Verizon workers strike for jobs, better customer service, and their families

When negotiations between striking workers and Verizon resumed on Friday, April 15, the two unions representing the 39,000 striking workers came ready to negotiate a fair contract that could end the two-day old strike, but Verizon management had other priorities.

Instead of bargaining, Verizon executives demanded more concessions from the unions, then left the meeting to get an early start on their weekend.

The unions, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers (IBEW), rejected the new concession demands and the ones that Verizon has insisted on during the last ten months of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement that covers Verizon union workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

“Workers already have put hundreds of millions of dollars in health care cost savings on the table,” said Ed Mooney CWA vice president for District 2-13. “We simply cannot compromise on contract changes that would ship more work overseas and have our families separated for months at a time.”

While Verizon executives were turning their backs on their workers, they appeared to be turning their backs on customers as well.

The New York Times reports that “Verizon’s wireline customers can reasonably expect a deterioration of service (during the strike).”

All but a handful of the strikers work in Verizon’s wireline division, which provides landline telephone services to homes and businesses.

Their skill and expertise keep landlines at homes and businesses operating.

Skilled call center representatives are also on strike. They expedite customers’ calls for help and service.

Verizon reports that it has trained 10,000 non-union staff to replace the 39,000 strikers during the strike, but it’s difficult to see how this under-staffed cohort of strike breakers can maintain pre-strike levels of services.

“There will almost certainly be some functions which may be slower or unavailable during the strike, because they require specialized skills or there just aren’t sufficient alternative resources available to fill all functions,” said Jan Dawson, an independent technology analyst for Jackdaw Research to the Times.

But this won’t be the first time that Verizon has put customer service on the back burner.

In 2004, Verizon promised to extend FiOS, its fiber optic service, to 18 million people living in communities without this service. Doing so would have extended broadband internet service and improved landline service to these communities.

More than a decade later, millions of these potential customers are waiting for that promise to be fulfilled.

As a result 14 mayors of cities that have been passed over by Verizon, recently wrote the company a letter criticizing the company’s decision to ignore their communities.

Verizon also failed to extend FiOS to under served communities in New York City.

According to Counterpunch, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication reported last year that Verizon had not met the terms of an agreement with the city to expand FiOS in the city’s five boroughs.

And both unions report that Verizon is not maintaining its copper wire network, which makes wireline service possible to millions of customers.

Verizon has snubbed customers in other ways.

For instance, it has outsourced 5,000 call center customer representative jobs to other countries.

Rosemary Batt, a professor at Cornell University who studies the impact of offshoring call center jobs, told the Times that, “turnover is lower and performance and customer satisfaction are substantially higher when (call center work) is done in-house (rather than offshore).”

“You need a more sophisticated work force that’s trained and committed to the company to do (customer service) well,” said Batt to the Times.

Preserving the in-house call-center jobs that remain at Verizon is one of the main goals of the strike.

Without the union, (more)  jobs would be off-shored in a heartbeat,’ said Keith Bonasoro  a striking IBEW member to the Boston Globe. . . “What we’re doing here is we’re protecting American jobs. They (Verizon) want to constantly off-shore, outsource good middle-class jobs that support our community. There’s growing public sentiment against corporate greed.”

In addition to offshoring jobs, Verizon, which reported $39 billion in profits during the last three years, wants to outsource more work to low-wage contractors, close and consolidate call centers, and make wireline technicians work away from home–sometimes in other states–for up to two months at a time.

Closing and consolidating call centers and making technicians work away from home for extended periods of time will make family life more difficult for workers and their loved ones.

Verizon also is refusing to negotiate a new first contract for Verizon wireless workers who recently joined CWA and wants to raise health care costs of Verizon retirees.

“Our families and our customers deserve more from Verizon” said Isaac Collazo, a CWA member from Brooklyn. “Through our hard work, Verizon is making record profits while our families are left with threats to our jobs and our customers aren’t getting the service they need. Striking is a hardship for our families, but we need to remind Verizon executives that the people who build their profits are a critical reason for the company’s success.”

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