Ten months ago, Verizon Communications, Inc. began bargaining with its unions on a new contract that would govern health-care packages, retirement benefits and other employment issues for tens of thousands of workers.
Two months later, 45,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers went on strike when the talks reached an impasse. Later that month, the workers returned to their jobs as the negotiations continued and Verizon pledged to honor an expired contract.
The two sides have made very little progress since then, as evidenced by rallies that the unions have held outside the home of Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam and other places.
“We are moving into month 11 [of the negotiations] and we are still far apart on all our issues,” said Bill Huber, president and business manager of IBEW Local 827 in New Jersey, which represents roughly 5,000 Verizon employees. “We’re far apart on health care. We’re far apart on pensions. We’re far apart on sick days. We’re far apart on job security. We’re far apart on calling. That has to do with all the call centers.”
Rich Young, a Verizon spokesman, said Verizon needs the unions to work with the company to help its wireline business succeed.
“As I’ve stated in the past, many of the rules and provisions in our contracts were put in place decades ago,” Young told Channel Partners in an email. “They no longer reflect the competitiveness and dramatic changes that we experience in today’s communications marketplace.”
McAdam, Verizon’s top executive, probably wishes his company could reach an agreement, at least for the sake of his privacy.
For a few hours yesterday, a few hundred union workers with the CWA and IBEW rallied outside McAdam’s home in Mendham, N.J. Union reps have been pushing for rallies across New Jersey and other states in order to engage its members in the negotiations, Huber told Channel Partners. The peaceful rallies are held near the homes of Verizon managers and at corporate headquarters in Basking Ridge, N.J., he said.
Union representatives continue to negotiate with Verizon in New York.
Myles Calvey, business manager of the IBEW’s Local 2222 in Boston, said he’s never encountered a situation like this in the 24 years since he was elected.
“In my life I have never seen a process like this. This is June 27th like 45 weeks ago,” he said, referring to the lack of progress in the negotiations since the bargaining commenced.
“They not only have their foot on our throat but they’re definitely looking for blood,” said Calvey, who has been involved in a number of strikes and negotiations since he was elected as a business manager for the IBEW in 1988 while working for Verizon’s predecessor NYNEX. “There’s no respect for the union. We are just 100 percent the enemy. They just have no use for the union.”
Roughly 45,000 union workers went on strike over the summer in one of the biggest walkouts in recent times, then returned to work in late August despite the fact that no new contract had been ironed out with Verizon.
The strike turned fairly ugly, with Verizon obtaining preliminary injunctions in several states in the Northeast in order to prevent workers from using intimidation tactics and illegally blocking its facilities.
The unions claimed over the summer that Verizon was demanding $1 billion in annual concessions, which amounts to $20,000 per worker per year. They portrayed Verizon as a wealthy company that brought home $19.5 billion in profits and paid out $258 million to its top five executives over the last four years.
Verizon executives 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.
“This is just a bunch of wireless people that absolutely hate … the union,” Calvey said.
Verizon’s Young characterized such an assertion as “absolute nonsense.”
“We look at our union represented employees as an integral part of Verizon’s workforce,” he said. “Some union leaders may be putting out these inflammatory comments in an attempt to be divisive. That’s the wrong approach.”
Huber said union workers will continue to hold rallies until they reach an agreement with Verizon on a new contract.
“We look forward to reaching an agreement that’s fair to all sides,” Young added. “However, it’s essential for a new contract to address the key areas that will help make Verizon’s wireline unit more competitive and successful.”