As Verizon Strike Enters Its Fourth Week, Local Unions Take the Lead in Solidarity

Dan DiMaggio

(CWA Local 3121)

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

As the strike by 39,000 Ver­i­zon and Ver­i­zon Wire­less work­ers con­tin­ues into its fourth week, efforts are under­way to broad­en pick­et­ing at Ver­i­zon Wire­less stores across the coun­try. Work­ers at sev­en Wire­less stores in Brook­lyn, New York, and Everett, Mass­a­chu­setts, are on strike, along with wire­line work­ers from Mass­a­chu­setts to Virginia.

The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Work­ers are work­ing with Jobs with Jus­tice to get local unions and com­mu­ni­ty groups across the coun­try to Adopt-a-Store” — mean­ing they would agree to pick­et and leaflet out­side Ver­i­zon Wire­less cor­po­rate stores at least twice a week for two to three hours.

But a few CWA locals didn’t wait for a lead from their Dis­trict or the nation­al to get going.

We still believe in the old adage that an injury to one is an injury to all,” said Dave Rat­cliff, sec­re­tary-trea­sur­er of Local 6012 in Tul­sa, Okla­homa, which pick­et­ed a Ver­i­zon Wire­less store on the after­noon of Sat­ur­day, April 23. We saw our union broth­ers and sis­ters in the North­east strug­gling and we want­ed to let them and Ver­i­zon know that they’re not alone.”

Thir­ty peo­ple showed up to the pick­et — includ­ing mem­bers of the North­east­ern Okla­homa Labor Coun­cil, along with Trans­port Work­ers Local 514 mem­bers who work as mechan­ics at Amer­i­can Airlines.

The pick­et tar­get­ed the busiest store in the area. It drove the store man­ag­er crazy with us being there — I don’t think they expect­ed us to show up at all,” said Chad Barn­hill, pres­i­dent of Local 6012, whose mem­bers work pri­mar­i­ly at AT&T and AT&T Mobility.

The local ABC and NBC affil­i­ates in Tul­sa both kicked off their six o’clock news­casts with cov­er­age of the pick­ets. (See a clip here.)

Mean­while, in Indi­ana, mem­bers of CWA Local 4900 orga­nized infor­ma­tion­al pick­ets out­side of Ver­i­zon Wire­less loca­tions in South Bend, Koko­mo, Ander­son, and Fort Wayne. Local 4900 rep­re­sents 3,000 tele­com work­ers through­out Indi­ana, most­ly at AT&T.

The first pick­et, out­side a Wire­less store in South Bend, was orga­nized by shop stew­ards Nick Fullmer and Brett Sloop. Both attend­ed the 2016 Labor Notes Con­fer­ence at the begin­ning of April, where they net­worked with oth­er tele­com union activists, includ­ing lead­ers of some of the locals now on strike.

Com­ing back [from the Con­fer­ence], we had a feel­ing it wouldn’t be long before those guys went out,” said Fullmer.

Over break­fast at the Con­fer­ence, he and Sloop swapped info with CWA Local 1102 mem­bers from Stat­en Island, New York, includ­ing the local’s pres­i­dent. Thanks to that con­nec­tion, “[we were] able to send him pic­tures and a per­son­al let­ter say­ing Local 4900 has your back, we’re stand­ing behind you guys,” said Fullmer. “[He replied] to say they’re look­ing for­ward to repay­ing us in the future.”

Com­mon grievances

Both Fullmer and Sloop are AT&T Premise Tech­ni­cians, mean­ing they install and repair U‑Verse ser­vices (the AT&T equiv­a­lent of Ver­i­zon FiOS) — and now DirecTV, too.

They see echoes of what’s hap­pen­ing at AT&T in the Ver­i­zon bat­tle. Whether it’s Ver­i­zon or it’s us, or any of the com­pa­nies out there,” said Fullmer, it seems to be the same strug­gle we’re going through — more work, less pay; reduc­ing head­count; reduc­ing ben­e­fits and increas­ing health­care costs; cut­ting or elim­i­nat­ing pensions.”

Sloop said many techs are wor­ried that AT&T might cut back on their con­struc­tion work­force, which builds and main­tains the fiber lines and infra­struc­ture. There’s work to be put out there, there’s cus­tomers to be had,” he said. And the com­pa­nies, they don’t want to spend that mon­ey for the infra­struc­ture. They don’t want to make that investment.”

Fullmer said hear­ing about the severe dis­ci­pline that Ver­i­zon has been dish­ing out to long-term work­ers was real­ly an eye-open­er. We have our issues at AT&T,” he said, but I can’t imag­ine hav­ing to go to work every day in that envi­ron­ment. And that’s anoth­er rea­son why we want to sup­port Ver­i­zon work­ers — they shouldn’t have it that bad.”

Unlike Ver­i­zon, AT&T is still hir­ing — both for Premise Tech and call cen­ter jobs. Still, the union is fight­ing for job security.

I believe that we’re all in the same strug­gle — I think it’s con­sis­tent from bar­gain­ing table to bar­gain­ing table,” said Rat­cliff. Con­stant­ly the com­pa­nies are out­sourc­ing, and con­tract­ing out what work they can. They’re con­stant­ly look­ing for ways to improve their bot­tom line as opposed to ways to be a bet­ter cor­po­rate citizen.”

In next year’s nego­ti­a­tions — the AT&T South­west con­tract expires in April 2017 — Local 6012 lead­ers antic­i­pate a fight to main­tain pen­sions, lim­it health­care increas­es, and win bet­ter lan­guage on contracting.

More pick­ets planned

CWA Local 3808 in Nashville, Ten­nessee, will pick­et the Ver­i­zon Wire­less store in Green Hills — the wealth­i­est part of the city — on Fri­day, April 29. The orga­niz­er there, Dar­lene Stone, is a for­mer CWA Local 1400 mem­ber from Ver­mont, who was forced into ear­ly retire­ment in 2009 after Ver­i­zon sold off a chunk of its New Eng­land oper­a­tions to Fair­point, which soon found itself on the verge of bankruptcy.

Stone said that in addi­tion to AT&T work­ers and mem­bers of the Ten­nessee AFL-CIO, she expects T‑Mobile call cen­ter work­ers to join the pick­et. These work­ers are mem­bers of T‑Mobile Work­ers Unit­ed (TU), CWA’s nation­al orga­niz­ing effort at the wire­less giant.

Local 6012, mean­while, is hop­ing to hit all six Ver­i­zon Wire­less stores in the Tul­sa area.

And on April 29, Local 4900 will be back out in front of a Ver­i­zon Wire­less cor­po­rate store in South Bend. The local is also plan­ning more pick­ets through­out Indi­ana next week.

The local has shared pic­tures of the pick­ets with mem­bers across the state via the Local 4900 app, which a major­i­ty of the mem­ber­ship has down­loaded. It’s not always easy to get infor­ma­tion between dif­fer­ent areas,” said Sloop, and that app has been a tool to do that.”

Sloop said he also sent pic­tures of the pick­ets to oth­er CWA locals around the Mid­west, hop­ing to encour­age them to orga­nize their own.

In addi­tion to show­ing sup­port with the Ver­i­zon strike, Local 4900’s Sloop hopes that these sol­i­dar­i­ty efforts can build a stronger net­work of local unions. At their sec­ond South Bend pick­et, they were joined by mem­bers of the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Let­ter Car­ri­ers, IUE-CWA Local 84809 mem­bers from Steel Ware­house, a local steel plant, and Jobs with Jus­tice activists.

Whether you’re CWA, the Let­ter Car­ri­ers, the Steel Ware­house work­ers, the air­lines — you’re only as strong as your weak­est link,” said Sloop. We want every­body to see that.”

Pre­pared for the long haul”

Ver­i­zon pre­sent­ed what it termed its last, best, and final offer” to the unions at the bar­gain­ing table on Thurs­day, April 28 — their first bar­gain­ing ses­sion since the strike’s start.

CWA Dis­trict 1 termed the company’s offer lit­tle more than the same old bull­shit.’” Accord­ing to the union’s bar­gain­ing report, while Ver­i­zon backed away from part of its pro­pos­al to be able to trans­fer work­ers any­where in the foot print for up to two months at a time, they refused to budge on lan­guage around clos­ing call cen­ters, which would lead to jobs mov­ing off­shore, and refused to return any con­tract­ed out plant work to the bar­gain­ing unit.

Fur­ther, the Dis­trict says, there is still not one word about improv­ing the wages, ben­e­fits and work­ing con­di­tions of Ver­i­zon Wire­less retail store employ­ees or a fair con­tract for the VZW techs.”

Ver­i­zon has announced that it will cut off strik­ing work­ers’ health insur­ance as of May 1.

Morale on the pick­et lines remains high. We’ve all been here so long that we under­stand much more what’s at stake,” said Greg Cal­abrese, a cable main­te­nance tech­ni­cian and mem­ber of Local 1109 in Brook­lyn. This is his fifth strike in his 19 years with the company.

The last Ver­i­zon strike end­ed after two weeks with­out a set­tle­ment, and it took anoth­er 10 months for the union to get a deal. This time, said Cal­abrese, nobody wants to go back with­out a con­tract. Every­body knows what we’re fac­ing and are pre­pared for the long haul.”

Cal­abrese joined an ear­ly morn­ing pick­et out­side a Brook­lyn Mar­riott, which suc­ceed­ed in get­ting the man­ag­er to kick out sev­er­al scabs who were stay­ing there. Local 1101 in Man­hat­tan and Local 1102 on Stat­en Island have also suc­cess­ful­ly giv­en scabs the boot with ear­ly morn­ing wake-up calls at local hotels over the past week.

IBEW and CWA locals in New Jer­sey held sev­er­al mass ral­lies this week, includ­ing one in front of the state­house in Tren­ton. Dan­ny Nunez, a facil­i­ties tech­ni­cian and mem­ber of IBEW Local 827 who’s spent 29 years with the com­pa­ny, said, It’s like night and day from the time I start­ed. There’s just no respect for us anymore.”

They real­ly push us like machines — if they could hire robots they would,” said Tom Boy­lan, anoth­er Local 827 mem­ber who’s been a line­man for 27 years. Now our bath­room breaks are watched and timed. Super­vi­sors used to be for­mer techs who knew the job. Now, they have no idea.”

It’s hard to believe,” said Nunez, that a com­pa­ny that makes so much mon­ey is always try­ing to nick­el and dime us like this.”

I’ll stay out for as long as it takes, and I’ll nev­er cross a pick­et,” said Boylan.

Next week, in addi­tion to man­ning the pick­et lines, CWA and IBEW activists will head to the Ver­i­zon share­hold­ers’ meet­ing in Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co. A YouGov sur­vey found that pub­lic per­cep­tion of the com­pa­ny is at its low­est point in three years, when news emerged that Ver­i­zon was shar­ing mil­lions of records with the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency.

Meghan Bro­phy con­tributed to report­ing for this story.

The Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca rep­re­sent In These Times edi­to­r­i­al staff and are a spon­sor of In These Times. Spon­sors play no role in edi­to­r­i­al content.

Dan DiMag­gio is an assis­tant edi­tor at Labor Notes
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