IBEW: Verizon Replacement Workers Endangering Public

One of the unions representing Verizons striking workers claims temporary employees with no training are jeopardizing the safety of themselves, their colleagues and the public.

Were seeing people without the right safety equipment, trying to do the job without doing the proper pre-work safety checks,” said Ed Starr, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2321 in Massachusetts, in a statement released Wednesday. These are the kind of screw ups that would get any of us written up in a heartbeat. The majority of these replacements have no telecommunications training and someone is going to get hurt bad unless Verizon settles this.”

The temporary workers often dont have in-the-field experience, Starr told us in an interview.

The people that Verizons training or putting out there are coming from the IT department or sales work groups ,” Starr said.

Ed McFadden, a Verizon spokesman, characterized the IBEWs allegations as baseless.”

Its shameful for a labor union that has spent so much time harassing intimidating and sabotaging our networks to be claiming their colleagues are endangering the public,” McFadden told us.

McFadden said Verizon has observed more than 150 acts of sabotage” over the last 10 days, such as cuts to cable lines and wiring cut out of neighborhood boxes.

We have had serious acts of sabotage to the networks and our operations” that could have impacted the lives of customers or their ability to communicate, he said, adding that Verizon might observe only one act of sabotage on an average week.

Safety Infractions?

But the IBEW claims Verizons temporary employees are endangering themselves, their colleagues and the public. In a press release, the organization has provided links to two clips on YouTube that reportedly illustrate the safety hazards. One YouTube video shot in Massachusetts shows IBEW workers exasperated with Verizon management who are sending out untrained, unqualified workers to do dangerous jobs, just to make a buck,” wrote the person who uploaded the clip.

(**Caution: The clip below contains some adult language.**)

The clip shows a technician instructing two managers on how to place a ladder against a telephone pole and climb the pole safely, Starr explained.

Were at least trying to help them. Tell them the right way to do things,” one man can be heard saying in the video. If they dont want to listen thats their choice.”

I say let them fall on their head,” chimed in another guy, who appears to be a union worker.

The safety fractions that union members are reporting, such as climbing a pole improperly or failing to wear a hard hat, are the types our members usually get disciplined for,” Starr said.

The IBEW claims another video posted on YouTube and shot at night in New York State shows what happens when you put inexperienced workers around energized equipment, with replacement workers blowing a transformer.”

The union also said Local 2321 has been documenting unsafe working practices on its Facebook page since the strike began more than a week ago.

Or Rhetoric?

Verizon’s McFadden characterized the IBEWs allegations as more union rhetoric about the workforce.”

A majority of the replacement employees are mostly former and current Verizon employees, McFadden said, and corporate employees have undergone more than 100 hours of training for many jobs.

Many of them [have] experience in the fields that they are currently operating in,” he said.

About 45,000 Verizon employees have been on strike since a contract expired on Aug. 6.

The IBEW and Communications Workers of America have been in talks with Verizon for weeks to replace the expired agreement. But the two sides have been squabbling over a range of issues, such as healthcare premiums and pensions.

The unions have portrayed Verizon as a gluttonous company flush with cash yet unwilling to share the wealth with its employees other than the top brass. The IBEW and CWA assert 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 economic realities and the deteriorating conditions in its shrinking landline business.

Status of Negotiations

Commenting on the status of the negotiations, McFadden said, The talks have been productive and they are ongoing.”

Starr said he has been in New York for several weeks at the bargaining table.

The two sides are addressing some miscellaneous items, but havent hashed out the highly contentious items like healthcare and pensions.

One Verizon proposal would result in a call center sharing plan that has alarmed workers.

Under the plan, Starr said, if a resident of a state like Massachusetts called Verizon to report trouble with his FiOS Internet service, for example, the Verizon representative taking the call might be based somewhere else outside the Bay State. Starr indicated union workers would be more agreeable to such a proposal if they received a commitment that jobs dont get outsourced to another state or outside the U.S.

Verizon already has outsourced jobs to India, Pakistan, Mexico and the Philippines, he said.

Were talking about keeping good-paying jobs in America,” Starr said.

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