January 2012

Hawaiian Telcom Workers Take on
Corporate Greed
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Flush times are back for Hawaiian Telcom, the state's largest telecommunications company. So much so that Chief Executive Eric Yeaman increased his annual pay by more by 400 percent, to $6.72 million, late last year.

But big profits at the top have not stopped the company from taking a page out of the Verizon playbook, trying to squeeze its employees for more and more givebacks. And on Nov. 10, Hawaiian Telcom workers said 'enough is enough,' staging a two-day walkout to protest Yeaman's demands for substantial cutbacks to health and retirement benefits.

The workers — represented by Honolulu Local 1357 — have been working without a contract since last summer. Negotiations, which began in August, broke down because of management's initial refusal to compromise on any of its demands.

"We have made it clear that we were ready to sit down to bargain fairly, but senior management has been more interested in pushing its greedy and destructive agenda than working out an equitable solution," said Ninth District International Representative Harold Dias.

The company adjusted its final offer in late November, backing off of some of its concessions, but it was rejected by members 283-216.

The last six years have been trying times for Hawaiian Telcom employees. The state's largest telephone company was sold off by Verizon in 2005 to a private equity firm for $1.6 billion. The company went bankrupt, costing the company more than 20 percent of its customer base.

"The managers they brought in knew nothing about the telecommunications field," said Local 1357 Business Manager Scot Long. "They were overextended."

Workers agreed to givebacks to keep the company afloat, including a wage freeze and the closing of the pension plan to new hires.

"Our members have given up a lot because of the mess management made," Dias says. "Now it is becoming obvious that the only people who haven't had to feel the pain are at the top."

A Local 1357 member wrote in a letter to the Hawaii Reporter:

"It appears that Eric Yeaman has been rewarded beyond all reason … forgetting the employees who work each day to make Hawaiian Telcom a better company … People wonder why we have Occupy Wall Street movements across the country. "

Employees reached their breaking point last fall, saying they had given up enough already, Dias said.

At the same time workers were picketing, Honolulu was hosting President Obama and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which brought together the heads of state from 21 Pacific Rim countries to discuss global trade policies. The conference gave Local 1357 members the opportunity to connect their struggle with the growing Occupy Wall Street movement, which, in addition to targeting Wall Street, is critical of APEC's pro-corporate policies.

"The walkout energized members for the campaign ahead," Long said. "Hawaiians have seen corporate greed nearly destroy this once great company, and we let customers know that it is the best interest of everyone for a quick and just settlement."

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