Collective bargaining rights are going directly up against the bosses at the iPhone’s newest home.
Verizon Communications Inc. is seeing the second day after 45,000 workers called a strike, and they are not backing down. This number sounds significant, and it is. This equals out to be about a quarter of their staff, which is significant for the second largest carrier in the United States. This group of workers is specifically being targeted over the series of changes being implemented around Verizon’s landline system. Over the last several years Verizon has seen the entire commercial conception of the landline fall to the trenches as more and more people are shifting to the personalized mobile phone model entirely. Now Verizon’s attempts to cut costs are going directly to the benefits of their union staff, and after negotiations between the union and management went stale they have walked.
Lowell McAdam, Verizon’s CEO, has come out and called for the union to make concessions to match the decline in customers. In the public statement from the CEO released on August 7th, he stated that , “It is clear that some of the existing contract provisions, negotiated initially when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today.”
These Verizon workers are a part of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and a line has been drawn from their side. Bill Huber from the IBEW has countered claims from Verizon by stating plainly that “These aren’t negotiations, they’re an insult. This is a clear attack on our unions.” AFL-CIO has come out and said that what Verizon is attempting would damage wages and benefits, as well as working conditions in their locations.
This is not going to stand out as the best public situation for McAdam after he took over for Ivan Seidenberg at the beginning of August. In an effort to bring competitiveness to a declining market he has alienated a whole section of workers, bringing public scrutiny on the company and demands from the largest union sectors to defend the rights of those who are being asked to make concessions. McAdam maintains that the losses will strengthen their competitiveness, which would intern help the company and give the “union a much stronger future.”
This is the first time that Verizon workers have gone on strike in more than a decade, even though there have been union authorizations twice since the 2000 walk out. It was then that the 18-day challenge ended up pulling $40 million from Verizon’s profits, but allowed the workers to guarantee their 12% raise over a three-year span of time. Today the Verizon workers want to maintain the health care that they already have, while Verizon is asking them to put in more money including paying premiums that were never before required.. In the current economic climate and the roller coaster of 21st century healthcare they are not going to back down. These are only part of the cuts, as now it is looking to be more than 100 items removed from their contract. Pensions will be frozen, and the annual increases could be gone as well. The pay increases that are to be allowed must be tied to performance under this new deal, and managers will individually be able to deny workers pay increases. Beyond this there will be disability benefits cuts, sick days removed, and paid holidays will see a wage decrease.
To deal with this Verizon is acting fast, especially since the majority of their workforce is not under union protection. They are bringing in retired employees and flying managers into the Northeastern United States, where the strike is centralized. This does not mean that commerce will continue as usual as pickets are mounting, and as we head into the business week we will see that AFL-CIO’s stand against Verizon is going to make demands hit with a heavier bat when they return to the bargaining table. Part of what is fueling this massive upsurge, and community support in many cases, is the state of disparity that many workers are pointing out in the Verizon workplace. Ivan Seidenberg, former CEO and acting President of Verizon Communications, made $18 million for 2010. As one Verizon facilities technician pointed out, that’s $49,000 a day. That is more than most Verizon employees make in a year.
The groundwork has been laid for a strike that will blow 2000’s episode out of the water. Instead, with the demands being made by Verizon and the steadfast defense by the unions this could easily head into the months. The question here for everyone is how this will end up fairing for the entire Verizon staff, and eventually how this may trickle down to Verizon customers. Right now the only sign we can see will be the one standing in front of Verizon locations, reminding Verizon users about the people on the other side of the phone line.