Published: May 5, 2016
By Zachary Dyer
It was a cold and quiet evening on Friday as three striking Verizon workers and their child spent hours picketing outside the Adams Avenue Verizon Wireless Office in downtown Scranton. Since April 13, more than 39,000 Verizon employees have been on strike after failing to negotiate a new contract with the company. This is the largest strike of its kind within the past five years, according to a recent Huffington Post review.
The strike encompasses a large majority of the East Coast, and involves mostly technicians and customer service representatives.
Representing the employees are the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions.
Employees have been without contracts since August, negotiating for the past 10 months. According to a CWA representative cited in The Huffington Post (which is owned by Verizon), Verizon was insisting “there not be layoff protections for employees hired after 2003, and that technicians be able to work up to two months away from home”.
A CWA statement said that Verizon was “refusing to give up on demand on offshoring jobs and other devastating cuts.”
Verizon fired back that they had made “good faith efforts” at the negotiations, but that “union leaders decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.”
While Verizon criticized the Unions for the decision to not have the federal government mediate the dispute, the CWA fired back that the mediation issues were merely “distractions from the real problem: Verizon’s corporate greed.”
Hopeful presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently issued his support, while at a campaign stop in New York, for the CWA, who had already endorsed him. He compared Verizon to other “major American corporation[s] trying to destroy the lives of working Americans”.
Last Thursday, Verizon issued a statement, explaining that they had presented the CWA and IBEW leaders with their “best and final offer,” which Union leaders rejected.
In the statement, Verizon references job security (one of the biggest issues among Verizon employees), saying, “If an employee has job security today, that will be retained for the term of the contract provided the company gets increased flexibility in managing and deploying the workforce, through measures such as voluntary retirement incentive offers and other workforce flexibility changes.”
Many Verizon employees have voiced their concerns with the ambiguity of the words, citing worries that they would be sent to other states to work for indefinite amounts of time. Bob Master, the political director for the CWA, states that “they are trying to get what they label as ‘flexibility,’ which undermines our job security and the fairness with which workers are treated. The attitude is ‘we want to do workers whatever want’…it’s ideological”.
Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations director, Kate Brofenbrenner, said the fight is not simply about what is cheaper for Verizon, but more so about “union avoidance”.
Verizon workers need to rally community support within the coming weeks: as the strike drags on, the effects no longer affect just the customers of Verizon. Families and dependents of Verizon employees are beginning to suffer, and unless Verizon can quench the greed from which most of their labor disputes arise, this strike seems as if it will go on for a long time.
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