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39,000 Verizon Workers Mark Six Weeks on Strike in Biggest U.S. Labor Action in Years

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Today marks six weeks since nearly 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike along the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Virginia, marking one of the biggest U.S. strikes in years. The workers have been without a contract since August amid attempts by Verizon to cap pensions, cut benefits and outsource work to Mexico, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic. On Tuesday, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam admitted the company’s second-quarter earnings may take a hit because the strike has resulted in the company falling behind on new internet and television installations. This comes as financial analysts are projecting the strike will cost Verizon $200 million in profits this year and a loss of $343 million in revenue in the second quarter alone. The Verizon strike is being organized by two unions: the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. We speak to Verizon worker Pamela Galpern and Bob Master, assistant to the vice president of Communications Workers of America.

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Video squareStoryAug 19, 2011The Verizon Labor Battle: As Strike Continues, Customers Report Delays and Disruptions to Service
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today marks six weeks since nearly 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike along the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Virginia, marking one of the biggest U.S. labor strikes in years. The workers have been without a contract since August amid attempts by Verizon to cap pensions, cut benefits and outsource work to Mexico, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam admitted the company’s second-quarter earnings may take a hit because the strike has resulted in the company falling behind on new internet and television installations. Financial analysts are projecting the strike will cost Verizon $200 million in profits this year and a loss of $343 million in revenue in the second quarter alone. Verizon is currently advertising for hundreds of temporary positions.

AMY GOODMAN: Picket lines have been set up across the East Coast. The Verizon strike is being organized by two unions: the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. On Monday, Syracuse became the 16th city to pass resolutions in support of the striking workers.

For more, we’re joined by two people. Pamela Galpern is a striking Verizon worker. She’s been a field technician at Verizon for 17 years and is a mobilizer with Communications Workers of America Local 1101. Bob Master is the assistant to the vice president of the CWA District 1.

And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! So, Jen, let’s begin with you—Pamela, let’s begin with you. Talk about what your concerns are, what sparked this strike.

PAMELA GALPERN: We are on strike basically to protect our jobs and to preserve our times—our time with our families, and to keep good jobs in our communities. Verizon and the unions were bargaining for 10 months. And during that time, Verizon had a long list of concessionary demands. As Juan said, they want to cap our pensions, attack our medical benefits and our retirees’ medical benefits, send more jobs offshore, transfer workers—a long list of concessions. And for a company that’s as profitable as Verizon, I think it was clear that we—that wasn’t right, that it’s not right that they want to take so much from the workers who have helped make this company so profitable.

This strike is really about keeping good jobs here, and it’s about our families. It’s 39,000 workers on strike, and it’s the families of all of those workers. And I think that during the strike, what we’ve seen has really been tremendous resolve on the part of the strikers, because people really understand this strike is about us and our jobs, but it’s really about so much more than that. If we can’t win this strike against Verizon, then what does it say about—well, I think that we can win this strike against Verizon, and so, basically, we need to show that working people are prepared to stand up and to fight to protect our jobs and our families’ future.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bob Master, the company has been on an enormous advertising blitz, telling its side of the story, claiming that Verizon work—that their packages will make Verizon workers being paid $130,000 a year. What about this issue of the company’s financial standing and its—and its message of what the workers are actually receiving?

BOB MASTER: You know, the company makes $1.5 billion a month and has made that amount for 15 straight months. $1.5 billion a month.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s in profits, not revenue.

BOB MASTER: In profits, exactly. Paid their top five executives $50 million a year for the last five years. They’re incredibly profitable, and yet they’re saying to us, “You can’t really share in the profits.” What they’re saying to Pam and to her fellow landline workers is, “You’re an antique. You’re a relic of the princess era. Your wages and benefits are out of whack.” What they say to the Verizon Wireless workers who organized into the union in 2014 is, “We can only pay you the industry standard.” So, either way, whether we’re relics or we’re on the cutting edge, they say only the executives and the shareholders can profit. Of course, Pam and the landline workers are installing the most advanced broadband network in America, FiOS, so they’re kind of misleading there. And they load up that $130,000 figure with all kinds of extraneous costs, overtime, buyouts, all kinds of things—a complete exaggeration. The average striker is making about $74,000 a year.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders joined Verizon workers on the picket lines here in New York City. Sanders criticized Verizon and praised workers for, quote, “taking on a large, greedy corporation.” The issue came up during last month’s debate in Brooklyn. This is Sanders talking about Verizon’s CEO.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: And this is—this is a perfect example, Wolf, of the kind of corporate greed which is destroying the middle class of this country. This gentleman makes $18 million a year in salary. That’s his—that’s his compensation. This gentleman is now negotiating to take away healthcare benefits of Verizon workers, outsource call center jobs to the Philippines, and trying to create a situation where workers will lose their jobs. He is not investing in the way he should in inner cities in America.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Bernie Sanders. But just before the debate, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell questioned Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook about [his] history with Verizon.

ANDREA MITCHELL: She gave a paid speech to Verizon in May of 2013, for which she earned $225,000. Can you tell us the circumstances of that speech?

ROBBY MOOK: Well, again, the question here is: Who are Democrats going to nominate who’s going to—who is going to get things done in Washington—

ANDREA MITCHELL: Let’s get back to the speech.

ROBBY MOOK: —and take on these corporate interests?

ANDREA MITCHELL: Why did she take $225,000 from Verizon, from the same company which has this massive strike, the biggest strike in America in five years? And she was out with the strikers, yet she took $225,000 from the very company that they are striking against.

ROBBY MOOK: Because time and again in her career, Hillary Clinton has stood with people against powerful interests. She did that in the '90s against the health insurance companies. She's done that more recently against the fossil fuel industry, calling for their tax breaks to be taken away. She has the toughest plan on Wall Street. No one can be trusted more than Hillary Clinton to stand up to these interests.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, on MSNBC being questioned by Andrea Mitchell. Bob Master of CWA, your response?

BOB MASTER: You know, we really feel like the issues here are much bigger than any political campaign, than any particular candidate. This is really about what is the future of the country going to look like, as Pam said earlier. You know, a corporation this profitable, if we can’t preserve good jobs in our communities with a company like this, then what is the future of good jobs? I think what you saw, you know, on those clips is that the mood of the country is very clearly arrayed against the kind of corporate power that we’re fighting. We have gotten enormous support. We welcome the support from Secretary Clinton. You know, we—our union endorsed Bernie Sanders, so we were ecstatic to have him calling out Verizon on national TV. But I think what you’re seeing here is something important about the larger mood of the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pam, I wanted to ask you about this—the issue of FiOS, because obviously it’s one of the best broadband networks, if not the best, in the country. But in many places where FiOS was established as a cable and internet service, Verizon made certain promises that it would roll out FiOS to its—to the public. In New York City, they’re years behind what they were supposedly going to do as part of a cable franchise they got during the Bloomberg era. Could you talk about this and why it’s taken the company so long to actually fulfill the promises it made when it won that franchise?

PAMELA GALPERN: Sure. Well, when Verizon got the franchise agreement from the City of New York in 2008, they agreed that they would make FiOS available to every New Yorker who wants it by 2014. And we have been working hard to build FiOS during that entire time. It’s a huge build. In 2014, the company said, “We’ve completed our obligations to the City of New York. We’ve passed every home.” Now, every Verizon worker and many, many customers know that that’s not true that they could get FiOS. To say that they’ve passed the home doesn’t mean it’s available. So, there is a FiOS build—a lot of FiOS build left to do in New York City. As Bob said, it’s the landline workers who are doing that build. And we want to continue doing it, but Verizon is essentially holding to its position that it’s completed its obligations. To say that you’ve passed a home, but that you’re two blocks away, going down the avenue, and when that customer calls Verizon, and Verizon says, “It’s not available to you, and I can’t tell you when it will be available,” indicates to us that they haven’t completed the build, they haven’t fulfilled their obligations to the City of New York. Beyond New York, of course, there’s whole communities—Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany, lots of other parts of the footprint—where they’re not going to build at all. FiOS is a great product. People want it. We’re building it. It helps preserve good jobs. It’s really a win-win for the company to continue the build, to meet its obligations. And we believe that’s what they should be doing. And what they really need to do is hire more workers in order to complete the build.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the workers inside? Last night I was in Brooklyn, and there were the protesters outside the Verizon store, and they were marching in a circle. And then, inside, you saw guards, and you saw workers. And I was asking the guys outside, “What about those workers inside?” And he said, “Well, some have expressed support.” You know, a lot walked out. “But inside,” he said, “in fact, we’re pushing to organize them.” Can you talk about who’s going inside, and also who these replacement workers are?

PAMELA GALPERN: Sure. In the Verizon—at Verizon Wireless, the workers in the six Brooklyn stores organized to join CWA in 2014 and have been fighting for a first contract since then. That’s an important part of the struggle. There’s close to a hundred Verizon Wireless technicians who are also union, who are in my local, 1101. But beyond that, the rest of Verizon Wireless is nonunion. So, a big issue is to try to unionize those workers to try to improve the wages and working conditions for them, as well. The workers in the store where you were, in Brooklyn, were probably replacement workers brought in.

I want to talk just for a minute about the replacement workers that Verizon has brought in, not just to the wireless stores, but to do the landline work, because, as Juan mentioned, the company is advertising very aggressively for thousands of temporary workers. They are training those workers for a week or two weeks at these training facilities, and then they’re putting them out in the field to do what is a highly skilled job. They’re not able to do that job. And I think one of the other things that we’ve seen is that the folks that they’re bringing in to—the scabs that they’re bringing in to do the job, they haven’t done background checks on them. There’s been a number of incidents of scabs essentially either who have already been convicted of DUIs, running down picketers. There was an incident in Nassau County where a scab took out a machete-like knife on a picketer and was arrested for that. These are the folks that Verizon is sending into people’s homes and businesses to repair their lines. So not only are they not able to do the work, it’s really a safety issue.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bob, I wanted to ask you about two things: one, this issue of offshoring, of moving jobs overseas, that Verizon keeps—has denied to me—their spokesman—is actually happening, but also this whole division between the wireless portion of Verizon and the landlines, as you say, either the broadband or the old copper lines, as the point you’ve made is that even in the wireless division, which is largely nonunion, that communication eventually goes into ground lines. Can you explain the difference between wireless and the landlines?

BOB MASTER: Well, you’ve got it exactly right. Let me take the two questions, you know, one at a time. You know, they are offshoring thousands and thousands of call center jobs. That’s already been going on. They would like to do more. They want to cut the percentage. One of the demands that they have made is to cut the percentage of jobs that are handled—the percentage of work that’s handled by workers here in the footprint.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you say “offshoring,” what do you mean? Where are these call centers?

BOB MASTER: That primarily they’re sending these jobs to the Philippines, to Mexico, and I think, Juan, you mentioned the Dominican Republic. And—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So when a person calls Verizon, they’ll get somebody who’s actually in the Philippines.

BOB MASTER: Depending on what kind of tech support they’re getting. Right now, almost all the tech support work, we understand, is going to the Philippines, where people are making $1.78 an hour, are being forced to work overtime because of the strike, without getting any overtime pay, and where women are tested monthly to see if they’re pregnant, because TeleTech, the company which operates the call centers for Verizon in the Philippines, doesn’t want pregnant call center workers on the job.

AMY GOODMAN: Because?

BOB MASTER: I don’t know, but that’s their policy. As you probably know, we sent a delegation of strikers over to meet with the TeleTech workers and got a tremendous response. And, in fact, there have been job actions by the Filipino call center workers—slowdowns, increasing the amount of time it takes to handle a call, refusing overtime. And when our delegation tried to meet with Verizon management over there—right?—the people who are running the call centers for them, they were ejected by Verizon security, and then a SWAT team from the Filipino police came and detained our delegation, held them, took them down to the police station. Police eventually said, “What’s going on here?” Like there’s nothing really happening.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And quickly, the relationship between wireless and landline?

BOB MASTER: You can’t have a functioning wireless system unless you have a well-maintained wireline system, because ultimately the call goes through the air, goes into a tower, goes underground into a wire, which carries it to the next tower and then rebroadcasts it. So, this notion that somehow you could have a functioning wireless system without a well-maintained wireline system is just not true.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Pam Galpern, a striking Verizon worker, and Bob Master, representative from Communications Workers of America District 1. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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