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BOSTON — Hundreds of telephone workers united in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) rallied for good jobs at Verizon’s New England headquarters last Thursday, in this city’s financial district.
Myles Calvey, business manager of IBEW Local 2222 and chair of the New England telephone workers’ bargaining committee, was master of ceremonies. “A year before our contracts expire, we’re sending a message to Verizon’s top management that we’ll fight for the preservation of good jobs, quality healthcare and secure pension benefits in negotiations next year,” Calvey said during the rally in downtown Boston. Union workers’ current labor agreement with Verizon expires on August 6, 2011.
“Some very profitable companies are using the recession as an excuse to demand givebacks and concessions from their employees,” added Calvey. “We want to make it clear to management that union members aren’t going to fall for that nonsense at Verizon.”
Verizon’s second quarter finances showed $9.8 billion in cash flow from operations, up nearly 30 percent from 2009. The $108 billion company had $5.5 billion in free cash flow, up nearly 77 percent from the second quarter in 2009.
The company had significant job cuts during the past year — there are now 24,500 fewer employees than one year ago — and it spent $2.3 billion in the second quarter dealing with union negotiated buyouts to avoid layoffs. “We protected our members during unprecedented job cuts,” Calvey said.
Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Tim Murray was the first rally speaker. “[W]e want to make sure that all [the state’s] employers respect workers’ rights and provide the good jobs our communities need,” Murray said. “Verizon is one of Massachusetts’ largest employers. We will stand with you to support good wages and working conditions for all its employees.”
The workforce reductions, buyouts and layoffs in recent years stem largely from landline losses, but also from Verizon’s massive shift away from rural America. Despite strong union opposition, Verizon has sold off its landlines in Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and most recently in West Virginia and 13 other states, substantially reducing union membership.
Meanwhile, the company has focused its investments in the largely unregulated — and as yet mostly nonunion wireless side of its business.
“Verizon’s top management has built an artificial wall separating wireless and other business operations from wireline,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400. “Management is using this wall to block members from the high growth, high-profit segments of the company.”
“We are gearing up to fight for enhanced organizing rights for Verizon Wireless workers and to help them unite for wages and working conditions comparable to ours,” added Trementozzi. Local 1400 represents hundreds of Verizon workers at call centers throughout Massachusetts.
Both CWA and IBEW have been educating members and building support for enhanced organizing rights for Verizon Wireless employees. (About 8,000 Verizon workers in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are members of the unions.) Members at IBEW Local 2222 and delegates to the recent CWA national convention have passed resolutions in support of the campaign.
Because customer and community support is so critical to winning good contracts, telecom workers have been building support in anticipation of the 2011 contract. Members at both unions actively supported striking workers at Shaw’s Methuen warehouse. “I’ll be there to support the telephone workers,” said UFCW Local 791 member Laurie Comeau-Hunter Mahoney, who attended Thursday’s rally. “We can never repay IBEW and CWA enough for all that they have done for Shaw’s workers.”
Pictures from the rally may be viewed here.
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Rand Wilson is an organizer and chief of staff at SEIU Local 888 in Boston.