Strike at Verizon looms as bargaining deadline approaches

Come August 1, 39,000 Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states may be on strike.

Members of two unions currently bargaining with Verizon on a new collective bargaining agreement voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if a fair agreement can’t be reached by the bargaining deadline.

“Our members are clear and they are determined – they reject management’s harsh concessionary demands, including the elimination of job security, sharp increases in workers’ health care costs, and slashing retirement security,” said Dennis Trainor, CWA District 1 vice president. “Verizon made $9.6 billion in profits in 2014, and reported $4.4 billion in profits just in the 2015 second quarter alone. Their demands are completely outrageous and unwarranted.”

“The company’s comprehensive proposal does nothing but take from this membership,” said Dave Keating, business manager for IBEW Local 2325 in Worcester, Massachusetts. “They post profits in the billions but continue to look for more from our members. They put more money in their own pockets and erode the working conditions of our members. Enough is enough.”

IBEW represents about 10,000 Verizon workers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. CWA represents the rest.

CWA reported that 86 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike. IBEW reported that “an overwhelming number” of members voted to strike.

Despite robust profits that have left Verizon sitting on stacks of money, the company is demanding a laundry list of concessions.

Among other things, Verizon wants to undermine workers’ retirement security. Verizon told the union that it no longer wants to make contributions to a worker’s 401(k) plan if the worker chooses to remain in the company’s defined benefit pension plan.

Savings plans like 401(k) plans are no substitute for a pension, but they do provide a way for workers to supplement their pensions, which makes retirement more secure.

In addition to making retirement less secure, Verizon wants a new collective bargaining agreement that

  • Eliminates cost of living raises
  • Makes workers pay more for their health insurance by increasing co-pays, deductibles, and the workers’ share of health care insurance premiums
  • Bars the union from negotiating health care benefits for retirees
  • Discontinues workers’ family leave benefit, which the union negotiated 20 years ago.
  • Removes protections against layoffs and forced transfers.
  • Eliminates the minimum profit sharing payout.
  • Eliminates Saturday and Sunday differentials (extra pay) and premium pay and all but 10 percent of the differential pay that workers earn by working odd hours.
  • Rewrites the overtime rules, so that workers are paid overtime only after working 40 hours a week, not eight hours a day as it states in the current contract
  • Eliminates caps on overtime
  • Ends disability payments resulting from accidents and reduces sickness disability payments
  • Allows the company to outsource more work
  • Allows the company to transfer employees without employees’ approval
  • Cuts back the company’s tuition assistance plan
  • Eliminates job security language in the current collective bargaining agreement
  • Eliminates family care leave, and
  • Allows the company to change medical plans or health care premiums paid by workers to avoid paying the Affordable Care Act excise taxes without negotiating with the union.

The lost pay resulting from changes to premium, differential, and overtime pay, the loss of cost of living raises, the possibility of higher health care costs, the elimination of other benefits that have been hard won by union members over the years far offset the modest pay increases that Verizon management has proposed.

But Marc Reed, Verizon Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, has been sending e-mails and letters to union members telling them that Verizon’s contract proposals are a generous offer that’s being blocked by union negotiators.

“Marc Reed’s letters are complete and utter bullshit,” said CWA President Chris Shelton at a July 25 rally in front of the Verizon building in New York City.

Shelton’s assessment seems to be shared by many others as the 12,000 Verizon workers who attended the rally replied to Shelton’s assessment by chanting, “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

Shelton told the crowd of union workers who came from as far away as Virginia and Buffalo, New York that their good pay and benefits aren’t the result of the company’s generosity, but rather their own willingness to stand up and fight.

If the company had its way, they’d like to reduce pay as low as possible, eliminate benefits, and take away any job security that workers might have, said Shelton.

“On August 1 at midnight, these bastards,” said Shelton, pointing to the Verizon headquarters building. “Are going to learn that we’re ready to fight, and fight, and fight. . . and that we’re ready to win.”

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