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If you have not already heard, the unionized employees of Verizon have gone on strike.  It is the first strike in eleven years and was precipitated by the most aggressive bargaining position the company has taken in years according to the New York Times.  The roughly 45,000 employees of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were being asked to give up pensions, sick days, job security and health insurance benefits.

Verizon’s landline business has been in decline for many years now with the ascendance of cell phones and cable phone service.  Indeed, Verizon’s wireless business makes up the bulk of the company’s revenues despite European cell giant Vodafone’s 45% stake in the wireless division.  According to the New York Times, FiOS, the company’s fiber optic internet service is also bearing fruit, and that is managed by the landline division.  Overall, Verizon’s landline division remains profitable, if in decline.

While in these tough economic times and with a shrinking, but hardly dying industry, that Verizon would ask for some help from their employees is not unreasonable.  However, their offensive is over the top and does appear to reverse fifty years of gains as the unions claim.  Most of Verizon’s demands only serve to undermine any sense of security that telephone workers have fought for since the historic Boston Telephone Strike in 1919.  The workers on strike today principally operate out of Verizon’s legacy local phone companies better known as the Baby Bells once known as Bell Atlantic and NYNEX.

Among Verizon’s demands are a partial payment by workers toward health insurance premiums ranging from $1,300 to $3,000; a limitation on sick days; a freeze on pensions and elimination for new employees; and a virtual gutting of job security.  Less controversial, but still problematic are calls for raises to based on performance.

Placing a limit within a scope that fairly accommodates workers is not ridiculous as the policy is largely open-ended today.  Rethinking pensions for new workers is also understandable as the company has long had 401k's.

However, it is the health insurance provisions, job security, and to a lesser extent the provisions for raises that are particularly troubling.  Moreover these are only a few concessions mentioned in media reports out of dozens unions say Verizon is demanding.  More important than any one item, it appears that Verizon has decided to take the firm stance that it wants virtually everything it has asked for and nothing less.

Already it appears that demonstrations have begun outside the non-union Verizon Wireless Stores in addition to what will likely be strikes at the buildings where Verizon landline businesses operate.  I have confirmation via Facebook photos and the status of an employee at Verizon Wireless that “protesters” were outside his building.  Yet, Verizon may be able sustain the pain at the landline business because it can subsidize strike-related costs with income from the Wireless division even as it substitutes managers hastily trained in a couple days time to replace technicians.

You can give support to striking workers. First of all, you can show your support for the telephone workers by joining a picket line or giving picketers water during the hot high-noon days.  Some posters on DailyKos are calling for you to call Verizon.  

If this drags on, we may want to consider other actions.  In a comment to his own post about how you can help union workers, Norwood suggests purchasing no new Verizon services and I would include the wireless division in that.  Since Verizon Wireless is national, you can do this even if you are outside the Northeast.  Nothing drastic, but maybe you might want to wait to get that cell phone upgrade until after the workers go back to the job.  Maybe you can hold off signing a new two year contract until Verizon starts negotiating in good faith.  Maybe you can hold off on getting that larger data plan and ration your data usage until the company comes to its senses.  Remember, the goal is not to cancel service, but just to not sign up for a new one.  I have been contemplating a smart phone for some time (I am a dinosaur when it comes to cell phones), but will do nothing of the sort until this is resolved!

Meanwhile, Verizon has one very good point.  Its competitors and wireless division is largely not unionized.  If we succeed here, perhaps we should make life easier for them next time and work to get their competitors and wireless division the same advantage as its landline business.

This fairly large action by employees is among the most significant stands against the anti-worker agenda at the moment.  I suspect that labor’s show of force right now is (rightly) focused on Wisconsin, but if successful in this effort to defend the right to work with dignity and for a decent living, in the private sector as well.

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