By Seth Sandronsky, via Pacific Media Workers Guild
June 6, 2012
Despite soaring revenues and profits, AT&T and Verizon continue to seek concessions from employee unions, a demand which has led to stalled contract talks and threats of strike action by Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
AT&T and Verizon reported first-quarter 2012 consolidated revenues of $31.8 billion and $28.2 billion respectively.
At Verizon East, 45,000 wireline employees in the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are facing hits to their pay and benefits, as do 43,000 CWA wireline employees at AT&T in the East, mid-West and West.
“If AT&T employees have to pay more for benefits then you can be sure that Verizon will be using that in bargaining against the union,” said Charles J. Borchert, Jr., a business agent with New England’s CWA Local 1298.
“Verizon continues to insist on givebacks on all fronts – health care, pensions, work rules and sick days,” added Pat Fahy, a union steward with New Jersey’s IBEW 827.
According to Rich Young, Verizon’s director of media relations, the company needs to lower its over-all costs to remain competitive in its wireline business, down 50 percent over the past decade, as businesses and consumers migrate to cable companies, internet and wireless providers. Therefore, Young said, Verizon’s union workers need to pay more for their health-care insurance to lower the over $4 billion annually the company spends on covering 900,000 current and retired employees. Verizon East’s union employees pay zero towards their health-care premiums, placing them in the company of one-half of one percent of Americans.
“We need to work with the unions to make Verizon more competitive,” he said.
Apparently, Verizon was competitive enough prior to the current contract talks with the CWA/IBEW to compensate CEO and Chairman Lowell C. McAdam a total of $23,120,499 in 2011, 679 times bigger than an average worker’s annual pay in 2011 of $34,053, according to an AFL-CIO searchable database.
Month two of working under expired contracts for 43,000 AT&T wireline employees in CWA has begun. As the parties remain at the bargaining table, AT&T does not seek wage cuts from workers, said Marty Richter, a company spokesman. Yet the company and union disagree on changes to health and retirement benefits.
The workers are covered by four CWA-AT&T contracts that expired April 7. Meanwhile, the CWA/IBEW has been negotiating for a year with Verizon, having walked off the job for 13 days last summer.
According to an industry expert, the prospects for AT&T and Verizon workers in the CWA/IBEW to bargain better contracts are less than rosy in the current anti-union atmosphere.
“We have seen workers settle for less at every negotiation during the last decade,” said Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications analyst. According to him, this does not mean that the company can reject being flexible in bargaining with unions.
“Generally both sides give in a little and they meet in the middle,” Kagan said.
An answer to the question of how to make Verizon management concede ground to the unions’ positions is unclear. Union mobilizations at Verizon shareholder meetings have been a tactic. Work stoppages have been another.
CWA Local 1101 is currently circulating a pledge for members to sign and send to Verizon. The rank-and-file pledge reads: “We will not allow the company to gut our contract and destroy our jobs. We are ready to strike to win a contract that: protects our job security; defends our pensions; maintains our healthcare benefits and defends good middle class jobs for the 99 percent.”
What does the CWA’s battle with Verizon and now a “second front” conflict with AT&T, mean to Verizon East workers’ prospects for a settlement?
“A second front can be helpful to Verizon because if AT&T goes out on strike then Verizon can go out at the same time and have many people out of work, during an election year,” Borchert said. “There are hopes that the Obama administration will step in and make the sides all get back to the table and bargain fairly.”
Close to 90,000 union workers would participate. There would be dramatic impacts to workers, businesses and consumers, and AT&T and Verizon.
In the meantime, AT&T and CWA negotiators continue to meet and bargain. AT&T seeks changes to wages, costs for health care, pensions, and current workplace rules, according to Sara Steffens, a CWA staffer with District 9. According to Steffens, it is “disappointing” that the company is bent on shifting its profits away from union wireline workers via contract give backs.
Asked to comment on parallels between CWA/IBEW’s East’s 13-day strike against Verizon last summer and CWA’s current conflict with AT&T, Steffens said: “It’s two different contracts, two different bargaining tables.”
Still, according to Steffens, the companies’ conflicts with the CWA/IBEW are part of a larger overall pattern of corporate America profiting then crying poor and trying to deny workers their fair share of the firms’ growth and success.