Verizon Strike Turns Bitter

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Steven Greenhouse, New York Times labor and workplace correspondent and author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker, discusses the increasingly bitter national strike against Verizon, which began on August 7.


Steven Greenhouse

Comments [50]

RJ from prospect hts

And, Mike, A last for this morning: If organizations like pollsters would be out of business if they were wrong all the time: All of the business reporters and pundsters on TV and all of the ratings agencies and all of the "economic experts" who thought the economy was fine (and rated it thusly) until it wasn't would be out of business now if accuracy were the gauge.

Aug. 19 2011 10:31 AM
RJ from prospect hts

And, Mike, I can't say I'm surprised that Americans' faith in *any* economy related organization given the crash of 2007-8 and its horrific consequences, but that labor still held nearly 50% interest among the American public is pretty striking.

Aug. 19 2011 10:28 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Mike, I actually have not found that pollsters are accurate in the weeks before elections; see, i.e., especially given the rich-funded tea partier get-out-the-vote work in 2010. I agree that independents are disenchanted with Obama--sadly a function of raised expectations that he hasn't responded to both in policy and rhetorically. Most of the independent Obama supporters stayed home, though yes, some did come out--but that doesn't change the desperately poor turnout, much lower by all accounts than usual midterms; it's why candidates like Christine Donnelly and Sharron Angell won.

As for pollsters on unions: Here's a sample of recent ones on labor (and Pew's labor headline was several times larger and darker than that off business, though they say pretty much the same thing):

Labor Unions: Good for Workers, Not for U.S. Competitiveness
Business Ratings Also Near Historic Low
February 17, 2011
(Pew) The favorability ratings for labor unions remain at nearly their lowest level in a quarter century with 45% expressing a positive view. Yet the public expresses similar opinions about business corporations -- 47% have a favorable impression -- and this rating is also near a historic low.
Unions, the economy, and employee free choice
A Peter Hart poll conducted in December 2006 reports that 58% of non-managerial working Americans indicated they would join a union if they could, a record number (Peter D. Hart Research Associates 2007).

Sixty Percent of Americans Approve of Labor Unions
August 31, 2007
Gallup's annual Work and Education survey finds little change during recent years in Americans' view of labor unions, with 60% now approving of unions. Less than one in five Americans say labor unions in this country will become stronger.

Labor Unions See Sharp Slide in U.S. Public Support For first time, fewer than half of Americans approve of labor unions
September 3, 2009
PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup finds organized labor taking a significant image hit in the past year. While 66% of Americans continue to believe unions are beneficial to their own members, a slight majority now say unions hurt the nation's economy. More broadly, fewer than half of Americans -- 48%, an all-time low -- approve of labor unions, down from 59% a year ago.

Aug. 19 2011 10:26 AM
ricky from new york

it takes around 5 years to learn to do a tech job @ verizon properly...calls do go to the phillipines..verizon got over 1billion dollars in tax return last year..then they still out source jobs....also plesae be advised the wireless network is maintained by tech@ verizon ...we maintain ..sprint verizon u think elves maintain the network.?.how many at&t trucks have u ever seen ..or sprint

Aug. 18 2011 02:10 AM
Ken from Brooklyn

I am not suggesting that CEO's should work for free or that they should not be compensated for their responsibilities or that we should "destroy" corporations.

This is about a disproportionate distribution of wealth in this country. If top executives make record profits, give themselves raises and then turn around and take from workers, that is unethical and I believe should be considered criminal. There is no reason that 90% of American's should bare the brunt of all cutbacks and bare all the burden of sacrifice in this country.

Lanvy what is the matter with you? You keep telling people on this post if they don't like what is going on then they should leave or quit.

Would you say the same thing to civil rights leaders that fought for desegregation and voters rights, or the founding fathers and soldiers who fought for independence from England, or to workers that fought for the 40 hour work week and gave their lives on the picket lines to get children out of factories?

It takes much more grit to stick around and fight for what is right and to stand up for yourself and your neighbors. It takes much more grit to help the people around you then to abandon them.

What kind of world do you want to create?

Aug. 17 2011 02:46 PM
Altieri, Vincent from Bronx, NY

The first caller “Bill” stares that he belongs to two (2) unions presently. Who is verifing his statement. When he follows-up his statement that all workers that the Union Verizon workers do not pay any medical insurance coverage presently. Hate to tell Bill that is concession won at the managaement/union barginning negoting table. Bill could not be a union. He is more than likely a plant that knows what subject is going to be on the air. He is working for the other side

Aug. 17 2011 01:30 PM
Mike from Inwood

As for the 2010 elections not being a great gauge, it's no secret that the 'independents' who voted for Obama switched to the GOP in droves and that health care was at the center of their concerns. And they did say, en masse, that they were leary of changing a system that was working for them. Of course, now that they've gotten an idea that the GOP plan is basically to cut their Medicare & Social Security, they could switch back.

Aug. 17 2011 12:56 PM
Mike from Inwood

With all due repsect, RJ. I think you are just wrong. "Who did you vote for?" and "Are you a member of a union?" and "If so, which one?" are not nuanced questions. Pollsters are sensitive to the questions you raise and unless they have an axe to grind, (e.g. FOX News or Heritage Foundation polls) pollsters are actually pretty spot on. Isn't it amazing that they come so close to the actual vote in the week prior to an election? Unusually off by less than 1%... AFter all, if they were always wrong, they'd be out of business. Also, they may take only point-in-time measurements, but when they're always taking them, they show trends.

Aug. 17 2011 12:52 PM
RJ from prospect hts

Mike, Union members vote for their delegates, shop stewards, and officers based on the policies they espouse, so there must be some correlation. The 2010 election isn't a great gauge--midterms never have high turnouts and this was even lower than usual and driven significantly by Koch brothers', Rove, etc. money, and the depression of those hit by the depression who stayed home (I do think it's a depression, not a recession.). Pollsters, to the extent one's comfortable with them, which I am not, generally take a feeling of the moment rather than a belief in a fundamental idea, and are flawed because of how they're often phrased. The difference between the response to "how do you feel about socialized medicine?" vs. "how do you feel about Medicare?" is dramatic. How many seniors come to town halls saying "don't mess with my Medicare!" who also say they'd never vote for single-payer? Unfortunately the prospects for and reality of debate in this country is pathetic and damaging to all.

Aug. 17 2011 12:06 PM
RJ from prospect hts

Lanvy, The standards are not mine--they are those of people with 20, 30, 35 years in these businesses, and I had when we spoke no reason to believe them. It wasn't actual *training* they needed--it was the on-the-job experience of having to deal with a crisis in the middle of a blackout, a snowstorm, or the day-to-day skills. My cousin was a steelworker, my grandfather a housepainter (the *outside* of the top of the Williamsburg Savings Bank building) and I've learned to have respect for people who know how to handle the tools of their trade with skill.
I don't know what you mean by working "with" those unions--does that mean you've actually performed all of those jobs? And found them simple? Why does that entitle you to disrespect all of the tens of thousands of others who are *still* doing it every day?
And how silly to resort to the "if you don't like your job, quit" argument. You must know as well as anyone else listening here how horrific the economy is, that no one can afford to leave a job, that companies are racking up billions and not spending them either on improvements or hiring because of "uncertainty," whatever that's a Wall Street euphemism for.
Oh, and to compare US and non-US corporations: You're right--it's impossible to compare companies in countries where health care is universal to an insane Rube Goldberg, jury-built one like ours that lays it on the companies and workers themselves.
Which somehow does bring us back full circle to the Verizon strike, doesn't it?

Aug. 17 2011 11:58 AM
Mike from Inwood

RJ, it might be difficult to gauge opinion within a group, but that's what pollsters do. And the union members do not vote the official position of their union. If they did, what happened at the most important recent poll, the 2010 elections? In any event, the odds are slim that I could know so many people within a group and the group as a whole would so diametrically opposed to my admittedly non-random sample.

Aug. 17 2011 11:57 AM
Mike from Inwood

Lanvy: If you are operting under that delusion, perhaps that's why you're a 'c level' recruiter. Or maybe it's because of the way you reply in all capital lettlers, as though you're shouting. FYI: I work for a large international corporation and the difference is noticeable (and commented on) within the company that employs me.

Aug. 17 2011 11:52 AM
Lanvy from nyc

You dont like where you work. QUIT....
BE YOUR OWN your talent - whatever that is.

Aug. 17 2011 11:41 AM
lanvy from NYC

RJ from prospect hts. I guess we simply have different standards...what's easy for me might simply be hard for you. In fact, you said it, it takes 5 long years to get these guys proficient?? I call that inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Ive worked with plenty of unions - Communication union, hotel unions, construction unions...highway unions...

My statement still stand! REPLACEABLE.

Aug. 17 2011 11:35 AM
Lanvy from nyc

Mike from Inwood

You obviously dont understand international businesses and how pays are structured.

American CEOs are on par and in some cases lower. Because business are global so is the market for CEOs & otherC-levels. You cant rely on parse of information on the web, until you get a glimpse from an international C-level recruiter, you really dont have an idea of fair comparison.

NOW....what's totally stupid in america is the CEO's reversal is only in American where a CEO can get an exuberant amount to be replaced.

Aug. 17 2011 11:32 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Mike, I think it's difficult to gauge overall member opinion (of any group) based on personal discussions--yours or mine. I do know that not only are the positions I state below are the official positions of the unions but that they have had the most people--members--working on these issues than any other group (perhaps with the exception of AARP on Social Security and Medicare). I don't know of any groups who have actively fought *against* these positions except those who have been identified as part of the fuzzy category known as tea party members--some ideologues, some frustrated populists, with a message largely amplified by the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, Fox News, and their ilk.

Aug. 17 2011 11:22 AM
Lanvy from nyc


Who will employ you if corporations are brought down????

Aug. 17 2011 11:19 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Sorry for typo: "... and for lowering the Social Security age and raising the income level at which Social security is *paid* ..."

Oh, and Lanvy: "Most are simple trade, requires NO investment in education." You have absolutely *no* idea how much training these workers need, how many years of experience it takes to become proficient. "simple trade"???? I've talked to utility workers (including management), a similar "trade," who say it takes 5 years before new workers know what they're doing. They realized they had to restart training after their widespread cutbacks when they realized the new work force couldn't handle it.

Aug. 17 2011 11:15 AM
Mike from Inwood

RJ, I don't know who you're talking to. Regardless of the official position of the unions, the hundreds of union members I personally know do not want these reforms. Their benefits are working fine and they see no need to change. Perhaps they do not understand on which side their bread is buttered, but half of them vote for Republicans and NONE of them (yes, not a single one) were in favor of changing the way health care is provided. In fact, for most of them this was when they became less than enthusiastic about Obama. The workers I refer to are not some small circle of criends that I know here in NYC, they are spread across several states and do not know each other. Open your eyes to how your union bretheren actually vote.

Aug. 17 2011 11:14 AM
RJ from prospect hts

And jmurphy: I don't think companies respect their white-collar workers any more than their blue-collar ones. They're all cogs in the wheels toward making exorbitant profits off customers to give to those who can buy and sell preferred shares, and for upper-level managements.

Aug. 17 2011 11:09 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Mike, I don't know where you've heard that it's people with benefits who vote against defined benefit pensions and single-payer are the people who have them. Unions, and the AFL-CIO overall have been the strongest advocates *for* national health insurance--the public option, Medicare for All, etc.--and for lowering the Social Security age and raising the income level at which Social security is passed--in other words, strengthening the SS system in order to make it available for future generations. That's how their members, for the most part, vote. And for Lanvy--I'd bet a month's income that there's no labor leader making $6.75 million a year.

Aug. 17 2011 11:06 AM
carl from rego park

no employee should suffer the pains of working for a poor co. when in actuality they work for a rich co....if all verizon's competitors where making record profits, but verizon was posting loses, then and only then should the employees take a hit. ..carl, rego park

Aug. 17 2011 11:04 AM
Mike from Inwood

Lanvy: No where do executives make more than in the USA. Do our companies perform better? No. They are slowly being outsourced. The executives simply reward themselves no matter what because the owners (i.e. shareholders) are powerless in US corporations. Their salaries and bonuses border on embezzlement.

Aug. 17 2011 11:04 AM

Simply put..their contract is up. Verizon seeks to reduce their workforce because they now only need 1 out of 3 techs to perform the installation/service calls.

The Union workers are being poorly served by their reps, who should negotiate to retain that 30-40% of their members..

I am a Comm. Union Carpenter..and am totally empathetic with solidarity..but, if the contract is up, or the pool of work reduces..the Union must be agile enough to negotiate and maintain the employ of the members it can.

Aug. 17 2011 10:58 AM

Why, as a society, can't we ask corporations to to take the hit instead of the average mid class worker? Can't they make a little less money? Why are we elevating the rights and interests of business over the individual?

Aug. 17 2011 10:57 AM
RJ from prospect hts

It's also curious how it's let slide that "with overtime" workers make ..... So these workers give up family time, relaxation time (essential for health, to reduce health care costs), time to help their children with schoolwork that everyone clamors for, in order to make middle-class incomes. And these are often now 2-income households. In the 50s these decent living conditions--when 35% of Americans were unionized-existed on *1* family salary.

For all interested listeners:

It isn't easy, but the more we have, the more we can cut the unbelievable and growing distance between the living standards of rich and poor.

Aug. 17 2011 10:54 AM
Mike from Inwood

RJ commented that she did not understand why people who no longer have defined benefit retirement packages and no or very low cost health care plans also want their neighbors to suffer the same fate. RJ, read all the way to the end and you'll know why: The 401k thing is not working out. WIld market swings randomly either provide a windfall or destroy the retirement of people who do all the right things. As medical costs continue to rise, our share is breaking our backs. Many people opt to not have medical insurance even when it's available because it costs too much. What are the solutions for us? Better Social Security and single payer (socialized!) medicine. Who votes against these things because they 'don't want their taxes raised'? People who already have them. It is expecially galling that people without these benfits pay taxes to maintain the retirement and health care benefits for public sector workers who then comprise the votes that prevent the reforms those without them need.

Aug. 17 2011 10:54 AM
Lanvy from nyc

@Jay....You had to talk to India...because your verizon wokers were probably on strike

Aug. 17 2011 10:53 AM
Lanvy from nyc

@Ken from Brooklyn

You really dont know how to do math!!! If you're responsible for over 100K workers who are paid a loaded average of $200K (thats with benefits) and the countless on pension, you better know how to make $$ and be compensated for that!!

If the company goes down...YOU ALL GO DOWN!!!

Why dont you question how much your UNION Leader makes...and he certainly isnt making sure there's profit to add to your future benefits!

Aug. 17 2011 10:50 AM
LF from NYC

Bravo RJ! Your comment regarding the problematic desire of Americans to deny their neighbors a good salary, benefits etc. is the real issue here. Why are people so anxious to be abject, abused, slaves of the wealthy?

Aug. 17 2011 10:49 AM
LANVY from nyc

@John from white plains, ny

everyone works pays for their benefits!! Dont think you're doing anything noble??? Yours are plush benefits with pensions to boot!! who gets that these days except for unions!!!!

Aug. 17 2011 10:46 AM
RJ from prospect hts

A point I forgot to make: Why is there *zero* criticism of the fact that health care and pension costs are rising beyond any semblance of reasonable? Why are the insurance companies, drug makers, and for-profit providers not criticized instead of the workers who want health care for themselves and their families?

Aug. 17 2011 10:44 AM
LANVY from nyc

If union thinks it's unfair to work at verizon, THEN LEAVE!! There's plenty of people easily trained into your role!! Most are simple trade, requires NO investment in education.

A high-school drop out can be trained to take over most union positions.

WHAT'S THE PROBLEM??? IF you're sooo unhappy...quit..LEAVE....SCAT!!

Aug. 17 2011 10:44 AM
Ken from Brooklyn

When you mention that workers make about 80,000 a year that sounds pretty good.

But you should mention that Ivan G Seidenberg CEO of Verizon is #10 on Forbes top CEO compensation list. He made 36.75 million last year after he gave himself a raise of 15.75 million from the year before. Let's be fair in reporting here.

Your last caller is right. We should want our neighbors, average American's, to make more and support the unions. Verizon clearly has plenty of money and should take from the top greedy executives especially if this country isn't going to tax them more than 20% on income.

Aug. 17 2011 10:44 AM

Be advised: there are 70 Verizon Wireless employees in NY (who are members of CWA Local 1101) who are part of this strike. WE have a separate contract under negotiation. Like our Union sisters & brothers, seek a solid contract so we all can return to work.

Aug. 17 2011 10:43 AM
Lanvy from nyc


Aug. 17 2011 10:42 AM
john from white plains, ny

As a CWA member, I have paid for my benefits. I've given up raises to pay for my medical & pension benefits.

Aug. 17 2011 10:41 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

The caller who wants workers to pay more for health benefits is viewing the issue in a vacuum -- that is, he is ignoring the macroeconomic problem of large and growing income inequality that informs all of these issues...Like too many workers, he is, in ignorance, advocating for a race to the bottom. Meanwhile the plutocrats expand their mansion and jet collections, which is unsustainable and will ultimately hurt them too...

Aug. 17 2011 10:41 AM
m.a.pappert from nyc

This weekend we had strikers protesting work being done on our land lines. There were no leaflets or other information but air horns that were used for an hour straight completely harassing the entire neighborhood. This occurred again a midnight. Not conducive to support.

Aug. 17 2011 10:41 AM
Robert from NYC

Thank you RJ, seems the "powers that be" as they are called often, have succeeded in pitting workers against each other. This is the core problem here. We MUST stick together and fight for each other against the corporations.

Aug. 17 2011 10:41 AM

Verizon and AT&T donate to the tea party.

Aug. 17 2011 10:39 AM
Rhoda from Upper East Side

HR 1322 has been sitting in Congress for a decade. This bill would protect employees healthcare benefits being reduced or discontinued after retirement.

When Bethlehem Steel filed for bankruptcy, retirees lost medical care.

Aug. 17 2011 10:39 AM
jmurphy from long island

Bottom line: corporations do not respect their blue collar workers. Stop discussing how blue collar workers should be contributing to their benefits at the same level as white collar workers when in truth and fact the salaries are MUCH different.

Aug. 17 2011 10:38 AM

Verizon and AT&T donate to the tea party.

Aug. 17 2011 10:38 AM
Robert from NYC

If you don't really know the answers here and are guessing then you shouldn't be doing this. My monthly bill is generally $55 for my landline and of that less than $10 is actual calls I make, ergo my phone bill would be more than $40/month even if I don't make any calls. Uhhhhh, I think Verizon is doing okay here.
It's time for big strikes to come back. The economy is doing so lousy because workers wages don't allow workers to pay not only for the necessities but the extras that make the economy healthy; it's called spending.

Aug. 17 2011 10:35 AM
JohnL from Brooklyn

As usual, you are buying into the Company's strategy -- divide and conquer: set worker against worker by instilling jealousy between them. Why are you not talking about the $250 Million made by the top 11 Executives? Why are you not comparing THAT to the "generous" $60k - $75k salaries or health insurance premiums?
You can cut the workers benefits when you cut the executives salaries, bonuses and benefits!

Aug. 17 2011 10:35 AM

Defined benefit programs are a Ponzi scheme. They are not sustainable.

Aug. 17 2011 10:35 AM
RBC from FiDi

I believe the guest in that Verizon isn't very profitable from their landline products (including Fios)... but its hard to understand the ridiculously high wages of Verizon's upper management yet they want to cut workers benefits.

Aug. 17 2011 10:35 AM

Whenever I call Verizon when I have problems with my DSL. I have never talked to anyone from the USA. They have been from India and the Phillipinnes. It is more prevalent than what the reporter and Verizon says.

Aug. 17 2011 10:34 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Is there some tangible way we can support these striking workers?

Unions are in bad shape, though. They had the unions arguing FOR the Port Authority at that hearing yesterday. How short-sighted and weak....

Aug. 17 2011 10:31 AM

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