As Verizon and the two unions representing its East Coast workers from Virginia to Maine recessed their contract negotiations, the unions began holding strike authorization elections by their locals. CWA Local 1104, which represents Verizon’s Long Island, New York workers in Nassau voted by 85 percent to authorize CWA to call a strike when the current contract expires on August 6 if the two side cannot reach an agreement.
Other locals of CWA and IBEW, which also represents Verizon workers on the East Coast, will hold strike votes at their next union meetings. Still other locals are conducting the voting by mail and have mailed ballots to members. The vote tally is expected to be completed by July 27, just a few days before the unions hold a solidarity rally in New York City on July 30.
Explaining why CWA Local 1104 voted overwhelmingly to strike, the local’s president George Bloom told Newsday.com, “(Verizon’s) not in jeopardy of losing any money. They want to go after our job security, and they want all the givebacks that they do.”
One of the givebacks referred to by Bloom, is the company’s proposal to significantly increase their workers’ health care costs. Verizon currently pays 100 percent of employees’ premiums for comprehensive health care coverage. But the company wants to scrap the comprehensive plan and make workers pay a substantial portion of the premium.
The current comprehensive health care plan would be replaced by two options. Option 1 would be an in-network and out-of-network plan. Under Option 1, a worker’s annual premium for individual coverage would be $390 for non-smokers or $990 for smokers. Family coverage would cost $1,380 a year or $1,980 for smokers.
The annual in-network deductible would be $1,000 for individuals or $3,000 for families. In addition, the maximum that workers would have to pay for co-payments and co-insurance would be $2,000 for individuals and $6,000 for families.
Option 2 would require workers to pay much higher premiums: Non-smokers would pay $820 annually and smokers $1,420 for individual coverage; family coverage would cost $3,200 for non-smokers and $3,810 for smokers. Maximum out-of-pocket expenses for co-payments and co-insurance would be $1,000 for individual coverage and $3,000 for families. But the coverage would only be good for in-network health care providers.
Additionally some dependents will no longer be eligible for coverage, and Verizon wants to eliminate workers’ vision and dental plans.
For years, Verizon has been trying to shift more of the cost of health care to workers. In the 1980s workers at Verizon’s predecessor went on strike and successfully defended their comprehensive health care plan. They did the same in 2000. In subsequent negotiations, the company proposed making workers pay some of the premium, but so far it has been unsuccessful.
As CWA Local 1106 local posted on its website, the company would like employees to think that the current health care plan is the result of the Verizon’s generosity, but it’s not. It’s the result of a long history of struggle by the union and its members.
And health care is not the only area where Verizon is demanding givebacks. According to IBEW Local 2323, Verizon wants to eliminate yearly wage increases and instead tie increases to performance appraisals,eliminate job security, eliminate profit sharing, increase outsourcing, and much more.
The company argues that these concessions are needed because of the changing nature of the telecommunication market. The company’s wireline (land line) operations, where its unionized workers work, is a shrinking market that can’t sustain the pay and benefits that its unionized workers receive says the company.
But in his opening presentation at the bargaining table, vice-president for CWA District 2 Ron Collins told Verizon that “wireless service is not limitless. And without a quality wired network, there can be no reliable wireless phone service, no wireless data network, and no limitless world of communications.“
Furthermore, Verizon’s wireline operations, which generated more than $41 billion in revenue in 2010 remains a viable and profitable business. Even Verizon’s annual report, which says that the wireline operation’s FiOS service (bundled voice, internet, and TV) expanded significantly in 2010 and will likely continue to do so, admits as much.
In the face of Verizon’s unreasonable demands for givebacks, CWA Local 1106 offers its members the following advice. “In unity, there is strength, in division…..there is certain defeat. Stay unified, stay mobilized and stay enraged at the greed shown at the bargaining tables by this profitable corporation.”