March 22, 2012
Hundreds of workers converged upon downtown San Francisco today to blow the whistle – literally and figuratively – on corporations that they say slash worker benefits and pay and outsource jobs while lavishing bonuses upon executives.
In particular, the Day of Action, which brought demonstrators out in cities across the U.S., trained its sights on Verizon Communications, where management and unions have been locked in a fight over benefits since a contract lapsed in August.
Verizon ranks No.16 among Fortune 500 companies, enjoying more than $106 billion in revenues and nearly $15 billion in operating profits.
In January, the company reported record revenues during the final quarter of 2011 and year-end revenues of $110.9 billion, up 4 percent from 2010 (Shares dropped, however, since its fourth-quarter revenues fell short of expectations by a penny).
But for 45,000 union workers, reports of those record earnings sting, said Libby Sayre, area director for CWA District 9, wearing a bright red CWA T-shirt.
“They are demanding huge take-backs in health care and pensions — $20,000 in give-backs per individual,” she said. “There is no economic necessity for that. They’re kicking the ranks of the working middle class into the ranks of the poor.”
Although the contract for the company’s Western states division will not be renegotiated until next year, workers from several unions flooded the streets in a raucous display of solidarity at 300 locations – 16 in California alone, said Katie Gjertson, senior field representative for the AFL-CIO.
In a march that began at Fifth and Market streets and paused outside a Verizon store on Market before moving onto a Wells Fargo bank, demonstrators carried red signs that read “We are the 99 percent” and “Verigreedy.”
Verizon workers, including members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), walked off the job last summer, but returned to work two weeks later after Verizon agreed to bargain for a fair contract.
Supporters say the company’s practices have thrown gas on the fire. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam’s pay jumped from $7.2 million in 2010 to $23.1 million last year, according to the company’s own records. And, the communications giant enjoys robust tax subsidies: $14 billion from 2008 to 2010.
“They’re one of the biggest corporate tax dodgers in the country,” Gjertson said.
Reached by phone, a company spokesman dismissed the claims as rhetoric. “The CEO salary is not what’s up for discussion,” said Rich Young, director of labor-related communications. “This is a protest to try to gain attention for some reason. It will have no impact whatsoever on our negotiations.”
Young said demonstrators fail to understand that Verizon’s business, landline communications, is nose-diving.
“We have to be competitive,” said Young. “This is a challenged business.”
The company asked its employees, whom Young said were among the highest paid nationally in their field, to begin making “a modest contribution” toward health coverage.
But those who turned out for today’s demonstration say workers in this company, throughout the communications field, and in industries throughout the nation are fighting to hold onto retirement and health benefits.
Such workers include Steve Levine, a CWA shop steward and 12-year veteran technician at AT&T, where talks have just begun. “They want to take back 50 years of what we fought for,” he said. “They want to talk about a dress code. They don’t want to talk about retiree (benefits).”
Addie Brinkley, who retired after 40 years with AT&T in Modesto, agreed. “They don’t want to give us health care at all,” she said. “They are not giving me anything I didn’t work for.”
Olga Miranda, who heads up the SEIU 78 janitors unit, cheered the action, in which several unions worked in concert.
“We’re strong on our own,” she said as passing unit members hugged and high-fived. “But we kick ass together.”