On the picket line
November 22, 2002 | Pages 10 and 11
By CWA shop stewards
NEW YORK--Verizon Communications has declared an all-out war on its unionized workers. Despite $2.1 billion in profits last quarter and praise from Wall Street, the phone giant is crying poverty and wants to lay off thousands in the Northeast.
In New York, Verizon could move to lay off roughly 3,000 union members represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) before Christmas. CWA has launched a $1.1 million publicity campaign to turn public opinion against Verizon.
Local politicians have been taken to see the deteriorating phone infrastructure and union members have leafleted neighborhoods, encouraging customers to complain about poor service to the Public Service Commission.
On November 14, more than 500 members of CWA and the other main union at Verizon, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) rallied in Boston to protest Verizon's plan to lay off 1,600 workers across New England by December 31.
Another rally with the two unions is set for November 21 at Ground Zero in New York City. CWA leaders hope this will create enough pressure to win rulings against layoffs in arbitration.
If the union wins the arbitration, the company would have to rehire laid-off workers with back pay. However, counting on arbitrators and the courts would be a mistake. In early November, the courts failed to grant CWA an injunction against layoffs until arbitration has been decided. Verizon can now lay off workers and then drag out the arbitration hearings--possibly until the contract expires in August 2003.
That's why union members must organize their workplaces for action--including a strike. Both CWA and the IBEW have committed to a mobilization plan, but follow-through has been weak. Every gang or work group needs to take the initiative--using buttons and petitions to organize. Stewards should argue for more backing from their locals.
If we strike, Verizon will try to get injunctions to end it and threaten us with fines and scabs. But we can beat Verizon with a strike and solidarity from labor. CWA won strikes at the company in 1998 and 2000 as well as in 1971 and 1989.
Verizon can survive bad publicity, but not a loss of dial tone.
Steve Trussel and Annie Levin contributed to this report.
By Erik Wallenberg
ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt.--Police sprayed mace into a crowd of striking employees on a November 12 picket line at Fairbanks Scales.
On November 4, all but six of the 75 workers voted to strike. The workers--who are members of United Electrical Local 234--walked out in response to management's demands for a wage freeze, a $3,000 increase in annual health care costs and a freeze in the pension plan for the next year.
The strikers have set up a strong picket line with their supporters to shut down the plant and stop scab labor from taking their jobs. The police sprayed mace into the crowd to break into the line and allow a delivery truck through. In the chaos, one woman says, an officer hit her in the face.
In response, Caledonia County Sheriff Mike Bergeron said he hoped the strikers understood that his department has a "neutral position" in the dispute and that they were only there to keep the peace and maintain safety.
But this brutal response by the police to protect the company is a perfect example of how the police really aren't neutral. Throughout the day, police physically disrupted the picket line so that delivery trucks and scabs could freely enter and exit.
These strikers have been in the forefront of the fight for a living wage standard and a universal health care plan in the state. This attack is about undermining a strong and militant union. Continuing to organize solidarity actions with other unions and community supporters will be essential for victory.
By Evan Kornfeld
DOWNEY, Calif.--On November 8, merchandisers at Coca-Cola's Downey Sales Center voted to join the Teamsters union. This was a big victory for the Teamsters, who have been trying to organize Coca-Cola's merchandisers for years.
Merchandisers stock supermarket shelves with company products. This past summer, a unionization drive at the Rancho Cucamonga Sales Center failed, even though there was a class-action lawsuit from several current and former employees claiming the company retaliated against employees who complained about not receiving overtime pay.
The merchandisers at Downey may have received encouragement from the bottlers in the Downey production plant. Last summer, the bottlers--members of Teamsters Local 848--went on a one-day strike after voting down a proposed contract recommended by the union leadership, forcing the company to agree to a contract that workers found more favorable.