As Verizon tries to project an image of strength by remaining inflexible at the bargaining table, its recent effort to limit the free speech of its striking workers suggests that the company is already feeling the effects of the collective actions taken by CWA and IBEW, the two unions representing 45,000 East Coast Verizon workers from Virginia to New England.
In the meantime, non-striking union workers have begun to rally around striking Verizon workers sensing that the outcome of the strike could have a major impact on their own standard of living.
The Associated Press reports that Verizon went to court in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Massachusetts seeking injunctions to limit the size of union picket lines and thus the ability of union workers to express themselves freely. Citing some minor incidents, Verizon alleged that mass pickets represented a threat to managers and non-union staff who remain on the job. In a joint statement, CWA and IBEW said that “our unions do not condone violence in any form.”
In a related development, two union members were taken to the hospital after being struck by a vehicle driving through their picket line at a Verizon work site near Buffalo.
Courts in New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania sided with the company and issued injunctions that limited the size of pickets. Courts in New Jersey and Massachusetts have so far not ruled.
While Verizon was going to court, non-striking workers throughout the US were mobilizing to support the strikers. In California, members of CWA Local 9575 in the Santa Barbara area picketed Verizon wireless stores and Verizon garages and other work locations.
“If we let Verizon succeed, major corporations will be using it as a model for destroying the bargaining rights and living standards for all union members,” said Lisa Shafer, president of CWA Local 9575.
CWA locals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and West Virginia have also held similar demonstrations. Flyers passed out at support demonstrations said, “The war on collective bargaining goes on, this time at Verizon. Despite making $19.5 billion in profits and paying out $258 million to its top 5 executives in the last four years, Verizon wants to take back more than 50 years of collective bargaining and destroy middle class jobs. . . .
“Verizon’s demands include: freezing pensions for current workers and eliminating them for future workers, allowing contracting out and offshoring of more jobs, slashing sick leave, completely gutting health care plans for current and retired workers, and eliminating disability payments for injured workers.”
CWA has posted information about how other workers can support Verizon strikers here.
Teamsters General President James Hoffa has told Teamster UPS drivers not to deliver packages to Verizon stores and other facilities where there is a picket line. “We cannot allow Verizon to strip away benefits and protections on the job for no other reason than to further enhance their profits,” Hoffa said.
Sandy Pope who is running against Hoffa in the upcoming election for Teamster general president urged Teamsters to demonstrate their support for Verizon workers by participating in picket lines, signing the petition of support, and adopting a Verizon wireless store. “Teamster members know what it’s like to face benefit cuts and corporate greed,” Pope said. “The fight at Verizon is our fight too.”
Verizon had broken off negotiations on Saturday prior to the strike, but after receiving an electronic petition with more than 30,000 signatures calling for the company to negotiate a fair contract, it returned to the bargaining table on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, Verizon still seeks concessions totaling $1 billion, or about $20,000 per Verizon worker. A report from the CWA District 1 bargaining committee said that “every company proposal is to give something back to the company. In order to keep some of our benefits we have to give away one of the benefits we have today,” said the report.
The report went on to say that it is not just the good jobs at Verizon that are on the line. The living standards of all workers in the US are at stake, and that the unions will be taking this message to the broader public to win support for Verizon workers.
“We will make this the battleground fight for the middle class,” said the report. “Verizon will be the target for every union member and every middle-class family. We will not allow this very profitable company to destroy the middle class.”