News

Bitter Verizon Strike Enters Week Three

8/22/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

A strike by 45,000 union-represented
Verizon Communications employees
threatened to stretch into a third week, as the
telco enlisted thousands of managers and contractors
to keep the company’s customer service
and network operations
running.

The strike by workers in
the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic
regions began Aug.
7. At press time last Friday,
the sides had not resolved
the standoff. The
Communications Workers
of America represents
about 33,000 Verizon employees,
while the International
Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers represents
some 12,000.

Verizon said it had
trained more than 40,000
management employees,
retirees and contractors
to fill in for the strikers.
“Our plan is to do what we have to do to keep
our networks running,” Verizon spokesman
Rich Young said. “By and large … our networks
are performing solidly.”

The telco is seeking changes to the unions’
previous contracts, reached in 2008. Among the
major sticking points: Verizon is asking workers
to pay health-care premiums, and the company
wants to have more flexible work rules, to eliminate
job-security provisions and to freeze pensions
(while the company would match up to 9%
of salary toward workers’ 401(k) plans).

The unions claimed Verizon’s demands,
taken together, would cost
members $20,000 annually.
The company is on track
to generate a net profit of $6
billion in 2011 on revenue of
$108 billion, the CWA has
noted.

Each side accused the
other of not bargaining in
good faith, in complaints
filed with the National Labor
Relations Board. “This
is an extremely contentious
and bitter dispute,”
said Gary Chaison, professor
of industrial relations at
Clark University’s Graduate
School of Management.
“It not only involves a huge
number of workers, but because
the company is asking for a large number
of major concessions … the parties have dug in.”

Since the strike began, Verizon claimed it
identified at least 170 acts of sabotage against
its network facilities. The telco is working with
the FBI to investigate the incidents and is offering
a $50,000 reward for information leading to
the arrest and conviction of those responsible
for the damage.

The unions said they “do not condone violence
in any form” and that they expect members
to fully comply with the law. Meanwhile,
CWA and IBEW officials have alleged some of
their workers were injured by vehicles driven by
Verizon replacement workers.

Last week, Verizon began notifying striking
employees that their health-care coverage will
be terminated if they are still off the job at the
end of the month — which the telco said was
standard procedure but CWA called a scare
tactic.

“It started as a big strike aimed at repelling
concession bargaining by the company, but it’s
turning very bitter, with charges being traded
and much talk but little bargaining,” Chaison
said.

Negotiating teams for Verizon and the unions
met in Rye Brook, N.Y., and Philadelphia. According
to Young, as of late last week “there’s
been progress made on some issues” but he declined
to elaborate.

September