The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 30      August 22, 2011

45,000 strike against
Verizon’s takebacks
‘They’re coming after all us workers’
(lead article)
NEW YORK, August 10—Forty-five thousand Verizon workers from New England to Virginia went on strike August 7 to defend wages, pensions, medical care, and union rights won in past battles, which the company is determined to take back.

Strikers see their fight as part of what many workers, union and nonunion, are up against as employers drive to force them to bear the burden of today’s capitalist economic crisis.

“The stuff we fought for for 25 years, they are trying to take away,” Jim Steele, an employee for 24 years and member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 827, told the Militant at a July 30 rally of thousands of Verizon workers and backers here a week before the strike began. “Every contract after that will get worse. They’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

“We saw them attack the teachers union in Wisconsin,” said Fitz Boyce, a technician picketing in Manhattan. “That was a signal they’re coming after all of us.” Boyce said Verizon is out to break the IBEW and Communications Workers of America (CWA), the two unions that organize Verizon workers.

“The best thing we can do is deny labor to them,” said striker Vinny Galvin, on the picket line at Verizon’s corporate headquarters on Wall Street. He’s been at the company 34 years. “It’s time we turned this around. Labor’s got to fight back.”

The battle affects 35,000 CWA and 10,000 IBEW workers. Almost all are in Verizon’s landline division; Verizon Wireless remains almost entirely nonunion. Five years ago Verizon serviced 47 million land phone lines and today has just 25 million, reports CnnMoney. Company owners want workers to bear the costs of the declining landline business.

In negotiations, Verizon demanded an end to contractual wage increases, with supervisors instead recommending who should get a raise. It called for freezing pensions of current union employees and having none for new hires, who would be offered a 401(k) plan instead. Future employees would get no sick days, and current employees would be limited to five a year.

For the first time, union members would have to pay part of health-care premiums; a family plan could cost as much as $6,800 a year, the CWA says. Verizon wants contract language making it easier to lay off workers without offering severance pay. Since 2006 the company has eliminated 56,000 jobs.

Some “existing contract provisions, negotiated initially when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today,” said Verizon chief executive Lowell McAdam in a note to employees quoted by the Wall Street Journal. “As the U.S. automobile industry found out a few years ago,” he pointedly added, “failure to make needed adjustments—when the need for change is obvious—can be catastrophic.”

“Everyone who is union or has ever been in a union needs to get down here,” said Peter Miralle, picketing a call center in Queens. “We need to reach out to wireless workers, too. We are not against them, but the company.” Boyce said the strikers are getting support from some nonunion Verizon workers.

Workers belonging to CWA Local 1101, the only ones in the wireless division who are organized, also joined the strike.

Debbie Lazar, Sara Lobman, and Tamar Rosenfeld contributed to this article.
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