Nearly 40,000 IBEW and Communications Workers of America members employed by Verizon gained a powerful set of allies on Mar. 18 when 20 U.S. senators sent a letter to the company’s CEO urging him to put an end to the bargaining roadblock that has dragged on for nearly a year.

“We appreciate the support of so many influential members of the Senate,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, “and our real hope is that Verizon starts listening and finally agrees to negotiate in good faith with these workers who just want to be treated fairly.”

Middleton, Mass., Local 2321 members picket for a fair contract with Verizon in nearby Peabody.

The workers’ three-year contract expired Aug. 1, 2015, and negotiations have been without any meaningful movement on Verizon’s part in the eight months since. While IBEW and CWA have offered the company substantial savings in health care costs, management has continued to insist on draconian cuts to workers’ pensions, health care and job security, among other things.

Over the last three years, Verizon Communications posted profits of $39 billion, calling into question the motives behind management’s intransigence in contract talks that have been deadlocked almost since they began last June.

“All we’re asking for is a way to keep good-paying jobs in these communities where Verizon is making billions in profits” said Middleton, Mass., Local 2321 Business Manager Ed Starr.

Coming off a concessionary contract the last time around in 2011, Verizon is insisting on a second round of cuts even as it divests from its traditional copper landline telephone business and slows the expansion of fiber broadband service in favor of a less labor-intensive wireless approach. The company has also accelerated the process of moving call centers out of Northeast communities and into right-to-work states and overseas locations.

“We’re really at a crossroads in these negotiations,” Starr said, “and we’re hopeful that the support of lawmakers from the local level all the way up to the U.S. Senate will lead to a meaningful conversation with management.”

Both of Starr’s home-state senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, signed the letter along with the majority of their Democratic colleagues from New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Ohio, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Delaware and West Virginia.

In addition to pushing Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam to “preserve good family-supporting jobs” in current contract negotiations, the senators also encouraged the company to come to the table to negotiate a new contract with wireless retail workers and technicians who are helping to drive the company’s tremendous profits. “We urge you to act as a responsible corporate citizen,” they wrote.

As for the landline-side employees who have been working without a contract since last August, Starr sensed that patience was wearing thin among the rank-and-file. “If things don’t start going better soon, we’ll be left with no other option than a strike,” he warned.

For his part, Stephenson is hopeful that it doesn’t come to that. “Surely a multi-billion dollar corporation can afford to make sure the employees responsible for its success have decent health care and a path to a comfortable retirement,” he said. “We’re ready to get these contracts resolved and get back to focusing on the customers who depend on us to keep their phones and Internet up and running.”

Cover Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user gt8073a.