On April 13, 39,000 union members struck to defeat company proposals that would have wiped out their job protections, security, pension and health care. The two Verizon unions, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) had been working under an expired contract since August of 2015.
The company, although incredibly profitable ($39 billion in profit over the last three years) wanted deep cutbacks and concessions such as:
• Higher employee costs for health care;
• Reduced retirement benefits;
• Outsourcing of 5,000 jobs;
• Right to force workers to travel out of state for work;
• Company unilateral scheduling power.
“This was our fifth strike at Verizon [and its predecessor telecom companies] in 30 years,” said Matt Lyons, a Splice Service Technician with 29 years of service who is Chief Steward at IBEW Local 2222. “We’ve won every single strike because of our numbers and experience: we know what we are doing.”
The strike was fueled by anger at the company demands and the arrogance of a CEO, Lowell McAdams, whose annual compensation is $18 million — 208 times that of an average Verizon line worker at $86,000.
Over those 30 years, the Verizon workforce has been greatly reduced due to new technology and outsourcing. However, in some ways the remaining workforce is stronger and now more essential than ever to the company.
“We actively disrupted business at Verizon Wireless stores up and down the East Coast and in California,” said Lyons. “It impacted the wireless side of their business which is their most profitable. I work in wire line special services with large corporate accounts. They were having a lot of trouble finding managers or scabs who could do my work.”
Union members have strong preservation of work language and make sure that managers don’t do bargaining unit work. “That left us in a strong position. They don’t really know how to do our jobs'” added Lyons.
Lyons and other Verizon strikers picketed aggressively at hotels and motels housing replacement workers. Some evicted the scabs after union pressure.
Lyons believes that getting Thomas Perez, the United States Secretary of Labor involved helped expedite a settlement (HERE and HERE). On May 24, Perez and the two unions announced that a tentative agreement (subject to ratification by the membership) had been reached.
The unions succeeded in beating back all but the increased cost sharing in health care. The tentative deal includes unionization for workers at several Verizon stores in Brooklyn, NY and one in Everett, Massachusetts. The company also agreed to hire 1,300 new call center workers.
Solid strikes like this one are still an effective strategy for defeating corporate greed if waged with total solidarity and strategic smarts.
“We achieved a crucial first contract at the Verizon Wireless stores,” said Lyons. “Now it’s up to us to leverage our strength in the landline side of the business and build on that victory to organize the rest of the stores. It won’t be easy but the wireless side of the business is where all the future growth will be.”
“We couldn’t have won without the strong support of the rest of the labor movement and the communities where we live and work,” concluded Lyons. “Solidarity has become our lifestyle. Hopefully it spreads.”
This piece originally in Italian appeared in Lavoro e Societa’ a newsletter of the CGIL – Confederazione Generale Italiana dei Lavoratori