More Than 35,000 Verizon Workers Go on Strike Across East Coast

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–As many as 39,000 Verizon landline and cable workers based on the East Coast abandoned their jobs on April 13, amid stalled negotiations concerning their contract, which expired nearly eight months ago.

The employees are members of two unions: The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). 

The Verizon workers have gone on strike to "save good jobs and ensure quality service for customers," according to the CWA. About 5,000 are employed in the Garden State.

The unhappy workers include customer service employees, repairmen, installers, and others with service type jobs in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., whose contract expired August 1.

These workers are mostly employed in Verizon's "Wireline Business." But according to reports, a small group of  Verizon Wireless employees are also striking. 

The New York Times Bits Blog reported on April 14 that there are scores of Verizon customers not likely to notice the strike.

"You should not notice any difference if you use your Verizon Wireless cellular or data services or go into a Verizon store, though you might spot pickets outside some Verizon Wireless stores," writes Jim Kerstetter, noting that if the strike continues, Verizon wireline patrons could experience reduced quality in their service at home or businesses.

Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman with the CWA, whose union represents as many as 1,000 New Jersey Verizon employees, earlier indicated that Garden State customers may experience extended outages and service delays due to the strike. 

Still, it is actually the IBEW which advocates for most of the striking workers, acccording to the Associated Press.  Another 500 workers are in call centers or customer service positions, while 3,300 hold "technical services" jobs, IBEWspokesman Mark Brueggenjohann.

Workers rallied on Joyce Kilmer Avenue in New Brunswick, and at locations in Newark, Robbinsville, and Livingston.

Rallies also were held outside the Verizon Wireless store in East Brunswick's Mid-State Mall on Route 18, and at other stores in Central New Jersey including: South Plainfield, Manalapan, Hamilton, and Howell.

"Strike Day Rallies" are also taking place in Staten Island, New York, and Mahattan..

Verizon says it has many other trained workers to take the place of striking union employees who don't report to work.

"We remain fully prepared to handle any work stoppage so that our products and services will be available where and when our customers need them," said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon's wireline network operations, in a statement.

"[However, it's not likeley they'll] be able to provide the same quality as people who have been doing it for years. And the company has only trained 10,000 or so people to do the work of the 36,000 union members," writes Kerstetter.

He adds that customers should also not expect "any discounts in your next phone bill" if service deteriorates. 

The union outlined four major reasons for the strike:

  • Company failing to meet pledges to expand FiOS broadband to millions of customers, but wants to continue shedding workers that install service
  • Verizon has already moved 5,000 jobs overseas, pressing to send even more jobs to Mexico, Philippines, elsewhere
  • Despite $39 billion profit in last three years, Verizon pushing to outsource work to low-wage contractors, force family-busting transfers
  • Walkout by nearly 40,000 workers from Massachusetts to Virginia is largest U.S. strike in years

"'Our objective in these negotiations is to preserve good jobs with competitive wages and excellent benefits while addressing the needs of our ever-changing business,” Lowell C. McAdam, Verizon’s chief executive, wrote in an essay posted on LinkedIn.

But “nostalgia for the rotary phone era won’t save American jobs, any more than ignoring the global forces reshaping the auto industry saved the Detroit automakers. We’re determined not to find ourselves in that same boat,'” wrote the NYT, in a report published April 13.

That report says that the striking workers earn an average of $130,000 a year in wages and benefits, but insists that the salaries should be shared with more workers and should be a higher priority for Verizon, which is "highly profitable," and sells services that consumers are clamoring for."

“The biggest issue in this conflict is trying to preserve good jobs,” Bob Master, assistant to the vice president of District 1 at the Communications Workers of America, told the Times. 

The wireline business accounted for about 29% of Verizon’s revenue last year, yet only 7% of its operating income.

"By contrast, the wireless business, which is largely not unionized and where wages and benefits for rank-and-file workers are lower on average, is booming and highly profitable," says the Times report. 

“The F.C.C. doesn’t have an effective policy to build out broadband in the U.S.,” Jeffrey Keefe, a professor emeritus at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, told the Times.

“Fios is a state-of-the-art broadband network. The F.C.C. has not provided the appropriate incentives.”

Professor Keefe added: “The purposes of the strike are to build public support for the workers and to put pressure on the politicians and the regulators to put pressure on Verizon to settle this thing."

The CWA also says that Verizon is refusing to negotiate a fair first contract for its retail store workers, who formed a union in 2014.

"Verizon says Wireless workers make the company huge profits, but it’s refusing to give them any improvements — even though they’re some of the lowest paid people at Verizon," writes the CWA.

"Verizon is [also] failing to negotiate a fair contract for the 100 wireless technicians who maintain the network in downstate New York."