Carrying a banner reading, “Fight for good jobs, stand up to corporate greed at Verizon,” members of the Communication Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, other union members, and other supporters marched across downtown Washington DC to rally in front of Verizon Center’s F Street entrance.
The DC demonstration was one of more than 100 actions that took place in 35 states on March 22 during a Day of Action for a fair contract at Verizon. The Day of Action also kicked off the 99 Percent Spring offensive to oppose corporate greed and challenge corporate power. Thousands of union workers, social movement activists, members of the faith community, and progressives took part in the March 22 actions.
CWA and IBEW have been negotiating with Verizon for nine months on a new contract for the company’s 45,000 East Coast workers. The company continues to demand steep concessions from its union workers that include cuts to their health care benefit, elimination of their pension plan, outsourcing of their jobs, and new work rules that make workers’ jobs less secure.
Meanwhile, Verizon increased CEO Lowell McAdams’ annual compensation from $7.2 million a year to $23 million a year. Over the last four years, compensation packages for Verizon’s top executives totalled $283 million.
At a national CWA union hall meeting held by teleconference, CWA President Larry Cohen told members that Verizon’s greed is emblematic of today’s corporate culture. Jim Weitkamp, CWA District 9 vice-president, reported to the meeting that even though AT&T made $31 billion in profit the last two years, it has joined Verizon’s race to the bottom by demanding that its workers accept cuts to their health care and pension benefits. CWA is currently negotiating a new AT&T contract for West Coast workers. The current contract expires in April.
Cohen said that CWA and IBEW will continue to negotiate with Verizon for a fair contract but that workers can’t fight this greed one contract at a time; instead, we need to build a broad movement that unites union and non-union workers, social justice movements, and progressives in a fight “to reclaim democracy and economic justice.”
The Verizon national Day of Action was the first step toward building this broad movement, which Cohen called the 99 Percent Spring. Cohen said that CWA, other unions, community groups, MoveOn, and other organizations will be holding a series of non-violent, direct actions to expose corporate greed and dramatize how their greed is driving down living standards for all workers.
Greedy corporations have come “to dominate both parties,” Cohen said. “So we’re building a movement in the streets to reclaim America. We’re committed to training 100,000 people in non-violent direct action.”
Cohen said that one-day Spring Training sessions will be held during the week of April 9-15, during which those attending will learn what caused today’s economic disparities, learn how to tell their own stories about these disparities, and learn non-violent, direct action techniques.
He said that CWA has a goal of getting 2,000 members to sign up for Spring Training and urged members attending the union hall meeting to sign up for it. By the end of the meeting, more than 500 had done so.
In the meantime, CWA and IBEW continue to find other ways to pressure Verizon to agree to a fair contract. CWA and IBEW urged the Federal Communications Commission to take a hard look at a marketing agreement between Verizon and four cable companies.
Verizon wants to buy additional wireless spectrum from the cable companies and in return will allow the cable companies to sell services over its wireless network, a deal that CWA and consumer advocates say will hurt competition in the wireless and cable markets. Union members recently urged Senators to oppose the joint marketing deal.
In New York, CWA is opposing a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to de-regulate Voice over Internet Protocol, the use of the internet to provide telephone service. According to the CWA, de-regulation would help Verizon create a monopoly with no oversight or consumer protection.
In Maryland, CWA members attended a hearing of the state Senate Finance Committee to oppose a piece of legislation proposed by Verizon that would allow it to sell landline assets without approval from the Public Utilities Commission.