Verizon remains intransigent in its demand that its union workers accept nearly $1 billion in concessions that include steep cuts to their health care and pension benefits and work rule changes that will make their jobs less secure, CWA District 1 Vice-President Chris Shelton told about 5,500 CWA members on a national union hall teleconference.
CWA President Larry Cohen said that the $100 billion company’s demand for give backs is typical of what’s wrong with the US these days. Large corporations and their executives siphon more of the wealth created at their companies and still demand concessions that lower the living standards of their workers.
It’s going to take a movement to reverse this course, and movement building is the top priority for CWA, Cohen said. Shelton urged all Verizon workers to commit to giving four hours a week of their time to mobilization efforts to convince Verizon to agree to a fair contract.
Verizon’s demand for concession is difficult to justify. It is hardly suffering financially. Over the last four years, it reported $32.5 billion in profit. Those who have benefited the most are the company’s top executives. Verizon’s top five executives received $258 million in compensation over the last four years, and their benefit package includes country club dues and fees, private jets, a car and driver, and an apartment.
Workers, customers, and taxpayers have not fared as well. Citizens for Tax Justice calls Verizon “one of country’s most aggressive tax dodgers.” It paid no federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010 and received nearly $1 billion in tax rebates.
Tele Truth, a telecommunications customer advocacy group, says that some of that excessive executive compensation should have been spent on much needed upgrades to Verizon’s communication infrastructure; instead, the company reduced its construction budget by 53 percent.
And then there are the workers who are being asked to accept cutbacks at a time of plenty. “When Verizon is given a billion dollars in tax breaks and then they tell me that they don’t have any money to pay for my medical (benefits), I have a problem with that,” said Anita Long, a 32-year Verizon employee.
“The bottom line . . . is that they keep as much revenue as they can and divide it amongst themselves at the top,” said Javier Espinosa, a 15-year Verizon employee. Espinosa said that no matter what workers do, it never seems to be enough for Verizon. “You said you needed to outsource work to save money. Then that wasn’t enough, and now you have tax loopholes where you don’t pay your fair share of taxes. Now that’s not enough.
“And now you have a contract negotiations when you have the opportunity to demonstrate your willingness to participate in society and support middle-class people, middle-class jobs, and that’s not enough. Where does it end?”
Cohen said that Verizon’s tough stance masks its doubts about its ability to outlast the union. He cited Verizon’s action in a recent attempt by 15 Verizon Wireless store workers in Bloomington, Illinois to form a union. To stop 15 people from forming a union, Cohen said, Verizon sent the head of Human Relations at Verizon Wireless to talk to them. On the day of the election, five top Verizon Wireless executives were on hand to watch workers vote, and the company still won only by one vote.
Cohen also said that 25 CWA members and 15 IBEW members who were fired by Verizon while on a 16-day strike last August have not been forgotten and that the unions continue to fight to get their jobs back. So far 85 fired members have returned to work.
Part of building a movement includes finding innovative ways to attack corporate greed. Shelton said that Verizon recently announced that Verizon had formed partnerships with three cable companies to sell each others’ products and that CWA would find a way to fight this monopoly.
Sen. Al Franken on January 31 in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission said that the partnerships “reeked of collusion” and needed FCC’s attention. Franken also said that he would try to get Senate committee hearings held on the proposed deal.
CWA is asking people to support the fight for a fair contract by sending a solidarity message. “If wealthy corporations like Verizon continue to outsource jobs and hold down worker wages, there is no hope for an economic recovery,” said CWA on its website. “This is why our fight is your fight and why your support is so important.”