July 2011

IBEW Verizon Employees Mobilize for Fair Contract
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Flush times for many large corporations are back—and Verizon is no exception. But when representatives of the company sat down at the bargaining table with union negotiators last month to discuss new contract talks, IBEW members didn't hear any talk about high earnings.

"All of a sudden, when it comes to negotiations, it's doom-and-gloom on the company's balance sheets," said Syracuse, N.Y., Local 2213 Business Manager Mary Jo Arcuri. "And they use that to try to justify winnowing down health care and threatening job loss."

Arcuri is part of the joint IBEW-CWA team bargaining for fair benefits and job security for about 50,000 union members in New England and the surrounding region. Negotiations kicked off June 22 in Philadelphia and Rye, N.Y. The IBEW represents 12,500 Verizon employees in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The members' three-year contract expires August 6.

Cutbacks in health care coverage could be economically disastrous for the company's retirees in New Jersey, said East Windsor Local 827 Business Manager William Huber, who sits on the negotiating committee. The local represents more than 10,000 active and retired members in the Garden State.

"We understand that rising health care costs are a concern, but we have more than 6,000 former Verizon employees collecting pensions and living on fixed incomes," he said. "If you're in that kind of situation and the company cuts your health care coverage, what are you supposed to do? How can you pay for that?"

Members are mobilizing with pro-worker signs, T-shirt days, informational e-mail blasts and rally preparations—as well as building momentum through social media sites like Facebook. Local 2213 member Barb Carson, who works at Verizon's Binghamton call center, said solidarity is the key in winning greater job security.

"I started working here 12 years ago," said Carson, a shop steward who is active in the mobilization effort. "Back then, there were more than 100 people here. Now there are about 30." Company buyouts have been widespread, and management has increased outsourcing of work to contractors and vendors in right-to-work states like Texas and Arizona as well as overseas. "Verizon is doing what it can to break the union."

Boston Local 2222 Business Manager Myles Calvey said branches of the company that specialize in older technologies like copper landlines and newer developments with fiber optics—or FiOS—still have strong union density. But Verizon's most profitable sector has been its wireless division, which has stiff-armed organizing efforts for much of the past decade.

"Verizon is right in the mix of corporate America trying to squash unionism," Calvey said. In the last few years, the union lost thousands of members through buyouts and retirements, as well as from Verizon's sale of landlines to Hawaiian Telcom and FairPoint Communications—deals that ended in bankruptcy for both of the smaller companies. The union also lost about 3,500 members two years ago when Verizon sold landlines in more than a dozen states to Frontier Communications.

"And the company has so far been successful at shutting us out of the wireless side, so it's fair to say the future of our membership is at stake," said Calvey—who is the chairman of IBEW System Council T-6, which holds contract agreements for Local 2222; Braintree, Mass., Local 2313; Middleton, Mass., Local 2321; Middleboro, Mass., Local 2322; Cranston, R.I., Local 2323; Springfield, Mass., Local 2324; and Worcester, Mass., Local 2325. Also covered in the agreement are 300 members of Philadelphia Local 1944.

Verizon recently announced that it tripled its profits in the first quarter of the year, due largely to the company's new iPhone sales.

"We're the ones who help make the profits and play a vital role in keeping the business together—it's only right that we get treated fairly," said Huber.

Mobilization efforts are underway as IBEW negotiators begin talks with Verizon.