On August 6, the contract between Verizon and their unionized employees in the northeast region expired, unleashing one of the largest labor strikes in years. Despite numerous attempts at the bargaining table with union leaders, Verizon is persistent with their agenda that harms tens of thousands of their middle class employees. While this is nothing new on the American corporate stage, Verizon is further contributing to a dangerous trend that harms the majority of Americans while benefiting a select few.
A few weeks ago, I moved to a new apartment with my longtime girlfriend. Amidst a sea of boxes, displaced belongings, and furniture that would not fit through the front door, we had to set up our cable service. Verizon offered an affordable FiOS package in our neighborhood. A few days later, a Verizon worker came and set up the service, expertly explaining how it worked and what was included in our package. We began chatting and he shared that he was recently married, his wife he coincidentally also works for Verizon and is a member of the Communications Workers of America union. He’s a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union. Both of their jobs are at stake next week, which obviously is deeply unsettling and terrifying for both of them. As he voiced his concern, a look of gloom bled over his face. He was just trying to work and earn enough to live comfortably. Two newlyweds, trying to settle down and buy a home together, going to work and performing their jobs exceptionally well. As someone who just graduated with many others, is this what we have to look forward to? An American company doing its best to destroy something so “American.”
They claim it’s due to the economy, yet ironically they reported profits $3.6 billion and paid no income tax. Moreover, they handsomely treated their top executives to generous salaries, with many of them bringing in over $4 million each. Despite this, Verizon claims they have to rewrite the contract for their financial benefit. This would reduce wages for many. For example, there would be no differential pay for night workers vs. day workers. Additionally, raises would be granted based on evaluations, leaving workers at the mercy of their supervisors, which could become personal. Verizon also wants to adjust pay for their call center employees so it is mostly commission based.
For more salt in the wounds of workers, Verizon is aiming to replace workers’ health care coverage with plans requiring workers to pay higher premiums and deductibles. Accident disability coverage would be eliminated. Sick days would also be greatly reduced, with those working for two years or less being granted zero sick days a year
The worst though, is Verizon’s desire to remove a contract clause that prevents the outsourcing of labor to other domestic and/or foreign companies. Verizon has already eliminated countless numbers of jobs and transferred others overseas. The majority of their sales department is outsourced to less-than-reputable domestic companies with records of workers’ rights abuses.
With the strike underway, the media has been having a field day. Some outlets exaggerate the truth behind the strike. Others convey the message of “stop complaining, in this economy you’re lucky you have a job.” While a few rotten apples can spoil the orchard for others, people have to remember that this goes beyond them. It goes beyond the few troublemakers the media decided to fixate on, instead of truly covering the event for what its worth. It goes beyond the media, too. These two unions are on the chopping block now; down the road, these journalists’ livelihoods could be in the same position due to this trend. This is about the destruction of the middle class. This trend of benefit reductions, outsourcing, and lower wages is the perfect disease. It’s perfectly contagious. Verizon isn’t the first sick company, nor will it be the last. This is exactly why we have to show solidarity and defend hard-working people.
So here I am, searching for a job, worrying about this absolute stranger I met the other day at my home. He’s facing the worst. Without our support, we all will be facing it eventually. Today, we are faced with is the disheartening realization that American companies such as Verizon don’t care about their American workers. They don’t care about the guy who came to my house who is trying to do his job to the best of his ability and live a productive life. They don’t care about the average American worker who is simply struggling to make ends meet, often sacrificing so much in the process to do so. They don’t want to pay fair wages, assist with health benefits, or even employ us in some instances. Rather, their desire is to harvest more profits to fill their pockets with. Sadly, without support for IBEW/CWA brothers and sisters at Verizon, this greed will be allowed to further destroy our economy, our workers, and our communities. As the strike continues, we need to focus on the larger picture and show solidarity. Verizon can certainly afford to take care of their employees, yet the trend carries on.
Alex Train is a graduate of Suffolk University. He works part-time and volunteers at Massachusetts Jobs With Justice.