September 2011

Verizon Strikers Fight for All Working Families
index.html Home    Print    Email

Go to

Update: Strike Called Off—Click here to read more.

Forty-five thousand Verizon workers from Massachusetts to Virginia, members of the CWA and IBEW, who struck on August 7 at the expiration of their contract, knew they could end up in unprecedented financial hardship.

Shortly after the strike began, the company told the news media that strikers didn't understand the "economic realities" of the marketplace for landline telephone services.

But who knew better than the men and women on the picket lines how non-union Verizon Wireless was taking market share away from the copper landline sector where they have invested years of skills and training? Who knew better than they that—with a diminishing union density at Verizon—their unions would be squeezed hard for concessions?

No, it wasn't lack of understanding that led to the nation's largest strike in four years. The almost 13,000 IBEW members and 32,000 CWA members who voted nearly unanimously to authorize the strike had no alternative but to fight. And they knew it wouldn't be easy.

Workers follow their employers' finances like they follow the stats of their favorite teams. Verizon bragged about $10.2 billion in profits in 2010. And everyone knew the company had shelled out $258 million in bonuses to a handful of executives in the past four years. Not only did Verizon not pay corporate income taxes, the company received a nearly $1 billion tax benefit from the federal government.

Despite this excess, after a few months of talks, Verizon was still dug in, insisting upon 100 concessions that would set collective bargaining back nearly 50 years for unions at the corporation. The cost of the concessions equaled the $1 billion of their tax benefit.

Those concessions open the door to more outsourcing of work. Retirees and active workers would be slammed with major hikes in health care insurance costs. Highly-skilled workers who brave winter storms and extreme summer heat to keep Verizon's customers in telephone services could now be scheduled unlimited overtime, but denied Sunday premium pay or extra pay for nighttime shifts. New workers would have no defined benefit pension plan. All told, active workers could see their pay eroded by up to $20,000 per year.

IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill said, "If Verizon had shown any good faith effort to negotiate honestly, our members would still be on the job. Instead, they turned their backs on any attempts to reach a reasonable settlement. We cannot stand by while one of the richest, most successful corporations in the world joins the race to decimate the middle class of this country. We remain ready to meet with Verizon to work out a fair agreement, but at this point, we had no choice."

The Verizon strike is unresolved as of this printing. But the contours of this conflict are clear. If Verizon wins, all working families will lose. Yet another group of stable workers will be thrown onto the heap of economic uncertainty. With fewer financial resources and a more tenuous relationship to work itself, they will be less able to make the kinds of contributions to their communities that they have proudly rendered for generations.

In 2011, full victory is hard to achieve. But, history has shown that organized, proud and forward-looking trade unionists can challenge unabashed corporate arrogance and influence the terms of their futures. The Verizon workers are determined to wield that influence.

Some of the news media following the strike understand the juncture it represents. An editorial in the Pocono Record states: "We support the tens of thousands of striking Verizon Communications workers. They're not asking for more. They just want to hang onto pay and benefits they have. …Union workers sensibly recognize that hard times are not the time to ask for more. But they justifiably stake a claim to their company's strong performance. Union workers helped Verizon get where it is today. The least this thriving company can do is to continue offering its workers a good wage and benefits package."

A group of members from East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 on the picket line.

Credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user vzstriker.

Members returned to work Aug. 23 while negotiations resume.

Verizon: The Facts