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Vol. 75/No. 31      September 5, 2011

Verizon strikers return to work,
fight against takebacks is still on
(front page)
“We were out two weeks and everyone was strong,” said Verizon worker Mike Stucchio in New York. “And we could walk again if the deal’s not struck.”

Stucchio was one of 45,000 Verizon workers who went on strike August 7 against the company’s demands for across-the-board takebacks on everything from wages to pensions to health care. It was the largest strike in the United States in four years.

Officials of the two striking unions—the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—announced in a statement August 20 that workers would return to the job because “we have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured. The major issues remain to be discussed.”

Strikers interviewed as they prepared to return to work expressed a range of opinions.

“Verizon is willing to allow us to work under the old contract, when in the beginning they said no,” Pittsburgh IBEW member Adrienne Pope told the Militant. “We still have tons of issues the company wants in concessions that we’re in total disagreement with. This may take a while. Our efforts and solidarity from other unions have been a major factor.”

“We weren’t prepared for a long strike,” said Craig Ross in New York. “But I’m not happy about not having a contract. I hope the company isn’t planning to use this as an opportunity to have us come in, clean up the workload, and then start playing hardball again.”

Joe Urban, a central office technician in New York, was on strike against Verizon in 1989 for 17 weeks. “The company may not be making the profits they want, but we know there is enough to pay for our benefits from the millions they are making,” he said.

Urban rejected the idea that the workers were greedy for demanding no cuts to their benefits, while other workers have seen big cuts to theirs. “I tell people we have good benefits and you should too!”

Other working people, both union and nonunion, quickly identified with the strikers, glad to see someone finally put up a fight against the relentless drive by the employers against wages, benefits, and job conditions in the last three years.

At an August 20 rally of 400 in Pittsburgh to support the strike, a number of workers from other unions turned out to show solidarity. “This is not just about Verizon,” Jim Bonner, a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told the Militant. “There were 140 bus drivers laid off in April. People can’t get to work. No politician is helping us.”

“We are here because our contract is up November 1,” said Larry Rinney of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ. “We have to show the rich that we are united.”

John Vignovic, chief steward for CWA Local 13500, gave an example of the solidarity the strikers received. “When it was raining a bus pulled up to the picket line and donated a box of umbrellas left by passengers,” he said.

Verizon strikers also spoke about some of their experiences during the two-week walkout.

“I’m enjoying the strike, fighting for our rights and everything we believe in,” said Tony, who had never been on strike before. He asked his last name not be used.

Derek Timm, a cable splicer in Philadelphia, told Militant correspondents he was one of 200 strikers on the “Flying Squad.” These workers drove around the city observing and photographing Verizon bosses doing struck work. “In particular we were on the lookout for safety violations and hazardous conditions created by the strikebreakers,” he said. Timm is on the union safety committee.

Safety was also on the mind of technician Brian Williams, a CWA member. “Verizon has cut the installation workforce so we are forced to one-man crews,” he said. “This is a safety issue. We are climbing ladders alone in all kinds of weather.”

Róger Calero, Ruth Robinett, and Sara Lobman in New York; Janet Post in Philadelphia; and Alyson Kennedy in Chicago contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Sugar workers resolute in fight against lockout
Reach out for solidarity in Upper Midwest
On the Picket Line
West Virginia coal miner is killed in 13th US mine death  
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