Verizon Strikers Highlight Lost Jobs, Broken Promises

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An army of 39,000 workers this week went on strike against Verizon in one of the biggest labor actions in the U.S. in several years. Fast food workers have joined in a show of support, and both Democratic candidates for president have entered the fray.

Thousands of wireline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia walked off the job at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning after the company was unable to reach an agreement with labor leaders on health benefits, flexibility to utilize technicians away from home, and a host of other issues.

Verizon has trained thousands of non-union employees under a contingency plan to make sure customers are not disrupted by the massive strike, the company said. The two sides appear to be hardened in their positions, and an immediate resolution does not appear to be on the table.

"We're more than prepared, and that's our primary focus right now -- meeting the needs of our customers with minimal disruption," Verizon spokesperson Ray McConville told the E-Commerce Times.

Company negotiators have worked hard over the past 10 months to find a resolution with unionized workers, represented by the Communication Workers of America and the IBEW, Verizon maintained.

Unionized workers have an agenda that is "rooted in the past" and ignores "today's digital realities," said Marc Reed, chief administrative officer at Verizon.

The average wage and benefit package of 36,000 employees involved in the strike is US$130,000 per year, according to Verizon. About 99 percent of those workers support the wireline business, which provided 29 percent of the company's revenue in 2015 but only 7 percent of its operating income.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on Monday offered to provide mediation if the unions would extend the strike deadline, Reed noted, but they declined.

Among the workers' beefs is that Verizon has sent more than 5,000 jobs overseas and wants to outsource even more jobs, including call center jobs, according to CWA spokesperson Candice Johnson.

Verizon wants to make technicians work up to four months away from home in the mid-Atlantic region in order to help make repairs to the network or do emergency work, she told the E-Commerce Times.

That's one reason Bernie Sanders and other politicians have joined the picket line, Johnson said, which resonated well with working class people who feel that the economy is rigged against them.

"These companies are not sharing, if you will, the increased productivity gains with the workers at all," Johnson maintained.

Verizon has told them it is heavily focused on the needs of its wireless business at the expense of its landline business, she noted.

The company is under investigation for allegedly failing keep promises to build out broadband infrastructure in several jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, some parts of New York City, and other communities, Johnson pointed out.

Verizon is in the wrong in this dispute, said analyst Craig Settles, who follows the broadband industry closely.

"The workers have legitimate concerns, and these are also the concerns of customers and businesses that use Verizon services," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The buildout issue is of particular resonance, he said, noting that these communities in many cases exemplify the struggle to get adequate service for low-income and rural communities that Verizon and other telecoms do not view as potentially profitable.

Intense speculation that Verizon would put its wireline business up for sale began circulating late last year.

"I think if Verizon could snap their heels together and make a wish, they would want to get out of local phone service," wireless industry analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times. "Verizon has gone from nearly 100 percent market share 10 and 20 years ago to roughly 30 percent today, and it's still dropping."

Meanwhile, the company is one of the leading candidates to acquire the Web assets of Yahoo in an effort to build up its content business, which includes America Online.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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