Verizon Strike Gets Ugly

Verizon’s striking workers and management have reached a standoff after the third day of the wireline workers’ walkout, with both parties levelling charges against the other and no progress to report.

Union representatives accused managers of injuring workers with their cars while driving past picket lines. Unions reported Verizon’s non-union employees were injuring picketers, citing one picketer who was hospitalized after a car’s sideview mirror struck the person’s head.

On the other side, the phone giant complained of an unexplained increase in sabotage, finding vandalised equipment, such as purposefully cut fibre optic lines, and hearing reports of picketing laborers preventing replacement workers from entering or leaving job sites.

As tensions heated up, the Communications Workers of America, which represents about 35,000 Verizon workers, wrote an appeal to Congress to lend its support to the labour cause.

“We ask you write Verizon President Lowell McAdam and urge him to respect collective bargaining rights,” read the union’s letter, which was sent to congressional offices from districts in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents about 12,500 additional striking workers.

“This is a strike, there’s going to be some conflict,” said Bob Master, a legislative and political director for the CWA, defending the picketers whom he said were instructed on how to act legally and professionally on the picket lines.

The two sides have been at odds since late spring, when Verizon announced plans to rein in pensions, require workers contribute to their health-insurance premiums, and make it easier to fire union members. So far no one has reached a compromise on these issues after the existing union contract expired over the weekend.

Union officials say they are willing to negotiate with Verizon on many of its demands, but Rolando Scott, president of CWA Local 1109, says Verizon hasn’t engaged in true bargaining yet.

“The ball is in Verizon’s court,” said Scott. “They have to let us know what is important to them. We are willing to negotiate on all items.”

Verizon spokesman Peter Thonis Monday said the company continues to have “high level discussions right now, and discussions have never stopped.”

The workers involved in the strike are primarily field workers for Verizon’s wireline business, which has been declining for a decade as more customers disconnect their landlines in favour of cell phones and other wireless devices.

As the wireless carrier moves to replace landlines with wireless communications, it has begun to subcontract some of the latter business and reclassify union workers, leaving remaining union laborers to feel the squeeze.

The carrier is scrambling to cover the striking labour force with replacements, but may find that strategy difficult to manage the longer the dispute drags on.

On Monday, customers in New Jersey complained about service outages and delays, which Verizon chalked up to sabotage. Regardless of the reason, increasing consumer problems will not help the carrier in the long term.

Verizon spokesman Richard Young said the company’s last strike lasted 18 days in 2000 and cost it $40 million.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.