Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist.
Telecom giant Verizon has threatened to suspend benefits to 45,000 striking workers if they do not return to work at the end of the month. The strike was called after negotiations after Verizon sought to cut health and pension benefits and obtain more leeway to fire workers. The strike is "the most important labor battle going on today," says Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez. "We’re not talking here about a General Motors or a company that’s in financial trouble. But Verizon is literally swimming in cash. [...] And yet, even with such a profitable company, you have a situation where it is demanding unprecedented givebacks from its workers. If Verizon, such a profitable company, can insist that its workforce has to do all of these cuts in their living standards, what does it mean about any other company in America? [...] The workers are vowing to keep this up as long as possible, because a company that is so profitable right now should not be insisting that its workers give up even more of the hard-fought gains they’ve had over the years." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, before we move on to our first story, the Verizon strike is extremely significant. You wrote about it in your column this week in the New York Daily News.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Well, I called it the most important labor battle going on in America today, not only because of the size of the numbers of workers involved—45,000 workers up and down the East Coast of the United States, from Virginia all the way to Massachusetts—and it’s against one of the biggest companies in the United States, Verizon. And what makes this especially significant is that it is a strike against a company that is doing very well. We’re not talking here about a General Motors or a [company] that’s in financial trouble. But Verizon is literally swimming in cash. In the first quarter of this year, it tripled its profits, compared to the previous quarter, and it’s been consistently outperforming the stock market now for the past several years. And yet, even with such a profitable company, you have a situation where it is demanding unprecedented givebacks from its workers. And really, this means, if Verizon, such a profitable [company], can insist that its workforce has to do all of these cuts in their living standards, what does it mean about any other company in America?
They’re calling for things like freezing of the pensions of the existing workers and eliminating pensions for any new workers. They’re talking about payments—sharply increased payments into the health insurance premiums of the workers. That’s pretty much standard fare in America today, in corporate America. But it’s even doing things like insisting on eliminating all job security and having the right to contract out a lot of its work. It’s already beginning to do that in call centers, establishing outlets in India and in the Philippines to do some of that work that’s being done by American workers now. And it’s even asking the workers to give up a bunch of paid holidays, including Martin Luther King Day and Veterans Day. It’s really amazing. It’s a hodgepodge of all of these demands. And that’s why the workers have gone out. And they are vowing, the workers are vowing, of the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, to keep this up as long as possible, because a company that is so profitable right now should not be insisting that its workers give up even more of the hard-fought gains they’ve had over the years.
AMY GOODMAN: And the CWA workers do have a strike fund. They’ve gotten their last paycheck. But IBEW doesn’t even have—their workers don’t have that kind of strike fund to get them through.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, but the CWA’s, actually, strike fund is in pretty good shape. They’re expecting to pay their workers $100—some locals already $100 a week; within two weeks, $200 a week; and if the strike lasts for a month or more, the union will be giving its workers $300 a week while they’re out on strike. And I think the company knows that. They know that the unions have been preparing for this. So that’s why I think we’re hearing about these threats to the health insurance now and the company saying that workers may lose it at the end of a month if they don’t come back. This is all pressure now.
And, of course, Bob Master has called this conceivably the Wisconsin of private-sector unions. Just as Wisconsin was a battle of the public-sector unions, this is a huge battle that private-sector unions throughout America will be looking at to see what happens for the future.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s also very interesting. It comes at a time when the Ohio governor, John Kasich, has now—although he passed this fierce anti-union law, as they did in Wisconsin, his popularity has plummeted. He sees the battle he’s going to face in a recall of this legislation. And now he is calling on the unions, the top union leaders in Ohio, to sit down with him to talk about, quote, "softening" this. So even when they win legislatively, the politicians are not winning, especially when they see in Wisconsin two Republican state senators were recalled as a result of what this legislation did.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And there’s another parallel with Verizon, is that a new CEO took over at Verizon on August 1, Lowell McAdam. And he is apparently trying to do what the previous CEO, Ivan Seidenberg, who’s now the chairman, could not do. So it signals also a new sort of generation of corporate leaders, just as we see Kasich in Ohio and Walker in Wisconsin saying, "OK, we’re in charge now. We can do what our predecessors could not do, which is break unions." And it’s up to the labor movement, I guess, to decide whether they will succeed or not, and the rest of the American people to decide who’s right in this issue.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the Verizon strike, the largest in years, and we will continue to follow it.