A Bigger Lesson Learned: The Verizon Strike and the U.S. Economy

For the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), as well as Verizon management – at least on the surface – there’s been no bigger story this Spring.  The unity of the CWA and IBEW, other Unions who’ve rallied around Verizon Workers, and even the public reflects how normal cuts have become and how unusual resistance on this scale is in the United States of the 21st century.

For working women and men, and retirees in the US, there is little structural economic support.  We can pretend otherwise, but look at nearly every other industrial democracy, where high level and cost effective health care is the norm, retirement security means much higher income replacement, public policy supports retaining jobs in key industries and most important, there is widespread public and political support for collective bargaining.

We are in an economic free fall.  Pretending that we are consumers and not working Americans first will not fix it.  Tax cuts will not fix it.  Attacks on working Americans and their rights will make the landing even harder.

We need to restore workers’ rights in a meaningful way so that we all can negotiate and engage our employers in a meaningful way. Human resource leaders at major US based employers should be ashamed of looking to cut costs at every turn, then collaborating with multi-billion dollar political machines to fight every political attempt to restore balance through public policy.  For example, nearly without exception, US management opposed federal legislation mandating that all employers pay for quality care.   Even those employers like Verizon that provide decent health care end up subsidizing employers that are health care deadbeats by ensuring spouses who work for those companies.

RELATED: 5 Key Reasons to Back the Working People at Verizon

Collective bargaining can make a difference.  Look back to 1938, when the United States still was gripped by the last of the recessions that made up the Great Depression. Well known economist John Maynard Keynes wrote to President Franklin D Roosevelt, stating that the jobs program and financial regulation were important, but “I regard the expansion of collective bargaining as essential.”

union-labor-Franklin-D-Roosevelt-economy

Keynes was not particularly a union supporter but he understood, as did economists for decades to come, that collective bargaining is a critical engine to fire up the demand curve and enable workers to improve their conditions in discussion with management, thus improving the economy. We will never have an economic recovery in this country if instead very profitable employers automatically cut wages, cut benefits and ship more good jobs overseas because their colleagues at other firms are all doing it.  That remains a race to the bottom.

We can’t have a recovery based on a “dollar store” economy. Unless workers can truly use bargaining rights to better their conditions, that’s exactly where we’re headed.  The strike at Verizon demonstrates the severity of the problem, but it will take a majority based political movement to fix it.

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Verizon Strike Shows Corporate Giants Can Be Beat

Thirty-nine thousand Verizon strikers returned to work June 1 with their heads held high, after a 45-day strike in which they beat back company demands for concessions on job security and flexibility, won 1,300 additional union jobs, and achieved a first contract at seven Verizon Wireless stores.

“Walking into work the first day back chanting ‘one day longer, one day stronger’ was the best morning I’ve ever had at Verizon,” said Pam Galpern, a field tech and mobilizer with Communication Workers Local 1101. “There was such a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. People were smiling and happy. It was like a complete 180 degree difference from before the strike.”

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) won a 10.5 percent wage increase over four years, increased contributions to their pensions, protections against outsourcing of call center jobs, and a reversal of the sub-contracting of some pole work.

Verizon will also eliminate the hated Quality Assurance Review system, an effort to micromanage the workday. Managers would bring techs in for two- to three-hour interrogations about their daily activities and dish out 30-day unpaid suspensions. In the months leading up to the strike, QAR infuriated technicians in New York City.

On top of this on-the-job harassment campaign, Verizon provoked the strike by proposing to shut down U.S. call centers, outsource work to low-wage locations abroad, cap pension contributions at 30 years, and drastically expand its ability to send employees on assignments far from home.

This was despite the unions’ granting $200 million in concessions on health care benefits—before the strike. These concessions, which include higher premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses, remain in the new contract, though the wage increases will help soften their impact.

“The company could have done this two months ago,” said network tech Pat Fahy of IBEW Local 827 in New Jersey. “They could have done it [when the contract expired] in August … and we would have taken it.”

Instead, he said, “they forced us to work without a contract for eight months and to be on strike for almost two months. Many of us have resentment two miles long.”

verizon-strike

“I’ll never forget what this company tried to do to me and my family,” said Ray Ragucci, a Queens FiOS tech and member of CWA Local 1106. “It didn’t have to be like this. They chose to do this. They’re very greedy.”

STUCK IT OUT

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez helped facilitate the deal, intervening in mid-May to restart negotiations between the unions and Verizon.

But the real battle was won on picket lines from Massachusetts to Virginia. Strikers picketed daily outside Wireless stores, and hounded scabs and company executives wherever they went.

And they didn’t waver, even when the company cut off their health insurance on May 1. “The company didn’t think we would last two weeks—especially with the health care,” said Ragucci.

Though this strike was the fourth or fifth for many Verizon workers—nearly all have been with the company for over 15 years—it was the first time since 1989 that the company cut strikers’ health insurance.

“I didn’t know if our membership was going to be able to handle this,” said Ragucci. “In my head, I thought people might cross.”

Instead, “I think it really pissed people off,” Ragucci said. “And being that our lines stood strong, everybody took a positive attitude, and felt like we’re going to win this thing.”

“There were stages of fear, optimism, depression, anxiety, a swelling of pride,” said FiOS tech Dennis Dunn, a chief steward with CWA Local 1108 on Long Island, describing his feelings six weeks in. “I have never been more proud to be a union member—despite the fact that I am financially in ruins.”

Dunn said not a single member of Local 1108 had crossed the picket line. “Our members, they really get it,” he said. “It’s not because we want to be rich. We started here with the impression that it was a career. It used to be a great career at the phone company, and we want to maintain that.”

STILL GOT IT

The risk going into the strike was that the workers might not have much leverage, given the company’s growing focus on its wireless division. Verizon seemed willing to walk away from much of its traditional wireline business.

But the strike showed that telecom workers still wield real power. The company was so behind on FiOS installations that new customers were told they would have to wait until July or August for service.

That information was revealed to the union by call center employees in the Philippines, who also said they were fielding a lot of calls to disconnect service because of the scabs’ lack of professionalism. (A delegation of U.S. Verizon workers visited the Philippines in May, after call center workers there reached out to CWA through Facebook.)

“The very same managers that ride us, that are constantly on us about our productivity every time we blink,” Dunn said, “they have no clue how to do our job. It’s comical.”

Strikers followed managers and scabs around and picketed the poles, manholes, and buildings where they’re working. Safety violations were rampant, they said—and even put the public at risk. Pictures and videos circulated widely on Facebook.

One financial analyst predicted the strike would cut Verizon’s profits this year by $200 million. Another reduced a wireline revenue forecast for the company by $826 million, thanks to the rapid decline in FiOS installations due to the strike.

Before the strike began, Verizon was pulling in $1.8 billion a month in profit. “There was no reason for this strike, because we weren’t asking for anything more,” Dunn said. “Why do you need to take anything from us when you make this much money? In the end, it’s all about just breaking the union.”

“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Rich Corrigan, a field tech and steward with CWA Local 1101 in Manhattan, during the strike. “They’re just turning around and saying, ‘You’re not worth what you were worth last contract.’”

Still, after months of “corporate bullying” via harsh disciplinary policies leading up to the strike, Corrigan said, “getting out onto the picket line was a relief.”

Strikers’ spirits were also buoyed by public support. The highlight for Corrigan was day one, when 150 union members got front-row seats for a Bernie Sanders speech in New York’s Washington Square Park. “We were greeted at that rally like conquering heroes,” he said. “The sense that I got was, ‘Thank God somebody’s doing something.’”

“The public support was overwhelming,” Dunn said. “You don’t feel like you’re alone. We had bagels delivered almost daily on the picket line, pizza from other unions, contributions from retirees… It helps when you don’t have people driving by yelling, ‘Get a job! Go back to work!’”

SCAB WAKE-UP CALLS

Instead of dispatching its scab field technicians from its regular garages and central offices, the unions say, Verizon used hotels. The scabs in Manhattan drove rented vans and other unmarked vehicles.

“The amount of money they spent in suspending their operations, renting out hotel rooms, renting out dispatch locations, renting out Enterprise vans—it was a slap in the face,” said Al Russo, a CWA Local 1101 vice president.

“It’s astounding that a company of this size, with this reputation, was dispatching a scab workforce throughout Manhattan as an underground operation in order to avoid mobile picketers,” said Galpern.

In response, a number of CWA and IBEW locals organized “scab wakeup calls” outside hotels where workers were being dispatched.

These rowdy pickets got several hotels to kick out Verizon’s dispatch operation. But they also got the locals hit with restraining orders in New York City and Boston, on the grounds that the tactic counts as a secondary boycott.

Undeterred, CWA and IBEW locals found other ways to keep the heat on Verizon. Five hundred strikers protested CFO Fran Shammo at an investor conference in New York. Eight hundred greeted CEO Lowell McAdam at a conference in Boston.

Verizon Wireless retail store employees, on strike for the first time at six stores in Brooklyn and one in Everett, Massachusetts, toured the picket lines.

The unions sent a delegation to Verizon’s shareholder meeting in Albuquerque, where 15 strikers and supporters were arrested in an act of civil disobedience outside. And 250 strikers from Local 1101 appeared on Good Morning America, wearing red and holding union signs.

It also helped that the strike started in the midst of the New York primary. Vocal support from Senator Bernie Sanders drew media attention and helped frame the strike as a clear fight against corporate greed.

‘THEY’RE BEHIND US’

By the end, members may have been tired, but their resolve never flagged.

“We’d like to get back to work as soon as possible,” said Local 1101 steward Kim Marshall in the final week. “But we sacrificed this long, and if they keep demanding expensive givebacks, we’ll be out for as long as it takes.”

RELATED: 5 Key Reasons to Back the Working People at Verizon

The day before the agreement was announced, 200 strikers greeted a Verizon executive outside a tech conference at New York University. In upstate New York, there were plans for a big protest outside the board meeting and convocation ceremonies at Cornell University, where McAdam is a trustee.

And health care unions were planning a June 1 day of action to draw attention to the one-month anniversary of Verizon cutting off health benefits. June 2 was to be another national day of action.

In the last week of the strike, CWA Local 1102 began leafletting outside the Staten Island Ferry. Members collected several hundred petitions from commuters who pledged to cancel their service if Verizon didn’t agree to a contract by June 10, and not to buy new Verizon products until the strike ended.

“People that get up every day and get on that boat to go to work, they know what it’s like to struggle,” said steward Christine Cannavale. “They’re behind us.”

The union was also buoyed by the growing number of groups “adopting” Verizon Wireless stores for weekly pickets. “Every day, unions and community groups were approaching us to adopt a store,” Galpern said. “Individual passersby were stopping by picket lines every day bringing pizza, water, coffee, asking what else they can do.”

‘CORPORATE GIANTS CAN BE BEAT’

Verizon, meanwhile, kept adding insult to injury. The company mailed workers a letter explaining how to scab and FedEx-ed them a copy of its “last, best, and final offer.”

“In the last 22 or 23 years, since I’ve been with this company, I’ve never seen such an effort to try to break the union,” said Chuck Simpson, a customer service rep and president of CWA Local 2204 in Virginia. “Upper management coming to the picket lines and telling us something totally different than what the bargaining committee was saying, spreading rumors that replacement workers would be permanent …”

In response, Local 1108 held a “Burning the Bullsh!t” rally. “We brought all the scab letters and the final proposals and we did this big barrel barnfire,” said Dunn. “We had so much stuff, I had to burn the rest the next day at the union hall.”

For Fahy, the worsened health plan is the deal’s main downside. “If you use the health care, you’re going to pay a lot,” he said. “We need national health care—and the unions should really get in front of that one. Health care is a loser. It’s going to keep sucking value out of our contracts.”

Still, he said, “in this climate that we’re living in, just standing up and holding your ground against a company making $1.8 billion a month is a victory.”

Ragucci hopes other workers will be inspired by the Verizon example. “I think us doing what we did just lays the groundwork for other unions to say, ‘You know what? No.’ These corporate giants can be beat if we fight them.”

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #447, June 2016.

5 Unlikely Industries Where Workers Are Clamoring to Join Unions

Fifty years ago, one-third of American workers belonged to a union. Today, it’s one in 10. And that number is likely to slip further if, as expected, the Supreme Court weakens public sector unions, which today account for nearly half of all union members.

Yet despite decades of setbacks, the labor movement still shows signs of life—and not just in its typical blue-collar stomping grounds. Workers across the economy are realizing that unions can help them win better working conditions and higher wages.

unions-master

Here are five industries where unions have made surprising gains:

Digital News Media
Last month, more than 220 writers, editors, and other staffers at the Huffington Post voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. The guild’s victory followed other successful drives in recent months at Gawker, Salon, ThinkProgress, and Vice Media. Another union, NewsGuild-CWA, last year helped organize the Guardian US and digital staffers at Al Jazeera America.

Although unions have represented many newspaper reporters for decades, they’ve only recently begun to penetrate web-only publications. These fast-growing start-ups typically woo young writers with the promise of huge audiences and considerable editorial freedom—while offering little in the way of salaries, benefits, or family friendly scheduling.

But as digital reporters have matured, so have their expectations. “The idea that someone will continue to work all his waking hours is not sustainable,” Bernard Lunzer, president of the NewsGuild, told the journalism site Poynter.org. “If owners are doing well, workers will say, ‘Let’s get a bit more reasonable.'”

Security Firms
Most of America’s 1 million security guards don’t have much security on the job. With scant health benefits and pay that averages just $11 an hour, they are often just one mishap away from disaster.

So some of them are looking to unions for protection. Since 2003, more than 50,000 security guards have won contracts through the Service Employees International Union—often with big improvements in wages, healthcare, paid time off, and other benefits. In 2015 alone, more than 2,100 security officers in Baltimore, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh formed unions.

The SEIU has focused primarily on the 60 percent of security guards employed by independent contractors, which tend to pay bottom-of-the-barrel wages. In May, responding to pressure from labor groups, Facebook announced a $15 minimum wage and a new-parent benefit for all of its subcontracted workers. Google and Apple recently went even further by bringing their security guards in-house and offering them the same benefits as their other workers.

Tech Shuttle Services
In 2014, private buses for tech workers in the San Francisco Bay Area became potent symbols of inequality and gentrification. Last year, however, they became known for something more positive: union contracts.

It all started last February, when newly unionized drivers employed by Facebook contractor Loop Transportation won a contract through Local 853 of the Teamsters. It guaranteed a $9 raise to $27.50 an hour, fully paid family health insurance—a first—up to five weeks of paid vacation, 11 paid holidays, and a pension. “It was just an amazing first contract,” says Doug Bloch, the Teamsters’ Northern California political director. “They were literally catapulted into the middle class overnight.”

The deal sent ripple effects through the Bay Area labor market. The following month, Apple and Google announced a 25 percent raise for all contract shuttle bus drivers. In May, unionized shuttle drivers at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency won a 44 percent wage increase, 25 days off (up from 12), and a 401(k) plan with an employee match.

Other drivers scrambled to join the union, too. In November, Local 853 won a similarly sweet deal for nearly 200 newly organized employees of Compass Transportation, which serves Apple, eBay, PayPal, and Yahoo, among others. Next up on the union’s radar is Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, a contractor for Twitter, Yelp, Cisco, and Salesforce.

“In the Bay Area there’s a lot of discussion about the intersection between the high-tech economy and income inequality,” says Bloch of the Teamsters. Tech companies “are politically vulnerable for the exact same reason, and that created an opening for us.”

Colleges and Universities
In the 1970s, two-thirds of college and university faculty was tenured and a third was not. Now those percentages are flipped: Nearly half of professors don’t even have full-time jobs. As with other involuntary part-time workers in restaurants or retail, these “adjuncts” often have a hard time making ends meet.

Enter the SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign. Since launching three years ago, it has won union contracts for more than 10,000 adjunct and non-tenured faculty at more than 30 colleges and universities, including Georgetown, Tufts, Boston University, and the University of Chicago. Some profs have seen raises of 30 percent.

In a related campaign, the United Auto Workers is unionizing graduate student workers such as teaching assistants and resident advisors. There are already grad student unions at some 60 public university campuses, but a 2004 National Labor Relations Board ruling has prevented similar unions from forming at private colleges—until now. In 2013, worried that Obama appointees on the NLRB would reverse the Bush-era ruling, New York University agreed to let its grad students form a union. The UAW now has campaigns at Harvard, Columbia, and the New School in New York City—the union also is in talks with students at many other private campuses. The NLRB is expected to revisit its 2004 ruling sometime this year.

Bike Share Companies
In 2013, Citi Bike became the nation’s largest public bike-sharing program after opening 332 bike stations across Manhattan.

“When it first started we didn’t pay much notice,” admits Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the New York local of the Transport Workers Union. “It was just a bunch of bikes.”

But then the union heard from some of the company’s 150 workers—mechanics and “balancers” who make sure that the racks don’t go empty. They joined the TWU in late 2014 and last year won a contract that guarantees parental leave, paid vacation, and 20 percent raises within five years.

The company’s workers in Jersey City, the District of Columbia, Boston, and Chicago soon followed, becoming union members over the next several months. “We kind of take the position that if it’s public and it moves on wheels,” Gannon now says, ” it should be TWU and it should be unionized.”

Guest Post by Josh Harkinson
The Post originally appeared on MotherJones

FMLA Doctor’s Notes: What You Need to Know

Since its passage in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has saved the jobs of tens of thousands of workers – union and nonunion.

The law prevents employers from discharging or disciplining workers who miss work time for serious medical reasons or to care for family members. In most cases, eligible employees can take up to 60 days of leave (12 workweeks) within a 12-month period. The law can also be used to bond with new children.

FMLA Benefits
Not surprisingly, employers – and the so-called “specialists” they hire to run their FMLA programs – frequently misapply the law to deny leaves or impose discipline.

A common practice is to claim that the worker failed to submit a timely or adequate medical certification. When doing so, employers often ignore the regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Here’s what the rules actually say… A Summary of the Law

  • An employer can demand a certification from a health care provider when an employee requests FMLA leave for his or her own condition or to care for a family member. Most employers use a form prepared by the Department of Labor. Authorized providers include physicians, chiropractors, clinical psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.
  • The initial demand for certification must be put in writing and delivered individually to the employee, generally within five business days of a request for leave or notice that an absence is for an FMLA reason.  It is not enough for a handbook or benefit plan to state that medical reports must be submitted in all cases.  The certification request must inform the employee what consequences to expect if the certification is inadequate.
  • The employer must allow the employee at least 15 days to submit the report. Additional time must be allowed if, despite the employee’s diligent efforts, the doctor or other provider does not complete the certification on time.
  • If the certification is submitted late, and there are no extenuating circumstances, the employer may count absences between the deadline and the late certification as unexcused—but not absences before the deadline.
  • If the medical certification is insufficient, the employer may not deny FMLA leave.
    Instead, it must notify the employee of the missing information and allow the employee at least seven days to submit a new certification or a letter from the provider. If the provider is unavailable, additional time must be allowed.
  • When a medical certification certifies a need for a leave of a particular duration or intermittent absences of a particular frequency, the employer must approve the request even if the employer has doubts about the doctor’s opinion.
  • The only way to challenge an employee’s health care provider is to arrange for two additional providers who do not regularly do business with the employer to examine the employee or the family member.  Both must find fault with the first provider before the employer can reject the original certification.  If the initial certification verifies a need for intermittent leave for a particular period up to six months, the employer cannot ask the employee to submit a new certification or “doctor’s note” following an absence until the period is over, unless the employee significantly exceeds the number of estimated absences per week or month (an exception may apply if the absence qualifies for paid leave).

Tips for Successful FMLA Form Submission

  • Review the certification form to familiarize yourself with the questions and to make sure the employer properly listed your job title, schedule, and job functions. Ask the employer to correct any mistakes.
  • Deliver the form to your provider immediately and explain what you are seeking: a continuous leave to recover from an accident, for example, or intermittent leave because of an anxiety disorder.  For intermittent leave, the provider must estimate how often and for how long you are likely to be absent. When appropriate, encourage the provider to estimate a substantial duration such as six months or a year and an ample number of expected flare-ups.  If you, or your family member, has a chronic condition, make sure the provider says that at least two treatment visits a year are needed for the condition.
  • If the first provider you ask fails to complete the form despite your best efforts, ask another provider to take over.
  • Be cautious when using a chiropractor. Chiropractors are only authorized to fill out FMLA certifications when performing spinal manipulations after reviewing an X-ray showing a “subluxation” (misalignment of a vertebra). If your chiropractor does not have an X-ray, make sure to obtain one.
  • Instruct the provider’s office to fax or send you the completed form.  If there are mistakes or omissions, ask the provider to make corrections.
  • Fax or deliver the form to your employer, keeping a copy for yourself.
  • If it appears that your certification will be late, explain the circumstances to your employer before the deadline, including your efforts to overcome the delay, and ask for an extension.

 

 

 

Source: LaborNotes