For nearly a decade, Verizon told its costumers, “we never stop working for you.” But this week, 45,000 of its employees have done so.
Contract negotiations between the telecommunications giant and two groups representing the unionized Verizon employees, Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, fell through Aug. 7, resulting in a strike of Verizon union workers up and down the East Coast.
From Massachusetts to Virginia, workers are donning red shirts and carting placards reading, “CWA On Strike For Middle Class Jobs,” in front of Verizon stores, including its campus in Ashburn.
The workers are striking because Verizon is preparing to make wide-spread wage cuts and to increase the amount employees contribute to their health care plans and pensions, among other things.
Leesburg resident Steffan Ahalt has worked for Verizon for more than 10 years. He said he sometimes works seven days a week for the company that now wants to eliminate several of his paid holidays and sick days.
He estimates that Verizon’s new health care proposal would result in him having to meet a $7,500 annual deductible in order to provide health insurance for his family.
The concessions Verizon is currently proposing translates to a $20,000 decrease in benefits, said another Verizon worker and fellow striker, George. George wished to be identified only by his first name.
The strike only affects the company’s wireline division, which includes FIOS, its television and Internet services. Verizon’s wireless division is not, and never was, unionized.
Ahalt said he’s most frustrated that Verizon won’t meet CWA at the negotiation table. CWA represents nearly 35,000 of the workers and IBEW represents the remaining 10,000 employees. Ahalt and three other men will walk back and forth in front of Verizon’s Market Street location until CWA and Verizon can reach an agreement, they said. Their red shirts are emblazoned with cobra snakes alongside an inscription, “Will strike if provoked.”
But neither Ahalt, George nor “Faye,” who is striking with nearly 10 other workers in front of Verizon’s Ashburn campus, want to be on strike.
“With the economy the way it is, I’d rather be working,” Ahalt said. CWA pays the workers $120 per week to strike while negotiations ensue. Negotiations could continue for days, weeks or months.
George insists that if the union worker’s wages drop, so will the wages of Verizon’s contract workers.
“This is a fight for middle-class jobs in the U.S.,” he said.
Faye, who also did not wish to be named, echoed his sentiments saying that if Verizon wins, its workers – union and non-union– will suffer, and that worker’s winter holiday packages will be severance packages.
“They’re taking everything back that we’ve earned over the years,” she said.
Faye was joined by Caroline Greenfield, and the two women blocked the entrance into Verizon’s Ashburn campus Sept. 8 asking, “Do you really want to cross a picket line?”
Faye has been with Verizon for 10 years and Greenfield for nearly 30 years. Greenfield marched in front of the entrance waving at the cars who occasionally honked their horns in support of the union workers.
“They’re literally selling us off piece by piece,” Faye said.
The union workers are perplexed that Verizon, a company that is currently profitable and has a former chief executive officer, Ivan Seidenberg, who made the Forbes list of top CEO compensations at $37 million, is asking its workers to make concessions on their compensations.
Waving at the copper electrical lines above, Ahalt said Verizon has already paid for its infrastructure work throughout Loudoun, as its FIOS plan is completely built out. The company is now accruing profit on that initiative, he said.
“For someone who’s making billions of dollars a year, we just want [our wages] to stay the same,” he said.
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