By Michael Hill
At 6 o’clock this morning, unionized workers of Verizon launched one of the biggest strikes in recent years — nearly 40,000 workers — mainly in northeastern states over pay, pension, job security, benefits and more.
Outside a Livingston call center, the Communications Workers of America accused Verizon of outsourcing their jobs.
“We also get hurt in terms of lessening the number of middle class people we have living in this state,” said CWA New Jersey State Director Hetty Rosenstein.
“We’re a global company. We do have call centers that are located in other locations across the globe and we might look to send calls to those areas. But first and foremost we always try to route it, they call it ‘in home routing’, and that’s our first step in order to try to get the customers calls answered,” said Verizon Senior Vice President of National Operations Support Tom Maguire.
They accuse Verizon of making profits of $1.8 billion a month but not sharing the wealth.
“$233 million to five executives in the last five years. They’re not hurting,” Rosenstein said.
“I think we are sharing our profits with our employees. We’re looking to put some cost controls in place so we can remain competitive as possible,” Maguire said.
Forty percent of Verizon’s old core business — home landline phones — now rely on mobile phones. The company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers accept that reality, but they disagree over technician pay.
“If the people work overtime, a little over time, then they will be better off than they were in the past. A lot of members don’t have the ability to work over time and that’s not what it’s about working overtime,” said Verizon employee Bob Speer.
“I think there’s an understanding that things need to change. I think some of the negotiation issues are how significant should that change be,” Maguire said.
Workers have been on the job without a contract for months. Roxanne Randle and Richard DuBois II joined Verizon 19 years ago. They say this fight goes well beyond this picket line.
“We’re representing for the entire country,” Randle said.
“Right now a race to the bottom for workers and a race to the top for executive class,” Dubois said.
In just about all strikes the one question that comes up is, how long can workers afford to stay on the picket line?
“When it comes to my pension, I can’t afford to be out on strike one day, but I’m willing to stay as long as it takes,” said Verizon employee Clara Gaither.
In Newark, striking workers — outside a Verizon call center that’s shutting down — found support from passing drivers and Mayor Ras Baraka.
“Hopefully this strike will get a fair contract for you,” he said.
The rally grew so big it moved across the street to Washington Park where former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver offered her support, “The company was built on the backs of the people who are standing in this park right now.”
Verizon says it’s trained non-union workers to fill in during the strike for however long it goes and customers likely will notice a difference.
“They’re still taking care of customers there will be a little bit of a disruption as we get up to speed, as we get people in from different areas of the country,” Maguire said.
While several issues are keeping labor and management at odds, they both agree it didn’t have to come this.