The Electrical Worker online
June 2016

Verizon Strike 2016:
'The best thing that happened to us was joining the IBEW… it's been war ever since'

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

A contract between tens of thousands of union workers and a company recording billions in profits expires. The company not only won't fairly compensate its workers for the company's success, it is demanding hundreds of millions of givebacks and the right to send jobs overseas. Tens of thousands of workers put down their tools, shut down their computers and lay their headsets on their desk and take to the picket line.

The company: Verizon.

The year: 2011.

As the old saying goes, history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme and the reasons behind the 2016 strike at Verizon echo the reasons behind eight separate strikes since 1968.

When 10,000 IBEW members and 30,000 members of the CWA walked off the job April 13, their reasons were not so different those that who struck AT&T in 1968, 1971 and 1983; Nynex, New England Telephone and Bell Atlantic (all now part of Verizon) in 1986, 1989 and 1998; and Verizon, since it was formed 16 years ago, in 2000, 2011 and today.

"The best thing that ever happened to us was signing up with the IBEW in 1971. Our wages doubled, and our pensions and health care got much better," said Dorchester, Mass., Business Manager Myles Calvey, who has worked for Verizon and its predecessor companies since 1968. "But it has been war ever since. Whenever we made a concession to get something else, the company would try to take it back next negotiation."

This time, Verizon called for substantial increases in retiree health insurance costs. It did the same in 2011. In 1989, Nynex wanted to get rid of health insurance completely.

In 2016, Verizon wants the "flexibility" to send hundreds, possibly thousands, of jobs overseas and contract out many others. An Associated Press story from 1989 includes this line: "A key dispute with New England Telephone was the company's use of outside contractors to perform certain jobs."

Verizon sent out a letter to IBEW and CWA members in March instructing them on how to cross a picket line.

And just like in the past, Verizon demanded the wage and benefit reductions after making billions in profits. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that Verizon "isn't under any financial stress," earning $10.2 billion in profits in 2010 and a net income for the first half of 2011 approaching nearly $7 billion.

"The company is worth more than $100 billion and they wouldn't even pay for coffee at our meetings," said Calvey, who is also a member of the International Executive Council. "They feel like we bring nothing to the table. So they want to break us."

And while the company was demanding pay cuts from the bulk of its workforce in 2011, it paid just the top five executives nearly $260 million in salaries, bonuses and stock options. In 2015, CEO Lowell McAdam will make at least $18 million in stock and salary and another $40 million if he is fired.

"For over 100 years, union workers have built and maintained first the copper, now fiber optic, the foundation of Verizon's business. They have reaped billions of dollars off that foundation, and how do they repay their workers?" International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "With a decades long campaign to destroy their union. It stopped being about saving money a long, long time ago."

Verizon's predecessors, New England Bell and Nynex, had 100 percent union workforces. Verizon, which has virulently opposed organizing in its wireless business, has "successfully" reduced its union workforce to a dismal 30 percent.

In 1996, Bell Atlantic demanded that retirees be allowed to cash out their pensions. Four years later, the union reluctantly agreed, Calvey said, because newly merged GTE had it in its contract. But for the last decade, interest rates have been historically low, and it is financially advantageous for some retirees to cash out. So Verizon wants to end the program.

In 1994, the union agreed to give the company the flexibility to reorganize job responsibilities in return for job security for those who stayed and free health care for retirees. Now the company wants to claw that back, too.

"All these retirees did was build this company," Calvey said. "We have built positive relationships with many companies, helped them grow, and they have come to see the union as an asset. Verizon would rather shoot themselves in the foot."

In 2000 — the year Verizon was formed — the strike lasted nearly three weeks. In 1989 it took more than two months for Nynex to feel the pinch and come back to the table with an offer the striking workers could accept.

"In some ways, this has been a single long and nasty negotiation with a single company, a lot of different names, but a single company, that refuses to respect the men and women who make it great," Stephenson said. "There are tens of thousands of highly successful companies that treat their unionized workforce with respect. It is my hope that one day the executives at Verizon — or whatever they call themselves when the day comes — consider joining them."

Verizon 'Invitation' to Cross Picket Lines Gets Fiery Reception

Verizon sent a letter April 15 to all of its striking workers with instructions on how to scab.

Across social media, members responded with pictures and videos of letters in flames, in pieces, in compost bins and toilets and, in one case, lining a box of kitty litter.

"I have worked for Verizon for 35 years and been through five strikes. I have never seen anything like this letter before," said East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 Business Manager Bob Speer. "This letter is not the communication an employer has with an employee. This is not a company bargaining about pensions or money. This is a company telling our unions how to destroy itself and I take this very personally."

More than 40,000 men and women went out on strike April 13, nearly 30,000 from the Communication Workers of America and nearly 10,000 members of the IBEW.

During each of the previous eight strikes, letters from Verizon and predecessor companies have been sent, outlining when benefits would run out, how to pay for continued coverage under COBRA laws and other information directly connected to the employee-employer relationship.

The letter from Verizon's human resources Vice President Karyn Stetz came in an envelope labeled "Important Strike Information," suggesting it would cover similar topics.

Inside, however, there was only a mock Q&A that answers questions like "What if I choose to work during the strike?" and "If I choose to resign my union membership, how do I do so?"

Rob Rovero has been with Verizon as a cable maintenance technician for 22 years, the last 15 as a steward. He said that everyone walking the picket line at the Riverdale, N.J., work center received the letter. Universally, the response was disgust.

"It is frustrating because we live here. Our parents raised us here. And all we are looking to do is provide a life so our kids can live here too," Rovero said. "Then we get this letter — at our homes — and it doesn't say anything about negotiating. This speaks specifically and only about how to get around a picket line. This letter spits at union labor."

Rovero's letter still sits at home, but he was considering joining those that simply wrote "Return to Sender; no scabs here" on the envelope and slipping it back in the mail.

"This country was built on unions. Hard working middle-class people built this company," he said. "They think the only reason we don't turn our backs on the people you work with is that we don't know how? That we are so dumb we were waiting for a diagram to betray our neighbors? It strengthens our resolve to stick together."

Speer says the letter has backfired.

"This has woken people up, especially the younger members," Speer said. "This is about who looks out for you and yours, and they see that it is the people on the picket that look out for them. You don't go back from being a scab."



Stevan Kirschbaum, a leader of the Boston School Bus Drivers' Union, rallies in solidarity with Verizon strikers in Boston's Copley Square.




Verizon workers from East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 are among the nearly 10,000 IBEW members on strike.


IBEW and CWA Verizon workers rally in Jersey City, N.J., during their third week on strike.


Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined IBEW picket lines in Boston with Local 2222.

Verizon to Employees: Shareholders Win, You Lose

For the highly-paid executives at Verizon, closing offices and demanding concessions from employees may seem like numbers on the company's bottom line. But to the working men and women affected, Verizon's changes can mean major, life-altering sacrifices just to keep a steady paycheck.

In its contract proposal, Verizon demanded the ability to relocate service and installation technicians out of state for months at a time, to move call center employees a hundred miles away from their families, and to ship good-paying, American jobs overseas. Adding to the pain, Verizon also wants retirees to pay more for their health care, backing out of a deal it made decades ago.

For a company raking in $1.8 billion every month, these cuts and demands at the expense of loyal, hard-working employees are simply too much to ask.

Verizon has asked for the ability to send technicians
out of state for up to two months at a time:

"If Verizon tried to send me away for an extended period of time, I'd have to look for another job. I've given 18 years to this company, but being away from my kids just simply isn't an option for my family."

Justin Draper, Splice Service Technician, Cranston, R.I., Local 2323
18 years at Verizon, Single Father of two, ages 12 and 8



Verizon wants to close certain call centers, relocating employees as many as 100 miles away.

"These plans from Verizon hurt. My elderly mother is ill and disabled after three strokes, and she depends on me to take care of her. If Verizon moves me 60 or 90 miles away, what do I do if she falls? How do I take her to the hospital or the doctor? It's wrong for Verizon to try to force us into impossible situations with our families."

Rosita Harrington Customer Service Sales Consultant, Syracuse, N.Y., Local 2213
7 years at Verizon, Caregiver for Disabled Mother


Verizon's plan to force call center employees into
hours-long commutes strains working families.

"Right now, my job schedule fits with my husband's, but if I have to move to another office, our kids pay the price, coming home to an empty house. That's a big sacrifice in terms of family. It's kind of funny Verizon would ask us to do something like that when they're being patted on the back for supporting working moms."

Nikkol Chiguma, Customer Service Representative, Syracuse, N.Y., Local 2213
17 years at Verizon, Mother of Two, ages 12 and 8, Shop Steward


Closing smaller call centers and outsourcing jobs to the Philippines, Mexico, Costa Rica and elsewhere has been a key priority for Verizon.

"Verizon wants to close our office in Allentown and force us to commute hours each way every day to Philadelphia. I've got a 2-year-old, and I don't want to miss these important years stuck in traffic. I've invested 17 years in this company, and it feels like Verizon just wants us to go away. You should never have to go to work every day feeling like today could be your last."

Matt Brown Service Assistant, East Windsor, N.J., Local 827
17 years at Verizon, Father of a 2-year-old


Verizon wants to raise health care costs up to
$200 per month for retirees.

"I put 34-plus years into this company, and now Verizon is trying to back out on the health care promises they made to us. I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. My health care costs are already huge, and now they want to add more on top of that? I don't know how I'd be able to do it."

Phyllis Moniz, Verizon Retiree, Cranston, R.I., Local 2323
34 years at Verizon, Cancer Patient