Local Verizon workers join in regional strike, demonstrate

Workers from the Communication Workers of America union (CWA 13101 in Delaware) were spotted demonstrating outside a locked Verizon facility on Route 26 in Ocean View last week, as the union awaited contract negotiations with the telecommunications giant.

Coastal Point • Monica Scott: Sussex County Verizon workers Rob Holladay, left, Doug Sinn, right-center, and Jim Bowden, right, are joined by supporter Frank Sadowski, left-center, as they stand outside a locked Verizon building on Central Avenue in Ocean View last week.Coastal Point • Monica Scott
Sussex County Verizon workers Rob Holladay, left, Doug Sinn, right-center, and Jim Bowden, right, are joined by supporter Frank Sadowski, left-center, as they stand outside a locked Verizon building on Central Avenue in Ocean View last week.

Verizon’s contract with some 45,000 wireline workers from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., expired at midnight on Sunday, Aug. 7, and that has impacted not only the striking workers, but customers, as installation and repair orders have piled up and allegations of sabotage on Verizon equipment have been made.

Jim Bowden, a systems tech from Georgetown who has been with the company 41 years, said the reason the workers were demonstrating at the Verizon facility was because, while Verizon is a profitable company, the company is demanding concessions regarding health care, vacation, sick days and pensions from middle-class workers.

CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson, in a statement via CWA’s Web site, stated that “Verizon employees have been waiting since June 22 for management to bargain at all.”

“Even at contract expiration, Verizon continued to demand $1 billion in concessions per year. That’s $20,000 for every worker. That demand is coming from a $100 billion company, where the top five executives got compensation of $258 million over the past four years. Verizon’s concession demands would strip away the middle-class standard of living that workers have gained through bargaining over the past 50 years. Verizon is following the Wisconsin playbook, and it’s wrong,” she concluded, referencing what some have termed “union-busting” efforts in that state.

“They left the table – not us,” added another Sussex County Verizon worker, Doug Sinn.

Verizon spokesperson Lee Gierczynski argued that the $20,000 impact per worker was not an accurate figure. He did acknowledge that union workers are being asked to pay a portion of their healthcare premiums, “just like other Verizon employees or other employees in the public or private sector.”

Verizon also disputed the $258 million figure for compensation to top executives via the Web site at verizonbargainingfacts.com, stating, “On page 44 of Verizon’s annual meeting proxy filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), target 2010 compensation for Verizon’s top five executives totaled $38.5 million.”

The Web site also stated that last year’s profit was $2.5 billion, not $10 billion, as had been reported.

“Verizon’s profit last year was $2.5 billion. The remaining $7.7 billion is not Verizon profit; it represents Vodafone’s share of pre-tax operating income from Verizon Wireless. Vodafone is Verizon Communications’ partner in Verizon Wireless.”

Regardless of which numbers are accurate, negotiations between the parties have resumed, albeit with no real progress as of early this week. James Hummel, executive vice president of CWA 13101, the local union encompassing the state of Delaware, said that Verizon had “returned to the table,” but contract terms were yet to be determined.

Gierczynski confirmed that on Aug. 12, saying discussions were “continuing.”

“There is nothing final to be shared externally at this point,” he said, adding that the negotiations were about Verizon Wireline, which includes landline services – phone, Internet and FiOS-type services – and not Verizon Wireless.

“Things have changed in the last 10 years — and even in the last three years since the last contract negotiations,” he explained.

“We are facing stiff competition from other technologies and from other companies. We are asking the union to work with us to negotiate a new contract to give us some flexibility in the marketplace. To thrive, you need to change, and they need to respect the challenges that Verizon faces.”

Gierczynski said the average Verizon technician makes $75,000, plus $50,000 in benefits, per year, adding that these are “solid upper-middle-class jobs.”

He added that they are looking into more than 100 incidents nationwide of what he calls “sabotage” that has knocked out service to customers, noting that it was unclear who was responsible but that the incidents had coincided with the start of the strike.

He said one such attack was confirmed in Georgetown, where wires were allegedly tampered with, impacting service for customers, although he declined to state the property address, citing security concerns.

“We are offering a $50,000 reward for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible,” he said.

As for the broken key in the lock and the chained fence the workers pointed out at the Ocean View site, saying they believe it was the work of management, Gierczynski said, “Verizon is investigating any of those type of allegations.”

Bowden said that the union workers are cognizant that, in this economy, there are a lot of unemployed people, but he asserted that it is not “greed” on their part – rather their stance against “corporate greed” on the part of Verizon management – that has led them to strike. He said the workers are not asking for more pay, rather, for a fair contract.

He added that they have gotten lots of support from passersby, some of who have brought food and water to the workers.

“We are right behind you, supporting you guys,” yelled a woman from her car, and many more drivers honked in support.

“We are willing to work with the company, but they are not [willing to work with us] ... especially when they are a profitable company,” said Bowden. “They make good money and here they want us to give back,” he added, saying they were not asking the same of top executives, “and we take exception to that.”

Gierczynski maintained that Verizon was simply trying to be fair, saying, “We are working to negotiate a contract to balance the needs of all parties involved.”

On Aug. 12, the Communications Workers of America filed charges of unfair labor practices against Verizon Communications, saying the company’s refusal to bargain in good faith was a labor-law violation. Verizon has also filed injunctions in several states, including Delaware, against what they say are unlawful picketing practices.

For up-to-date information on the strike and negotiations between the parties, visit their Web sites at cwa-union.org or verizonbargainingfacts.com online.