Dear Commons Community,
Verizon technicians and customer service reps on the company’s wireline phone business walked off the job more than two weeks ago. By modern U.S. standards, the work stoppage is massive — some 37,000 workers, stretching from the Northeast through the mid-Atlantic. The latest round of talks failed to broker a deal, and both sides are girded for a protracted battle. At this point, the fight is over much more than wages and benefits. As reported in The Huffington Post:
“The current work stoppage marks the largest U.S. strike since the last time Verizon workers walked off the job, in 2011. Union membership in the U.S. is hovering near an all-time low of 6.7 percent in the private sector, compared to a post-war high above 30 percent. Strikes are both rarer and riskier than they used to be, given the deteriorated leverage of organized labor. Last year, there were just 12 major strikes, involving 47,000 workers. Two decades earlier, there were 31 of them, involving 192,000 workers.
On Thursday, Verizon offered what it deemed a “best and final offer,” which was rejected by the unions representing the workers, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. That offer included a 7.5 percent pay hike over the course of the contract — a one percent bump over what was previously offered — along with 401k and pension contributions, and health coverage that was only moderately more expensive than the current plan…
But those aren’t the real sticking points. According to Bob Master, political director at CWA, Verizon is willing to extend layoff protections to workers, but only if it can cut into seniority protections, and offer incentives that could help the company nudge unionized workers off the job.
“They are trying to get what they label as ‘flexibility,’ which undermines our job security and the fairness with which workers are treated,” Master said. “The attitude is, ‘We want to do with workers whatever we want.’… It’s ideological.”
Rich Young, a Verizon spokesman, said the company wants the ability to offer retirement incentives for workers in areas where they are overstaffed, which they would need the unions to agree to. He said the packages they have in mind would provide $50,000 or more to workers to voluntarily leave the company. He said the unions don’t want to agree to that because it could shrink the union workforce.
“That’s what it’s about,” Young said. “We’re not in the business of making sure the unions stay in business. We’re in the business of keeping solid jobs for our employees and helping this wireline unit to succeed.
“It’s not that we’re opposed to unions,” he added. “This is a business that has faced challenges.”
Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor research at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the fight isn’t simply about “what’s cheaper” for the company.
“In the case of Verizon, I would say it is just as much about union avoidance,” Bronfenbrenner said. She noted that Verizon has fought back hard against CWA’s efforts to unionize employees on Verizon’s wireless side, which is non-union and growing.”
In solidarity with Verizon workers!