On April 13th, 39,000 Verizon workers in districts covering New England and the Mid-Atlantic states as far south as Virginia walked off the job and onto picket lines. The workers are members of both the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
By Wayne DeLuca.
The main questions at stake in the strike include “structural changes” to health benefits – meaning a greater degree of costs passed on to the workers, effectively a pay cut – as well as job security guarantees and caps to member pensions. Thousands of call center employees could see their jobs relocated or moved offshore. Verizon has also demanded arbitrary months-long relocation for teams of workers without recourse.
While Verizon has made over $39 billion in profit over the last 3 years, workers are fully willing to go back to work under the terms of their previous contract. It is the claw backs of benefits and job security, rather than the greed that Verizon accuses them of, that have forced them to strike.
Many of Verizon’s Wireless stores are not run by union employees, but the CWA and IBEW have targeted them with major success. Walk-in sales throughout the Northeast have fallen sharply, as would-be customers have avoided the picket lines. New installations for phone, DSL and FiOS have been on hold, with scabs only being sent out for emergency support, and call centers have been in disarray, with support calls simply not being handled.
The company’s intransigence cannot hide the basic fact that the first ten days of the strike have already cut into profits. This will continue to worsen the longer it goes on, and there will be growing pressure from the financial sector to settle throughout the year. However, Verizon’s actions are not aimed simply at immediate costs but at taking back power from the union, and it looks to be a prolonged battle.
Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon, was so oblivious to his workers’ concerns that he actually visited a picket line and said to workers: “to be honest, I’m not sure why you’re out here”. With an $18 million salary and disbursing millions in bonuses to management while demanding more and more givebacks from workers, McAdam represents in person the arrogant, ruthless capitalist class of the 21st century. His toughness has caused backlash, as bourgeois papers like the New Jersey Star-Ledger decry the “Bad Connection” between Verizon and its workers.
Early in the strike, solidarity has had an impact. In three cases, CWA workers in New York City have tracked down the hotels being used to house scabs. With support from local Teamsters and the hotel unions, pickets have run the scabs out. A warehouse used as a dispatch center for scab technicians was shut down with more help from Teamsters local 814. UPS drivers have honored picket lines as well, with a message going out on the strike’s second day to avoid the struck location and report the package as undeliverable.
Strikers in New York have also been able to follow company vehicles to job sites, a form of “mobile pickets” that is considered legal under labor law. Customers who call for support from scabs find their homes the site of a picket line, a rude shock that has hurt Verizon’s image.
In many locations, Verizon is a beneficiary of monopoly or semi-monopoly legislation that limits potential customers of phone, cable and internet services to one or two providers. This is theoretically a concession for the company’s investment in communication infrastructure, but Verizon has chosen to let whole potential service areas linger without high-speed FiOS internet and cable. Essentially, Verizon is a public utility that is allowed to act like a high-tech company, and it has been the worst of both.
This assault on workers is not limited to current employees of Verizon in the northeastern USA. The company’s target is nothing less than the ability of the labor movement to protect the workers in its ranks. It would like nothing more than to rid itself of unions that can defend the wages, hours and conditions that have been won over decades of struggle. As it squeezes workers out and depresses benefits, Verizon stands to lower the wages of all workers. There is a sense among strikers that the stakes are higher and this is a real fight between corporations and the working class.
Verizon – one of the main successors of the old Bell System – has existed off of public subsidy and monopoly for decades. The corporation should be nationalized under control of its workers, and administered as a public good. Until a workers’ movement powerful enough to call for this can be forged, workers need to build solidarity with the Verizon strikers and support their struggle in whatever way possible.
No concessions! Picket lines mean don’t cross!
For a return of all striking workers with full job security and benefits!