A strike is looming. At 6 o’clock Wednesday morning some 36,000 Verizon workers plan to walk. The customer service workers, installers and repairmen in the company’s old landline divisions have been without a contract for eight months. They’re represented by the Communication Workers of America. Its legislative and political director is Seth Hahn who spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Given the expansion of wireless, Verizon indicates the old landline businesses are sort of heading toward being loss leaders. The need for those legacy workers is dropping too. What do you say to that?
Hahn: Well, certainly there are new technologies providing the wave of the future. That doesn’t mean Verizon has no responsibility to its current technology or technologies such as fiber installation. We also represent some workers in the wireless end of things and Verizon is refusing to bargain anything for those workers as well. At the end of the day, this is a company that so far this year is making $1.8 billion in profit a month. It’s receiving tremendous business from the state of New Jersey, from customers from all over and what they want to do is make it easier to outsource jobs from New Jersey and they refuse to bargain wages or any other type of improvement.
Williams: Well they are bargaining. They’ve offered a 6.5 percent pay increase, they’re changing the way health insurance is covered. What have you offered?
Hahn: We have on the table $200 million in savings in health care through the life of the contract. That’s not enough for Verizon. We want to bargain job security for people who work in New Jersey for business originating in New Jersey and all that Verizon is interested in doing is making it easier to take that job out-of-state and overseas.
Williams: How could expanding Verizon’s fiber optic network, Fios, increase the number of well-paying jobs and why hasn’t it happened?
Hahn: To build a fiber network, somebody has to dig the trench, lay the fiber optic cables, somebody has to install all of the equipment so that people can be connected to fiber and then you need customer service representatives to sell the products and educate customers. that’s thousands and thousands of good paying, middle class jobs in New Jersey. Verizon isn’t interested in doing that because they just want to cherry pick the most profitable places which leaves out a good chunk of New Jersey and all they care about is picking the most profitable places and they don’t care about workers in New Jersey, or really whether New Jersey has a high-speed telecommunications network.
Williams: The Communication Workers of America president has said that unless Verizon has a major change in direction, a strike will happen. What is a major change in direction look like?
Hahn: We need them to come back to the table with a real wage package.
Williams: Six point five percent isn’t enough?
Hahn: I don’t specifically know what they’re referring to by 6.5 percent. We need them to bargain some real improvements for the wireless workers, where really a lot of the work is expanding. We need some job security for workers in New Jersey and for work that is originating in New Jersey.
Williams: Verizon says that if you guys strike tomorrow morning customers won’t notice the difference, so why bother?
Hahn: Well, I think it’s just not fair to say that you can take a call from anywhere in the world and that a customer won’t notice the difference. I also think it’s unrealistic to say that wire line workers and installation workers who have worked for years and years and years who have experience, who make a decent, middle-class wage, are the same thing as people they’re going to bring in who make $8 and $10 an hour and don’t know the neighborhoods and can’t do this work. In fact the last time we went out in 2011 on strike we found that it had tremendous impact on their customers and it’s just not true that the workforce of their company has no bearing on whether or not their consumers are happy. It’s just an outrageous thing to say that the people who build the company from the ground up won’t be missed if they go out on strike.