Last Friday afternoon, May 27, 2016, news came over the wires and the wireless technological devices to deliver the news that nearly 40,000 striking Verizon workers would be returning to work next week.
After walking the picket lines for six weeks, living with the tense uncertainty of how this strike would end, the news was made even more gratifying when details of the significant gains the strikers had won were announced.
One of the most contentious issues that had the Verizon workers walking off their jobs to organize the largest strikes in recent American history, was the company’s insistence on contracting out, of offshoring Verizon jobs. During negotiations, the union was adamant that the Verizon workers would not acquiesce to reducing their jobs and having them move overseas. Verizon was also aggressively seeking concessions on employee pensions and on the ability to transfer employees at will.
The Verizon telecom giant was forced to make concessions regarding the off shoring of Verizon jobs as the six week strike was beginning to erode Verizon profits. Verizon has now made the commitment to create 1,500 new union positions in the United States, many of them at call centers, and, given the effectiveness of picket lines outside of the Verizon retail stores, 65 Verizon retail workers are now covered by the new contract - the first time that wireless Verizon workers will be covered in a contract.
For the first four weeks of the strike, negotiation talks were stagnating, the strikers lost their health coverage, and Verizon appeared implacable, unmovable in their stance not to give an inch in their demands to strip their workforce of the very basic worker protections they had known for generations.
What turned the strike around from a situation that seemed impossible to move forward into productive talks to stop the strike, was the decision made in mid-May to involve the Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. One critical factor during the 45-day strike was that Verizon had stopped expanding - no new work orders were being filled, the company just focused on maintaining the barest of services these past six weeks.
The Verizon strikers brought their case to the public, to their elected representatives. The strategy was effective: eighty-eight members of the House of Representatives issued a statement last week concerning their interest in having the Verizon conflict resolved as quickly as possible. There were also fifteen municipalities in Verizon’s service area, ranging from Virginia to Massachusetts that passed resolutions to bring Verizon to the bargaining table and end the strike.
This new four-year contract, which will be voted on by the members of the Communication Workers of America and by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to ratify the contract, is also a strong public relations victory for the Verizon union membership: the outsourcing of work that has been happening at Verizon is being replicated throughout the country at a reckless speed. A strategic business policy that has left millions of families throughout the U.S. devastated as they wave goodbye to the work that has sustained them.
The decision to involve the mediation services restarted the talks between the unions and Verizon. The past thirteen days have witnessed both parties narrowing their differences and making an agreement suitable for both Verizon workers and Verizon management.
Verizon’s Chief Administrative Officer, Marc C. Reed, commented that the contract is “consistent with our objective of creating high-quality American jobs and achieving meaningful changes and enhancements to the contracts that will better enable our wifeliness business to compete and succeed in the digital world.”
The Verizon workforce was relieved to hear such sentiments made by management: for nearly six weeks Verizon appeared to ignore every concern over their work policies. Theirs was an arrogant stance that gained the company no new allies in their fight against their workforce.
Chris Shelton, President of the Communication Workers of America, stated on behalf of the union membership of the CWA and on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, “The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole. The agreement in principle at Verizon is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people. This proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities and protect the American middle-class.”
For some, CWA President Shelton’s words may appear as worn slogans from a different era. But they are wrong: nearly 40,000 people decided to take a stand against their giant conglomerate of an employer - and this time, to the benefit of millions of people throughout the U.S., they succeeded.
Published by Nancy Snyder