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CWA and IBEW keep union members in the dark during talks
Concessions at Verizon?

September 5, 2003 | Page 11

THE BATTLE between Verizon and unions representing 78,000 should have dominated the convention of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) in Chicago last month. Instead, leaders of the CWA--which represents three-quarters of the union workers at Verizon--provided no details on negotiations nearly a month after the old contract expired August 2. The other main union at Verizon, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), has also ordered members to work without a contract and refused to provide information on negotiations. Here, Socialist Worker publishes questions to union leaders from a Verizon worker opposed to the union's "inside strategy."

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WHY ARE CWA members being kept in the dark?

When our contract expired on August 2, the union said it was because they had made significant progress with the company on some issues. Now, a month later, the union is still saying the same thing--and little more.

If they've made so much progress, why won't they report on any of it? Continuing to work without a contract, with no real information from the union, has confused and demoralized much of the membership. People not only feel more alienated from the union, they also feel less confident to stand up to the increased pressure management has put on us since the contract expired.

WHY WON'T the union challenge the company's attacks?

Verizon declared two different "states of emergency" after the contract expired--one due to heavy rains, and the other due to the blackout that hit the Northeast August 14. This enabled them to force technicians to work overtime for three weeks in a row--often for 12 hours a day. But there was actually very little emergency-related work for us to do, so it was clear that the company was making bogus claims.

The union failed to do anything in response, beyond filing an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the company. They weren't interested in confronting the company about the fact that many of us were growing exhausted from the work and had no time to spend with our families.

In fact, CWA even cancelled a mass rally it had planned to hold in front of Verizon's corporate headquarters in Manhattan, because of the "state of emergency." The officials recognized that almost no one would be able to attend the rally, since we would be working forced overtime. So rather than organize a plan for us to defy the forced overtime en masse, they simply called off the rally altogether.

In addition, management has started to use the Global Positioning Satellite system they installed in trucks last year to more closely monitor technicians' whereabouts. And they've stepped up harassment in the field--so that managers often come out to scrutinize our jobs several times a day. Yet we've heard nothing from the union about a plan to combat any of this.

IS THE union getting ready to sell us a lousy contract?

We've been hearing a lot of rumors in the last week about the union nearing a settlement with the company. There is talk of a five-year contract with a signing bonus, but no raise, and no layoffs for the duration of the contract.

It's easy to picture the union declaring this a victory by pointing to a no-layoff promise. But it seems like a tentative agreement will contain some concessions. Verizon has been so bent on weakening the union, and forcing us to give up key things like decent health care benefits, that they wouldn't just back down without a fight.

We shouldn't give an inch on anything. Verizon is a profitable company that smelled an opportunity with the recession and the crisis in telecommunications to go after us.

And a five-year contract would be a disaster. Verizon spent the three years that passed after our last contract pushing through severely increased productivity demands and greater disciplinary measures.

We can expect them to do the same--and worse--this time around. If the rumors are true--and we are asked to support a pay freeze or increased contributions to our health care--we should be prepared to vote this contract down.

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