By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
More than two weeks ago, tens of thousands of Verizon workers in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states walked out on their jobs. They say they are resisting the telecom giant’s sweeping concession demands. They had been working without a contract since August 2015
when it expired, though contract negotiations had begun in June 2015.
Nearly 39,000 Verizon union landline and cable workers – members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) – continue on strike up and
down the East Coast. They say they’re striking because Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers. They report they are lobbying for job security, fair wages and keeping jobs from going overseas.
The strike involves workers in nine eastern states and Washington, D.C.
Chris Moore, who is president of the Local 2011 CWA in Clarksburg, which is part of District 2-13, said, “We’d been working without a contract for eight months before going on strike.”(District 2-13 includes West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.)
He states that one of the reasons they are on strike is because Verizon is outsourcing call center jobs to the Phillippines, the Dominican Republic and to Mexico.
“Approximately 5,000 union jobs have already been outsourced to the Philippines,” Moore reports.
Moore said he personally witnessed the company replacing American workers with outsourced ones. “As people would retire, Verizon would hire three or four people in Mexico at a lower wage and no benefits,”
“We want to keep the same contract, but we’re not asking for more money or more benefits; we’re just asking to keep what we already had,” Moore emphasized. “But Verizon wants us to pay more for our benefits. And Verizon wants to outsource jobs.”
He added, “We are actually going to stay on the picket line indefinitely until we reach a firm contract that guarantees us job security, good benefits and a fair wage. All we want from Verizon is a fair contract. We’re not greedy. All we want is what we had. We were
very happy with what we had [in the contract] that just expired.”
Currently the local CWA members are picketing the Verizon Call Center location on Holden Street in Clarksburg, which employed about 28 union
people, as well as all Verizon store locations, he stated.
When asked if nonunion workers were onsite keeping the operations going at the call center, Moore reported: “There is no one working there. It is closed now. It was abandoned just prior to our 6 a.m. strike on Wednesday, April 13.”
CWA members are asking people to take their business elsewhere.
“We are encouraging all Verizon customers to support AT&T Wireless, which is a union company and pays their workers according to their profit margin, unlike Verizon, which only pays their executives higher wages,” Moore stated.
He added, “Verizon, right now, brings in 1.8 billion per month in profit. The CEO made 200 times what my workers made.”
The National CWA voted as a body to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, Moore said. “He, basically, supports unions.”
Moore said that while the strike is a financial hardship, union strikers have two things going for them – a heads-up and the union taking care of their own.
“The strike wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing,” he said. “We planned ahead and members planned accordingly.”
Verizon will cancel workers’ medical benefits, effective at midnight April 30, 2016, but the CWA will be available to help their members with medical costs and other legitimate financial needs, Moore explained. “We take care of the employees. We’re here for the long haul.”
The CWA members are planning an evening rally in Clarksburg within the next two weeks at the Harrison County Courthouse. Moore said they’d be
releasing the date and time as soon as it’s determined.
Verizon management was not available for comment at press time, but had earlier stated in a national press release that they have been trying to work with union leadership for the past few months to come up with a fair contract. Verizon has said health care issues need to
be addressed regarding retirees and workers due to the growing costs of medical care.
The last Verizon strike was in 2011 and lasted two weeks.