Tuesday to show our determination to keep our health care benefits, and we’ve organized information picket lines at work sites,” Senich said.
Bill Huber, president of IBEW Local 827, which represents Verizon workers in New Jersey, told the virtual union hall that his union recently held a rally in Basking Ridge, New Jersey that was attended by 500 Local 827 members. He applauded the unity between CWA and IBEW and said that 1,000 local 827 members had signed up to attend the July 30 rally.
One of the union hall participants asked Cohen what would happen if there is no contract by Midnight, August 7. “After the contract expires, we have the right to take collective action,” Cohen said. “We’ll decide specifically what that action will be closer to the deadline. We’ll be creative and we’ll do what it takes to win a fair contract.”