Unions battle Verizon on multiple fronts; seek to build movement for economic and social justice

Verizon and unions representing 45,000 of the company’s workers on the East Coast will meet with a federal mediator on Wednesday, July 25 in hopes of resuming negotiations that have broken down. Verizon has refused to budge from concession demands that one of the unions, CWA, says will cost each worker $10,000 year over the life span of the contract.

In the meantime, the two unions, CWA and IBEW, have been mobilizing members and battling Verizon on several fronts to win a decent contract that protects members from cuts proposed by the company and maintains job security.

At a national union hall meeting held by teleconference last week, Jennifer Travis, a 15-year Verizon employee and CWA member, told members about one of the fronts. Travis and 23 other CWA members and 14 IBEW members were fired by Verizon for strike related activity during last year’s two-week strike against Verizon.

If Verizon can get away with firing me, Travis said. Others will be less likely to stand up to the company.

The company alleged that Travis assaulted a Verizon supervisor who crossed a union’s picket line in Pittsburg. According to Travis, she and her family were at the picket line on the day in question.  She yelled vigorously at management staff crossing the picket lines, but never got close to the person the company alleges she assaulted.

During her disciplinary hearing, which took place in December, the company was unable to provide any evidence that Travis had attacked anyone.

In fact said CWA President Larry Cohen, the company’s physical description of the manager who Travis was supposed to have attacked did not match the physical description of the alleged victim. But that didn’t stop the company from firing Travis.

“The story of the others who were fired mirrors that of Jennifer,” Cohen said. “The one thing that all those who were fired had in common was that they were union activists and leaders who stood up to the company.”

Cohen said that the firings were a classic case of intimidation and that CWA has made it a priority to get the fired workers’ jobs back.

He noted that the National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against the company, charging Verizon with using the firings to suppress protected activity like the strike. An administrative judge will hold hearings on the NLRB complaint this fall.

On another front, CWA has slowed down Verizon’s attempt to cut marketing deals with cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner that if allowed to go through will weaken competition in the cable market and could cost 72,000 US workers their jobs.

Because of the possibility that these deals could create market monopoly, these companies need the permission of the federal government.

CWA and IBEW members have testified against the proposed deal and lobbied members of Congress.   Their efforts have slowed the approval process, which Verizon and the other companies were seeking to expedite.

Cohen said that all these efforts are part of a plan to bring pressure on Verizon, but the key to success is for union members to continue their mobilization efforts.

He called on CWA members on the East Coast to come to Philadelphia on August 11 for the Workers Stand for America rally, a rally that organizers hope will rekindle the economic and social justice movement sparked by the Occupy movement last year.

Those at the rally will demand an economic bill of rights that includes jobs, decent pay, health care, education, and an end to the income disparity in the US that has caused a mass migration of wealth from the pockets of working people into the banks of the 1 percenters.

Cohen said that the rally will kick off a campaign for economic and social justice that not only seeks a fair share of wealth for working people but also eliminates some of the barriers to workers’ power such as the recent spate of state laws that make it harder for African-American, Latino, and others who have suffered discrimination from voting.

If we don’t build a movement for economic and social justice, corporations like Verizon and Con Ed of New York will continue to lower living standards for their workers, Cohen said.

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