Time to draw the line against bosses' attack
By Michael Ware, CWA Local 1109 | August 1, 2003 | Page 12
"WE WON'T go back! Mobilize, mobilize, mobilize!" These words have become the union's rallying cry as a decisive showdown looms this week at Verizon.
As Socialist Worker went to press, negotiations had stalled between telecommunication giant Verizon and its two unions, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which together represent 78,000 workers in the Northeast.
Management is smarting after losing an arbitration decision to the unions that forced the company rehire 3,400 workers--with back pay--illegally laid off last December. The CWA has called for pre-shift celebrations on July 30 as those workers report back.
The victory has given unions badly needed momentum to mobilize their memberships for what could be a long and decisive strike or lockout. Verizon threatened to walk away from the bargaining table for six months if the unions strike when the contract expires at midnight on August 2.
After the arbitration loss, the company is even more determined to secure layoff language in the new contract--and force through a long list of concessions, including higher co-pays for health benefits. Scabs are being recruited, and managers will be expected to work 12-hour days, six days a week in some locations to maintain company operations during a strike.
Verizon hired the union-busting p.r. firm Market/Media Sciences, which launched a smear campaign aimed at turning the public against "overpaid union workers." The union responded with ads of its own. But the real fight will involve mobilizing the membership for action--and organizing to win solidarity for Verizon workers.
Until July, CWA leaders had dragged their feet in preparing for this fight. But since the arbitration victory, the union has greatly stepped up its activities.
The union crashed Verizon-sponsored nights at Yankees, Mets and Red Sox baseball games, and picketed the house of a top Verizon New England executive in Franklin, Mass. The union's "Operation Braveheart" has coincided with a rash of employee illness and forgetfulness in bringing security IDs to work.
Strike captains and picket coordinators have begun preparing co-workers for picket duty, including mobile picketing. Mobile picketing always plays a crucial role in telephone strikes. During the 17-week strike in 1989, mobile pickets proved decisive in harassing scabs and managers in the field. Management concluded that the picketing was "the worst we have ever seen...the degree and intensity of harassment is devastating," according to one memo.
The CWA and IBEW won that strike, and they preserved wages and benefits in short, successful walkouts in 1998 and 2000. But this time around, Verizon will not back down so quickly.
Because the CWA has beaten back management's attacks so far, Verizon is behind in matching their nonunion competitors' lower labor costs. Of course, Verizon made $4.1 billion in profits last year and has double the national productivity average of revenue per employee.
But management still feels pressure to solve the "union question." Part of the corporation's problems stem from $12 billion in bad investments being written off over the last four years. The company has been selling off assets to pay down a $54.1 billion debt, as of the start of 2002.
Investment in badly needed equipment is down 39 percent. Verizon's top executives have responded to their own mismanagement by generously compensating themselves--even while they demand union layoffs.
This kind of corporate greed--on display from Enron to WorldCom and beyond--has angered workers everywhere, who are being forced to pay for the recession, and particularly the crisis in telecommunications. A strike at Verizon would be a chance to turn this around. At the same time, a defeat for labor at Verizon--the most militant union stronghold for the whole industry--would signal the demise of any meaningful union presence in the telecommunications sector.
The CWA and IBEW shouldn't be fighting alone. The entire labor movement has a stake in this fight. When one employer squeezes concessions out of workers, every other boss demands the same in order to "remain competitive."
That's why solidarity with the fight at Verizon is so important.Other unions should support Verizon workers, be prepared to visit picket lines--and organize to keep scabs from working in union buildings.
Verizon workers have to get ready to take on everything the company dishes out. The key will be what has worked in the past--a mobilized and informed membership that is out on the picket line and confronting scabs. If that means pushing union leaders to take action, the rank and file has to be prepared to do it.
With a mobilized membership and solidarity from other workers, we can take on Verizon--and win.
Verizon wants workers to pay
VERIZON WANTS workers to pay the price for the crisis in the telecommunications industry. Even though it emerged in better shape than every rival except SBC, the company hopes to portray itself as a victim that won't survive unless its unions agree to "share the pain."
But the company's top executives can't be feeling any pain. They're making out like bandits. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg "earns" 512 times the salary of the average worker.
The top 11 executives at the company made $426 million over the last six years. According to Verizon's annual report, executives were offered $501 million in stock options in 2002--an amount that would pay for fixed-income retirees' health care through 2008. Yet management wants retirees to pay $60 million more for their health benefits.