Union fact finders confronted by SWAT team; unions return to bargaining table with VZ

A week after a union fact-finding team was confronted by a SWAT team carrying automatic weapons, US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez called leaders of the unions representing 39,000 striking workers to Washington DC to meet with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam.

As a result of the meeting, the two sides agreed to return to the bargaining table on May 17.

Secretary Perez said that time was of the essence for the two sides to reach a “mutually beneficial resolution to the strike.”

The unions have established a website where strike supporters can show their solidarity by donating to a fund that provides financial assistance to striking workers.

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who work for Verizon in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have been on strike since April 13.

They want to protect their good-paying jobs and maintain some control over job assignments that affect their home life and the quality of their life away from work.

Verizon wants to close call centers, offshore more work, and impose work rules that would force workers to accept work assignments that require them to live away from home for months at a time.

CWA recently learned that Verizon has already begun the process of offshoring more customer service jobs.

According to CWA President Chris Shelton, Verizon call center workers in the Philippines contacted CWA to inform the union that Verizon was routing customer service calls to call centers in the Philippines.

The Philippine workers, who are paid $1.78 an hour, said that they were required to work one to two hours of overtime five days a week and a sixth eight-hour day without being paid for overtime.

McAdam had previously denied that the company was extensively offshoring customer service calls; although he did admit that a few business calls for service were being routed overseas.

CWA sent four representatives on a fact finding mission to uncover the truth.

They talked to workers at the Verizon call centers and found out that they were indeed paid $1.78 an hour and were working unpaid overtime to handle the upsurge in calls from Verizon’s US customers.

When the fact finding team visited a Verizon office in Alagang and asked to speak to company representatives, they were confronted by armed security personnel and local police carrying automatic weapons.

The fact-finding team returned to their car, but as they were driving away, their vehicle was pulled over by a police vehicle.

Masked SWAT team officers, dressed in black, and carrying automatic weapons exited the vehicle and confronted the union fact finders.

After several harrowing minutes, the union fact finders were allowed to leave.

“When our members uncovered how Verizon is padding its incredible profit margins by replacing good paying American jobs with poverty-wage jobs abroad, Verizon sent armed guards and a SWAT team after them,” said Shelton.

Verizon has reported profits of $39 billion during the last three years, and its first quarter, pre-strike profits for 2016 were $4.3 billion; however, the company warned investors that the ongoing strike would likely lower profits in the second quarter of the company’s fiscal year.

Commenting on Verizon using armed guards and police to confront union fact finders, CWA District 2-13 Edward Mooney said that “Verizon is going to great lengths to try to hide their strategy of outsourcing middle-class American jobs in favor of poverty wages abroad.”

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Unions lampoon Verizon for its greed

The fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement at Verizon took a satirical turn on Black Friday when union members passed out flyers at Verizon stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states lampooning Verizon for its greed.

The flyer, entitled “Please Help Verizon,” begins with the statement: “Verizon only makes $1 billion in profits every month and its executives have raked in a measly $249 million in the last five years.

“To get them out of such dire straits,” continues the flyer. “Verizon wants to shift costs to employees – demanding to cut retirement and job security, raise health care costs by thousands of dollars per worker, and even taking away benefits from employees who have been injured on the job. Management is refusing to negotiate better wages or benefits for Verizon Wireless workers.”

Since August when their collective bargaining agreement expired, 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who work at Verizon from Massachusetts to Virginia have been working without a contract.

The two sides are continuing to bargain, but according to the CWA, Verizon is stonewalling while continuing to insist on steep concessions.

“We do not have a willing negotiating partner,” said CWA Local 1103 President Kevin Sheil to members at a November 19 rally in Poughkeepsie, NY. “The company’s practicing the art of race-to-the-bottom bargaining. Verizon is literally making over a billion dollars a month in profits, and yet, they still want to destroy our families, our communities, our union, and our contract.”

Since Verizon’s union workers began working without a contract, members have been engaged in a Stand Up to Verizon campaign, a series of  demonstrations, rallies, and job actions expressing their unity and willingness to fight for fair contract.

The Black Friday leafletting at Verizon stores was part of the Stand Up to Verizon campaign.

The “Please Help Verizon” flyer is a mixture of tongue-in-cheek comedy and serious information.

Referring to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, the flyer laments that “McAdam makes a paltry $18 million a year and only has access to one corporate jet.”

While McAdam is riding high, he’s demanding more sacrifices from Verizon workers.

Verizon workers aren’t the only ones that McAdam and Verizon are taking for a ride.

“In order to keep showering Verizon’s top executives with cash, Verizon customers have also had to make sacrifices,” says the flyer.

According to the unions, Verizon has failed to keep promises it made to extend its FiOS high-speed internet services to communities and has allowed its landline service to deteriorate badly.

The New York Times reports that when New York City granted Verizon a cable franchise in 2008, the company agreed to make FiOS service available to all neighborhoods.

Seven years later, 106,000 New York City residents like Stephanie Brooks of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn are still waiting for FiOS service.

Last summer, the mayors of Syracuse, Kingston, Albany, Utica, and Rome criticized Verizon for not expanding FiOS service to their cities’ low-income neighborhoods.

In October, 14 mayors of Northeastern cities including the mayor of New York City, Philadelphia, and Pittsburg sent a letter to Verizon criticizing the company’s decision not to extend FiOS service to under served communities in their cities.

The letter also criticizes Verizon for “abandoning (its) copper network and traditional landline customers,” who are “experiencing frequent service outages, delays in repairs and installations, and forced migration to the inferior VoiceLink product.”

Landlines and the copper network that keeps them operating provide vital services to many of Verizon’s customers.

Just how vital this service came into sharp focus recently in Poughkeepsie.

The East Duchess Daily Voice on November 12 reported that “Verizon is reporting all landline 911 trunks associated with the 911 phone system are out of service.” The problem was reported in the late afternoon and wasn’t fixed until 9 P.M.

According to CWA, Verizon spends very little maintaining its landline network.–only $3.50 per customer over the last seven years. Meanwhile, the company is charging customers $300 to $375 a year for the service.

The unions have made improved customer service, an important part of the bargaining strategy and have asked regulators in Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey to take action to ensure that Verizon meets its obligation to provide quality services to all customers.

Bargaining between Verizon and the unions is taking place in two locations: Rye, New York for Verizon workers in New England, New York, and New Jersey and Philadelphia for Verizon workers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, West Virginia, and Virginia.

Bargaining in Rye resumed after a break for Thanksgiving, and CWA District 2-13 informed the company that it ready to continue talks in Philadelphia.