An interesting Mark Engler article was published yesterday which draws parallels between the public employee union fight against bargaining-stripping legislators in Wisconsin and private sector unions (CWA and IBEW) standing up to telecom giant Verizon’s demands for wage, benefit and vacation concessions up and down the East Coast.
Without a doubt, this is a conflict of national significance. As Bob Master, CWA District 1 legislative and political director, explained Wednesday in a conference call with supporters, “This is an enormously profitable company, which we believe is trying to take advantage of an anti-union environment and, in a sense, to replicate at a giant private-sector corporation what the governors of Ohio, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have been trying to do to the public sector. Our members feel very strongly that we need to draw a line here.”
The parallel to Wisconsin is apt for several reasons. First, like the Republican elected officials in their attacks on unionized schoolteachers and other public employees, Verizon is taking aim at one of the last bastions of the American middle class. As a main strategy in its public relations, the company is trying to stoke resentment about the fact that the CWA and IBEW workers actually have living-wage jobs. It is hoping that “I don’t have a pension, why should they” logic will carry the day.
The unions and their supporters have made Verizon profits ($12 billion in 2010), executive pay ($258 million over four years among the company’s top five in charge, or roughly $12 million annually each) and tax evasion their main talking points. From the CWA website:
Since the first day of negotiations, through contract expiration and even today, Verizon management has demanded the same $1 billion in concessions from its 45,000 workers. These demands would cost every family $20,000 a year. This is unacceptable from a company that is among the 10 wealthiest in America, that compensates the top five executives at a level of more than a quarter of a billion dollars over four years, that doesn’t pay any federal income tax and still gets a $1.3 billion tax rebate,” said CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson.
In Wisconsin, the unions played offense by making the claim that the state was not “broke” and that the Governor turned down and mismanaged money and taxes that would have put the state in comfortable financial shape. But it is what the Verizon strike aims to defend — pensions, wages, a legitimate seat at the table — that closely mirrors the Madison matchup. From the Engler article:
Bob Master is right that Verizon’s aggressive bargaining stance, like Governor Scott Walker’s public-sector power grab, is the product of a political climate in which corporate interests feel they can do whatever they want to working people, and employees will have no recourse. The Verizon strike is unfortunately akin to Wisconsin in that it is a defensive battle—an effort to stop tragic rollbacks in previously established standards of fair employment.
Below, CWA president Larry Cohen recently appeared on MSNBC and made the claim that Verizon is asking for “100 givebacks” while giving Vodafone “an unprecedented four and a half billion dollar dividend” just last week:
The 45,000 person Verizon strike is hands down the largest U.S. strike in recent memory, just as the 100,000 people descending on Madison in support of the state’s teachers, firefighters and other public workers was the largest U.S. protest in recent history. At the very least, the Wisconsin and Verizon battles have one thing in common: the futures of tens of thousands of families are at stake.