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40,000 CWA, IBEW Workers Strike at Verizon

CWA IBEW strike

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Nearly 40,000 unionized Verizon workers went on strike this morning, from Virginia to Massachusetts, having not reached a fair contract by the 6AM deadline.  Negotiations began in June of 2015. The workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), worked without a contract since August of that year.  The strike is the largest in America in years.  

At stake is the livelihood of working class families who are seeing their careers threatened by possible outsourcing. The job security that once made these jobs so attractive is dissipating.  In a statement, CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor attempted to explain the mindset of the 40,000 workers ready to strike:

“We’re standing up for working families and standing up to Verizon’s corporate greed.  If a hugely profitable corporation like Verizon can destroy the good family-supporting jobs of highly skilled workers, then no worker in America will be safe from this corporate race to the bottom.”

The extreme concessions being called for by Verizon come despite $39 billion in profits over the past three years.  In the first three months of 2016 alone the company has made $5.4 billion in profits. Yet the outsourcing threats are combined with a refusal to negotiate any improvements to wages, benefits, or working conditions for Verizon Wireless retail workers, who formed a union in 2014.

Dan Hylton, a 20-year veteran of the company from Roanoke, Virginia, laid out the harsh reality of working for the communications giant:

Verizon is already turning people’s lives upside down by sending us hundreds of miles from home for weeks at a time, and now they want to make it even worse.  Technicians on our team have always been happy to volunteer after natural disasters when our customers needed help, but if I was forced away from home for two months, I have no idea what my wife would do. She had back surgery last year, and she needs my help. I just want to do a good job, be there for my family, and have a decent life.”

Betsy Derr, a customer service representative and CWA member in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, explained how the proposed changes would affect her and her family:

“Verizon wants to force through changes that would make it easier to uproot workers and hurt our communities.  My job could be relocated about 70 miles away.  With three more hours of time commuting every day, I’ll be gone before my stepsons get up and maybe home for an hour before they go to bed.”

CWA recently released a 30-second ad outlining how Verizon’s demands would affect communities.  

The root of the failed negotiations has long been the company’s unchecked greed.  There is little basis for those atop the company’s corporate structure to earn 200 times more than the average Verizon employee. The company’s top five executives made $233 million over the last five years.  

The union has already agreed to concessions that would see workers take on hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.  But it is not enough. Verizon wants to freeze pensions at 30 years of service, which would force retirees to pay extremely high health care costs.  Verizon has also demanded that the workers agree to policies which would slash benefits for workers hurt on the job.  

The concessions have already moved the goalposts regarding what a “fair contract” is.  As noted by Myles Calvey, IBEW Local 2222 business manager and chairman:

“For months and months, we’ve made every effort to reach a fair agreement at the bargaining table.  We’ve offered Verizon hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings and yet they still refuse to provide basic job security for workers. We have to take a stand now for our families and every American worker.”

Prior to this morning’s strike deadline, a group of 20 U.S. Senators called on Verizon to “act as a responsible corporate citizen and negotiate a fair contract with the employees who make your company’s success possible.”  

Analysts speaking with the New York Times note that Verizon may have trained as many as 10,000 workers to fill in for the striking workers, substantially fewer than the number going on strike, and that customers will feel the impact as a result:

“There will almost certainly be some functions which may be slower or unavailable during the strike, because they require specialized skills or there just aren’t sufficient alternative resources available to fill all functions.

In their statement, the IBEW maintained who is to blame for this end result:

“We’ve been more than willing to work together with management to find ways to cut costs. But this isn’t about saving money. It’s about gutting good middle-class jobs and pushing a corporate race to the bottom for working families.”

Constantly updating photos and info can be accessed via the CWA District 1 Twitter page.


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