Around 40,000 workers employed by Verizon, one of America’s biggest telecommunications companies, are striking to win a decent contract.
The strike began on Wednesday 13 April, when the company failed to settle a contract with the workers’ union, the Communication Workers of America (CWA). Verizon wants to cut workers’ pension and healthcare benefits. It also wants to continue a policy of outsourcing jobs to other countries; the CWA says Verizon has outsourced around 5,000 call centre and customer service jobs to Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines since the last contract negotiations, which also saw workers strike for two weeks, in 2011. There are also plans to deploy technicians on placements away from home for months at a time, in what the union says is a calculated attempt to force workers out of their jobs.
The company claims that cuts and outsourcing are necessary because the landline (“wireline”) side of Verizon’s business is losing money. However, while total gross revenue fell by 1.8% in 2015, the business still made $8.9 billion dollars. Verizon’s super-fast “FiOS” broadband network, part of the landline division, increased sales by 9% in 2015. However, Verizon bosses have held back from using massive profits from the company’s wireless division to grow the FiOS business, prompting claims that they are deliberately running down the more heavily-unionised side of the business to expand more non-unionised areas. Verizon bosses have also boasted of training up non-union workers to cover the work of strikers for the duration of the dispute.
Those workers from Verizon’s wireless division who are unionised are also involved in the current strike. Jazmin Sypher, a Verizon wireless worker involved in the strike, told the Guardian: “We saw how the union workers on Verizon’s wireline side — the employees who install Fios broadband and maintain the company’s copper lines – were able to maintain a decent standard of living for their families. We workers on the wireless side felt it was only fair to join with them and win improvements as well.
“Verizon’s executives felt differently, and they’ve fought us ferociously. Two years after I and a hundred other wireless workers voted to come together in the union, Verizon is still refusing to settle a fair first contract with us.
“Even though we wireless workers are a small sliver of the nearly 40,000 workers on strike right now from Massachusetts to Virginia, our inability to win a first contract is one of the strike’s biggest issues — and one Verizon doesn’t want people to hear about.
“Verizon’s executives are desperate to stop the tens of thousands of other wireless workers from joining together in our union. By denying most of us collective bargaining, they’ve been able to worsen our job conditions, and keep our pay low, while they pump up the company’s profits higher and higher.”
The strike is seen by many as an emblematic fight against corporate America’s attempts to drive down wages, distribute profits upwards, and outsource work to non-unionised, low-wage labour markets elsewhere in the world. The CWA is one of the national unions to have formally endorsed Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign; Sanders addressed strikers on a picket line in New York while campaigning in the Democratic primary there. The Verizon strike overlapped with the latest day of action in the ongoing campaign of fast food and other low-paid workers, mainly in the service sector, for a $15/hour minimum wage. Workers and supporters staged protests, rallies, and other actions in 300 cities across America on Thursday 14 April.