Talks between Verizon and unions continue; member mobilization ramped up

A federal mediator on August 15 extended contract talks between Verizon and the two unions representing 45,000 East Coast Verizon workers. The Federal Mediation Conciliation Service convened the two sides on July 25 in hopes of jump starting contract negotiations that have stalled.

The mediator overseeing the negotiations said that enough progress has been made to warrant an extension of the talks that were set to expire August 15. The mediator set Friday, August 25 as the next deadline.

More than a year ago, members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers went on strike for two weeks when Verizon tried to force the unions and their members to accept concessions that included to name just a few eliminating pensions for new hires, increasing worker health care costs, the loss of job security, more outsourcing, eliminating regular pay raises, and the loss of weekend pay differentials.

The CWA estimated that concessions demanded by the company would cost each union worker about $10,000 over the life of the three-year contract.

Last year, the two unions went on strike for two weeks after the company refused to continue bargaining over its concession demands. The workers returned to work after the company agreed to keep the current contract in place and resume bargaining in good faith.

But the two unions said that Verizon never budged from its demands for steep concessions despite the fact that it was and is a very profitable company.

Instead of bargaining, Verizon used the time between the workers’ return to work and the current mediated talks to bully union workers into accepting the concessions.

In December, the company fired 40 union workers supposedly for strike related activity. But union leaders described the firings as an attempt to muzzle local leaders and union activists who stood up to Verizon and helped mobilize fellow workers to resist the company’s concession demands.

One of those fired was Jennifer Travis, whose case is representative. The company alleges that she pushed and shoved a member of Verizon’s management team coming to work, but during Travis’ disciplinary hearing presented no proof to substantiate its claim.

In fact, Travis was nowhere near the person she was alleged to have assaulted, but that didn’t stop the company from firing her. “I never lashed out at anyone on the picket line,” Travis said at national union hall meeting of CWA members. “I gave 15 years of my life to the company and was never disciplined, but I always spoke up when Verizon did something wrong. That’s why I was fired.”

That’s why the others were fired too, added Travis.

In April, Verizon laid off more than 300 IBEW members in New Jersey.

But the unions have refused to back down and instead have mounted vigorous mobilizing campaigns to press their fight for a decent contract.

At the same union hall meeting where Travis talked about her case, CWA President Larry Cohen said that CWA would stand with all those who Verizon fired for strike activity and that the union would continue its VeriGreedy campaign.

Since then, CWA and IBEW have continued to leaflet Verizon Wireless stores telling potential customers that Verizon is seeking $1 billion worth of concessions from its workers even though it reported $19.8 billion in profits between 2008 and 2011 and received federal income tax refunds of $758 million.

(Verizon also expects to increase income by another $1 billion as it requires consumers to upgrade their phones and pay for the upgrades.)

CWA has also been mobilizing members and supporters to stop Verizon from partnering with cable companies, which if allowed to happen, according to the union, will drive up cable and phone rates and make access to high-speed internet more difficult in some areas.

Since workers returned to work, the unions have held countless actions for a decent contract. Retired Verizon workers have picketed work sites, workers have repeatedly demonstrated at Verizon’s Baskin Ridge, New Jersey headquarters, and last year Verizon workers joined with Occupy demonstrators in New York for a mass rally against the company.

More recently, 5,000 Verizon workers on August 11 rallied in front of Verizon’s office building in downtown Philadelphia and then joined 30,000 other union members at the Workers Stand for America rally.

Should the mobilizing activity fail to persuade Verizon, the unions are preparing to strike. In early August, CWA held practice picketing at work sites before and after work and during lunch time. Some locals and union members circulated a flyer addressed to CEO Lowell McAdams informing him of their determination to strike if the company refuses a fair deal, and Local 1101 circulated a letter among members addressed to CWA President Cohen telling him, that to protect our jobs and future, “(We’ll) strike but never surrender.”


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