In what has the potential to be the largest work stoppage in the country in recent years, up to 40,000 Verizon workers from Massachusetts to Virginia will go on strike at 6 am on Wednesday, unless the company "reconsiders its shameful, and I do mean shameful, demands," Communications Workers of America (CWA) president Chris Shelton has warned.
In a call with reporters on Monday, Shelton said, "nobody wants to go on strike."
"This very profitable company wants to push people down."
—Edward Mooney, CWA
But after trying for ten months to reach a fair contract, "we have to take a stand now for our families and every American worker," explained Myles Calvey, IBEW Local 2222 business manager and chairman of T-6 Verizon New England.
According to a statement from CWA, which is calling the strike along with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Verizon is "attempting to make devastating cut backs" even after "significant worker concessions on healthcare," including:
- Offshoring and contracting out even more customer service work to Mexico, the Philippines and other locations.
- Cutting job security for all workers.
- Requiring technicians to work away from home for as long as two months, without seeing their families. For anyone trying to balance work and family life, this is impossible.
- Refusing to negotiate improvements to wages, benefits and working conditions for Verizon Wireless workers, who formed a union with CWA in 2014.
- Freezing pensions at 30 years of service and forcing retirees to pay extremely high health care costs.
- Slashing benefits for workers injured on the job.
The unions say Verizon is making these demands despite having made $39 billion in profits over the last three years—and $1.8 billion a month in profits over the first three months of 2016.
"More and more, Americans are outraged by what some of the nation's wealthiest corporations have done to working people over the last 30 years, and Verizon is becoming the poster child for everything that people in this country are angry about," said Edward Mooney, vice president of CWA District 2-13. "This very profitable company wants to push people down."
Indeed, Jobs With Justice organizer Mackenzie Baris wrote in a blog post Monday: "If Verizon gets its way, we're allowing corporate CEOs to rewrite the rules in their favor yet again, instead of ensuring that more of our friends and neighbors can hold the line for family-sustaining pay and benefits."
CWA notes that last month, 20 U.S. senators sent a letter to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam calling on him to "act as a responsible corporate citizen and negotiate a fair contract with the employees who make your company’s success possible."
Among those senators was presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who just last week called Verizon's behavior "unacceptable."
Ahead of his address to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO's annual convention, Sanders declared:
Verizon wants to take American jobs – call center jobs – out of this country and bring them abroad where people will be paid pennies an hour. That is unacceptable. We are going to have to deal with this corporate greed, which is more concerned with compensation packages for CEOs than about the needs of hard working people who want nothing more than to be able to live in dignity and security and bring their kids up in a decent way.
CWA has endorsed Sanders over his rival Hillary Clinton.
Last fall, Sanders became the first major presidential candidate in decades to join a worker protest, when he walked a picket line with Verizon workers in New York City. Huffington Post reporter Dave Jameison noted at the time that while "[b]oth candidates have placed economic inequality at the core of their campaigns as they seek the nomination...it's much harder to imagine Clinton walking a picket line aimed at a telecom giant."