JACKSON – As of 11:59 Saturday night, 45,000 Verizon employees from Maine to Virginia are without a contract, and two unions kicked off negotiations in New Jersey by announcing a strike.
According to Verizon New Jersey spokesman Lee Gierczynski, the two bargaining units in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania region – the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) – broke off contract negotiations this weekend to strike.
“In anticipation of this development, Verizon has activated a contingency plan to ensure customers experience limited disruption in service during this time,” the company said in a release. “Verizon has trained tens of thousands of management employees, retirees and others to fill the roles and responsibilities of its union-represented wireline workers.”
Paul Levinson, general counsel for the IBEW Local 827, said in a statement over the weekend, “Although we are on strike, we have not yet reached an impasse in negotiations. The law requires the parties to continue negotiations in good faith. Until an impasse has been reached the company, under the law, may not unilaterally impose its proposed changes to terms and conditions of employment which it gave to the unions at the bargaining table.”
Marc Reed, Verizon’s executive vice president of human resources, said in the release, “It’s regrettable for our employees and our customers that the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have decided to walk away from the table instead of continuing to work through the issues. We will continue to do our part to reach a new contract that reflects today’s economic realities in our wireline business and addresses the needs of all parties. It’s also our intent that under a new contract, Verizon employees will continue to receive competitive pay and benefit programs.”
Several IBEW workers were in Jackson this morning on the side of Route 571, and they told State Street Wire that Verizon is bringing the same argument to the table that the state brought when it reformed public worker benefits and pensions this year: there’s no money. But unlike the state, Verizon is not broke, they said.
“The company makes billions, not cents,” an anonymous striker said. “They want to take $20,000 out of every member’s pockets, over 100 demands are on the table…They refuse to bargain with us. Corporate greed, where does it stop?”
Another striking IBEW worker said, “They want to take this contract back to the 1970s.”
“We’re not out here striking because we’re trying to ratify a contract,” said the first man. “We’re out here striking because they won’t even work with us.”
According to a labor website Verizon has established, www.verizonbargainingfacts.com, “Today, most union-represented employees pay nothing for health insurance premiums at Verizon. The company is proposing that its union-represented employees pay a portion of their health care premiums, much like the majority of other Verizon employees.”
The AFL-CIO organized strikes in Pennsylvania today, and said in a release that, Verizon, “a $100 billion company, still was looking for $1 billion in concessions from 45,000 workers and families.
“That’s about $20,000 in givebacks for every family,” according to the release, while “Verizon’s four top executives received $258 million over the past four years.”