Unions representing 39,000 striking Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states on May 27 announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the company on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The workers, who belong to the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers(IBEW), have been on strike for 45 days. If the agreement is ratified, the strikers could return to work next week.
No details of the agreement have been released, but CWA President Chris Shelton said that tentative agreement achieves “our major goals of improving working families’ standard of living, creating good union jobs in our communities, and achieving a first contract for wireless retail store workers.”
“The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole,” said Shelton. “The agreement in principle at Verizon is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people. This proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities, and protect the American middle class.”
Since the strike started, members of the two unions have taken an aggressive stand to protect their jobs, which Verizon was looking to eliminate by outsourcing work and consolidating call centers.
Workers not only picketed work sites, they held demonstrations at Verizon stores, thousands of them converged on Verizon’s headquarters in New York, and they conducted outreach campaigns to win the support of consumers and elected officials.
Verizon tried to maintain a semblance of normal service by using managers and replacement workers to provide services.
The company even paid for replacement workers to stay in hotels during the strike.
Alex Gourevitch writing for Jacobin reports that, when union members learned where the scabs were staying, they arrived at the hotels early in the morning blowing horns, ringing bell, and chanting loudly.
The disruptions caused some hotels to stop allowing Verizon to use their premises as a base of operations.
The courts finally issued injunctions to stop the workers from demonstrating at the hotels, but the workers maintained their solidarity on the picket lines, and the strike began to takes its toll on Verizon.
The Montclair Patch reported that Verizon customers in New Jersey complained about serious service problems during the strike.
“It as been nothing short of a nightmare,” said one dissatisfied Verizon customer, who was trying to get her phone fixed. The replacement worker who was sent to fix her phone, “didn’t have a clue as to how to fix my phone, so they called two more techs to come and help. They were at the house from 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and the four of them completely botched my phone and made it even worse.”
The strike also appeared to be affecting Verizon’s bottom line.
Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam on May 24 told investors to expect lower second quarter earnings because of the strike.
The Wall Street Journal reported that one analyst estimated that the strike would reduce company revenue by $343 million during the company’s second quarter reporting period.
Three days later the tentative agreement was announced.
Negotiations for the new contract began last summer, but dragged on until April when the company decided to test the resolve of its workers by forcing them to go on strike.
The company demanded that the unions accept its concession demands, or the company would begin requiring technicians to accept job assignments that would keep them away from their homes for months at a time.
The unions refused to budge, and the strike began on April 13. A few days later, Verizon announced that its concession-laced contract proposal was its last, best final offer.
The move was an attempt by the company to stampede union members back to work, but the strikers held firm.
In a few more weeks, government officials began to worry about the strike’s impact on the larger economy, and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez summoned union leaders and company executives to Washington for a face-to-face meeting.
After the meeting, the two sides announced that negotiations would resume, and a day later, Perez said that a federal mediator would help the two sides reach an agreement.
The subsequent negotiations took 13 days before a tentative agreement was announced. When it was announced, the unions said that they would take down their picket lines.
One important result of the strike is that 65 Verizon wireless workers, who joined CWA in an attempt to improve their working conditions won their first collective bargaining agreement.
The company had steadfastly refused to recognize the new union bargaining component because it wanted to keep its wireless division union free.
The new contract for wireless workers will likely encourage other Verizon wireless workers to join the union.