Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Members of Communication Workers of America(CWA) Local 6171 gathered for a candle light vigil outside Verizon’s headquarters in Irving on Aug. 10. Inside their union representatives were holding a last minute meeting with corporate representatives to negotiate a new contract before their previous contract expired at midnight.
The union expected about 200 people to attend the vigil, which substituted glow sticks for candles to prevent the possibility of starting a fire.
“We are holding a candle light vigil, because the company is really taking a lot of our benefits: pension, healthcare and a lot of the things we bargained for in years past,” said Karen Rodriquez Secretary/Treasurer of CWA Local 6171. “We are out here mourning the passing of our contract, and hoping that we do better at negotiations. Our bargaining team is in there right now working.
“We are hoping to get a fair contract, and we are not asking for a lot of money. We are just regular family people who want a good job and healthcare.”
“Verizon has made over $16 billion in profit over the last four years,” said Russell Lytle Unit Director for the union. “The second quarter profits were just released at $1.8 billion. They just started increasing set top box rental fees for all of our customers by $2 more per month. We have 4.5 million video subscribers nationwide, according to the second quarter results. That equates to a minimum of $9 million extra in incoming revenue per month, assuming that each customer only has one cable box in their home. However, most of our customers have more than that.
“This is an example of typical corporate greed. We went on strike back in the early ‘80s with GTE to get these healthcare benefits, and the company has paid for them ever since. Verizon says it costs $8.3 billion a year for these benefits for the unionized workers nationwide. Verizon doesn’t need to be making $14 billion a year in profits. It is already gauging its customers, and it is definitely gauging us.”
Both unionized workers and non-union workers have a stake in union negotiations, according to Lytle.
“Government employees and union employees set a regulatory wage for everyone else in the working industry,” he said. “Union workers may not be over paid, maybe everyone else is under paid for what they do.
“Taking inflation since the ‘70s into consideration, the average income has fallen from $32,000 per worker to $29,000 per worker. Meanwhile, the average pay for executives has continued to rise. This country has the largest gap between upper class and lower class. It is time for that to be balanced out a little bit more.
“If employers treated their employees the way they should be treated, there wouldn’t be a need for a union to begin with. Unfortunately, we have to fight every day to get a fair piece of the pie. We are the backbone of every company that is unionized. We put in the hard work and we deal with the customers to provide the utmost in customer service. Our workers are highly trained and skilled at what they do.
“We want Verizon to be here for the next 50 to 100 years, and we want our union to have a strong partnership in that success. We have worked hard for it for decades, and we want to continue on.”
Shop Steward Mike Wildman said the union and workers may have different approaches to profit, but the workers want the Verizon to remain profitable.
“We are far sighted. We want this company to last for another 50 years,” Wildman said. “They (the management) just want to show a profit for the next quarter. There is a difference in viewpoint. We are trying to build careers and families, and they are trying to build a good stock price for the shareholders.
“We are shareholders too. We have a vested interest in making sure Verizon is profitable, but we also need it to be profitable for our families and future generations, not just for the next quarter.”
Clay Pede, a Fiber Network Technician, brought his family to the vigil.
“Basically, the company’s proposals would put me at about a 23 percent pay cut,” Pede said. “A lot of benefits would be going away. We would like to see something come back to us for all the hard work we have put in. I’d like to see a fair contract for everyone involved. I’d like to see people keep their jobs and be able to make a decent living and be able to provide for their families.”
A Central Office Technician in Carrollton, Flo Burandt described herself as a loyal 34 year employee.
“Verizon has forgotten who got them to where they are now. The core people made the money that was used to put the copper in the ground and create the wireless system. Now they want to throw us aside,” Burandt said.