Does a Decline in Landline Use Affect Striking Verizon Workers?

By Michael Hill

The blare of car horns still shows the support for picketing Verizon communications and electrical workers four weeks after they went on strike. A major sticking point: how to adjust to American households hanging up on landline service and going wireless. Long gone are the days of needing an extra landline in the house for dial-up internet service and more.

“I remember the days of the teenager line. When as soon as someone reached a certain milestone age, say 15 or 16 and they got their own phone. Those days are gone at this point. It seems that people at a much younger age wind up getting a cell phone,” said Senior VP of National Operations Support for Verizon, Tom Maguire.

A national study shows the percentage of households with landlines and no cell phone is shrinking while the percentage of wireless-only households is growing.

Verizon says in the last five years, it lost nearly eight million landline customers, some to wireless, some to competition.

“The unions are well aware,” Maguire said.

“I heard from the company they used to do approximately 1,000 Fios installs a day. They’re down to about 150 and I really doubt its even 150 they’re doing a day,” said Bob Speer, president of Local 827 IBEW 1-15.

Verizon says all of the nearly 5,000 striking workers in NJ are in it’s the landline division and certainly the changing landscape in technology has everything to do with this strike.

“I think there’s an understanding that things need to change,” Maguire said.

Verizon says it wants greater flexibility to redeploying workers across state lines — to where the company’s growing . One employee says in other words, to…

“Where it’s profitable and not have them here in new jersey either repairing landlines or putting in fiber,” said Hetty Rosenstein, NJ Director of Communication Workers of America.

The Communication Workers of America says Verizon’s quest for greater flexibility to re-route calls from New Jersey to out-of-state has an ulterior motive.

“It’s that they can pay slave type wages in the Philippines and in Dominican Republic and elsewhere,” Rosenstein said.

When asked if they’re trying to send a greater share overseas he said, “Not that I’m aware of, no.”

What’s becoming a dinosaur amid major technological change is at the center of an old labor-management tug of war.