Verizon follow’s Wisconsin’s governor’s lead; forces strike

Taking a lead from Wisconsin’s right-wing governor Scott Walker, Verizon’s management refused to bargain seriously with its union workers on the East Coast from Virginia to New England, forcing members of the CWA and IBEW, the two unions that represent 45,000 Verizon workers, to go on strike Sunday morning.

In a statement issued shortly after the strike began, CWA told its members, “Since bargaining began on July 22, Verizon has refused to move from a long list of concession demands. As the contract expired, nearly 100 concessionary company proposals remained on the table. As a result, CWA and IBEW have decided to take the unprecedented step of  striking until Verizon stops its Wisconsin-style tactics and starts bargaining seriously.”

Despite Verizon’s belligerent stance, the bargaining is not at impasse. IBEW Local 827 reported to its members that as long as an impasse in negotiations has not been reached, “the company may not unilaterally impose its proposed changes to terms and conditions of employment which it gave to the unions at the bargaining table.”

Verizon is seeking to reduce union member benefits to the lower level of Verizon’s non-union workers. Verizon wants union workers to pay substantially more for their health care benefit, give up their defined benefit pension plan, allow the company to outsource more jobs, give away all job protections afforded by their union contract, give up their voice in matters that concern their job, and forego yearly raises.

While Verizon seeks to lower the living standard of its union workers, its top executives are being paid top dollar. Verizon’s top five executives received compensation of $258 million over the past four years.

The company isn’t demanding concessions from its workers because business is bad. On the contrary, Verizon’s 2011 annualized revenues are $108 billion and annualized net profits are $6 billion.

Verizon management recently assured investors that Verizon has excellent prospects for sustainable, long-term growth in both its Wireless (non-union) and Wireline (union) segments.

Nevertheless, CWA reports that “over months of negotiations, there has been no real bargaining by Verizon management. In fact, every major concession demand — more than 100 in all – remains on the table.”

CWA and IBEW have taken steps to keep members informed about the strike and progress, or lack of it, at the bargaining table. On Sunday morning, a little more than nine hours after the strike began, CWA held its first member update teleconference. The union had reserved 2,000 ports for the call, but so many members called in that not all were able to listen to the call.  Members who couldn’t get through can listen to a recording of the call at  http://www.cwa-nion.org/audio/entry/august_7_am_verizon_bargaining_update. Another update call was held at 4:00 pm. This one included the option of listening via the web at www.cwa-union.org/verizoncall.

Members can also get updates on Facebook, or by texting MOBILIZE 69866, or by signing up for email updates at www.cwa-union.org/verizon.

Before the strike got started, CWA began mobilizing its members to disrupt Verizon’s plan to keep working despite a strike. CWA Local 13000 in Philadelphia last week picketed Verizon’s Valley Forge, Pennsylvania campus, where the company was training replacement workers in case of a strike. The pickets convinced the trainer, a retired Verizon worker and former CWA member, to not teach the class.

In Elmira, New York, Local 1111 began a public relations campaign to get the workers’ side of the story out to the media. “It’s unfortunate, but it seems like it’s an attack on the middle class,” said Local 1111 President Sean McAvoy at a press conference. “They are trying to take away the benefits that we’ve bargained for over past decades.”

Given the Verizon’s intransigence, union leaders felt that they had no choice but to walk off the job. However, an email to members said that “CWA and IBEW members are prepared to return to work when management demonstrates the willingness to begin bargaining seriously for a fair agreement.”

On the other hand, if Verizon continues to refuse to bargain in good faith, “CWA and IBEW members and allies will continue the fight.”

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