Verizon Strike: 100K Sign CWA Petition as Company Threatens to Suspend Benefits

More than 100,000 individuals have signed a petition that has asked Verizon Communications to return to the bargaining table in negotiations with two unions representing about 45,000 workers on strike, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said Tuesday.

The petition asks Verizon to drop your unfair demands and return to the bargaining table to negotiate a new contract in good faith.” The CWA, which represents about 35,000 Verizon employees who have been on strike for more than a week, says students, families, unions, progressive groups as well as civil rights and community organizations have signed the petition.

CWAs petition is part of a broader effort to facilitate negotiations between the union and Verizon. Last week, the CWA announced filing charges against Verizon with the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices. The CWA has asked the NLRB to order Verizons management to act in good faith. Verizon also has reportedly lodged NLRB complaints against the union.

“Despite the inaccurate hyperbole on the part of the union, discussions between the two sides continue,” Verizon spokesman Rich Young told Multichannel News.

Clearly, the stakes are high in an employment dispute that involves one of the largest and most powerful telecommunications companies in the world.

If an agreement cannot be reached soon, tens of thousands of employees could lose more than their pay. Verizon has been telling union members it will suspend basic health insurance and medical benefits on Aug. 31 for all workers still on strike at that time, MarketWatch reported.

Verizon is legally entitled to suspend the benefits, but companies rarely do so during a labor strike, according to Gary Chaison, a Clark University professor of industrial relations. “It tells the workers that management has the upper hand,” Chaison told MarketWatch. “But it can have the unintended effect of getting the workers to dig in their heels even further and fight.”

Greed or Economic Reality?

The unions have portrayed Verizon as a gluttonous company that is flush with cash yet unwilling to share the wealth with its employees other than the top brass.

Over the last few years, Verizon has made $19 billion in profits while paying its top five executives $250 million in compensation and bonuses. With middle-class families already struggling, its time for Verizon to share its success with the hardworking Americans who made it possible,” the CWA petition states. This is not a time for corporate greed. It is time to do the right thing.”

Verizon executives have maintained the company must deal with economic realities” in its shrinking landline business by requiring workers to contribute to healthcare premiums and make other reasonable concessions. For example, most employees represented by the unions dont pay a dime for healthcare premiums, said Verizon, which is proposing that these employees pay a portion of the premiums reflecting an amount the company asserts could be as little as $100 a month.

Its no secret that the wireline business has experienced a ten-year decline in our customer base and in profitability, despite investing billions in improving our network, processes and systems,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam told Verizon management in a letter dated Aug. 7, 2011 coinciding with the expiration of a contract that covered roughly 45,000 employees in Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia.

The unions claim Verizon is demanding $1 billion in annual concessions, representing $20,000 in compensation per worker per year. Verizon, which says its technicians can earn more than $140,000 a year in salary (with overtime) and benefits, claims the expired employment agreement simply doesnt reflect the times.

It is clear that some of the existing contract provisions, negotiated initially when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today,” McAdam wrote in the letter to management. In fact, under these contracts, costs have risen consistently even as the wireline business has shrunk.”

The strike has left many employees temporarily without pay and forced Verizon to deal with a host of issues, ranging from reported acts of sabotage on its network to the costs and headaches of training others in order to minimize any disruptions to service.

Verizon has obtained injunctions in several states in the Northeast in order to prevent workers from using intimidation tactics and illegally blocking its facilities.

On a website dedicated to the issues, Verizon asserts it was completely prepared for the possibility of a strike.”

The company has tens of thousands of managers trained and ready to assist customers and is confident it can continue to maintain its networks and systems,” the company said.

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