August 2011, Week 3


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Mon, 15 Aug 2011 20:53:34 -0400
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Verizon Strike Highlights Union Effect on Middle Class

By Kari Lydersen	August 15, 2011

This article was originally published on Working In
These Times, at InTheseTimes.com/working. It is
permanently archived at:

Verizon employees rally in Boston's Post Office Square
on the steps of the Verizon building on July 31, 2003. 
 (Photo by Douglas McFadd/Getty Images)

State officials nationwide -- most prominently governors
Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Chris Christie in New
Jersey--have attacked unionized nurses and teachers as
overpaid, as part of a larger campaign against public
sector unions.

Now Verizon company executives are using a similar
tactic to try to undermine support for 45,000
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
and Communications Workers of America (CWA) members on
strike across the East Coast including in Virginia,
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and New
York, since their contract expired Aug. 6 and
negotiations for a new contract are stalled.

On Sunday, Steven Greenhouse reported for The New York

	Verizon says its unionized workers average
	$70,000 a year before overtime and $91,000 with
	overtime. But union officials say only a small
	percentage of workers earn that much with
	overtime, an amount they say would require
	hundreds of hours of it. Company officials note
	that the average U.S. worker earns $23 an hour,
	translating to $48,000 a year for a full-time
	worker. "The striking workers earn considerably
	more than many unionized nurses and teachers,"
	Thonis said. "We're at the very top of our
	industry in terms of compensation."

The unions have emphasized the "middle class" nature of
the union jobs, mostly in the company's land-line
division - which is under pressure because of the shift
to cell phones. The unions argue that land-line workers
helped build the company's highly profitable wireless
side, which is not unionized.

In a statement CWA spokesperson Candice Johnson said
the company is demanding a total of $1 billion in
concessions from the 45,000 workers:

	These demands would cost every family $20,000 a
	year. This is unacceptable from a company that is
	among the 10 wealthiest in America, that
	compensates the top five executives at a level of
	more than a quarter of a billion dollars over
	four years, that doesn't pay any federal income
	tax and still gets a $1.3 billion tax rebate.

Given the attacks on public sector unions and the
overall decline in unionization rates, the unions'
emphasis on Verizon's threat to middle class jobs might
be seen as part of a larger strategy to remind the
public of the critical role of unions in the very
creation of an American middle class in decades past,
especially during the heyday of the auto industry.

The IBEW Local 2222 website says:

	It's outrageous. Even as Verizon continues to
	rake in record profits, it's trying to outsource
	more jobs, demand workers pay more for benefits
	and undermine workers' retirement
	security...Verizon is trying to strip away 50
	years of collective bargaining gains for
	middle-class workers and our families. But the
	company won't succeed. Workers won't let Verizon
	destroy the middle-class jobs and benefits
	generations of Verizon workers gained through
	collective bargaining.

Company officials and union members are sparring in the
media over what exactly constitutes "middle class" and
how exactly workers would be impacted by the changes
Verizon wants to make.

Union members say that the changes to their health
plans and required contributions, specifically, would
be devastating. Company officials say they are just
trying to bring their workers in line with most
Americans' health coverage burdens. Union members also
point out that depending where they live - like the New
York City area - pay that might sound above
middle-class to an average American is actually not.

Greenhouse quotes Poughkeepsie, New York worker Doug

	What we make is just a living wage in the New
	York area...On what I earn, my family can't even
	afford to live where I work -- Westchester
	County. And on what we earn, it's hard to send a
	child through college.

The strike has been highly contentious, with both sides
alleging physical threats and attacks, and judges
handing down injunctions and limiting the number of
picketers allowed at any one location. Fox News
reported on company legal filings, which the unions say
are exaggerated and typical management tactics.

Over the past few days, strikers have fired a BB gun at
a non-striking worker in the Bronx, pushed another into
a scaffolding and injured his arm in Albany, crowded
around a Manhattan manhole where workers were sent to
splice a cable and refused to leave when police were
called, according to the company's legal filing in New
York. It says pickets also blocked postal trucks from
getting into a Verizon billing center in the Long
Island community of Massapequa and gathered by the
dozens to harangue people going into and leaving
various Verizon locations.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor,
is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared
in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago
Reader and The Progressive, among other publications.
Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In
2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media
Award for her work. She can be reached at
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