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Horn: Verizon strike valid in face of unethical treatment

The ire of tens of thousands of Verizon workers rings through the east coast region as negotiators are hitting several nasty hang-ups.

Earlier this month, 36,000 Verizon workers — the vast majority belonging to the Communication Workers of America (CWA) union, according to CNN — walked out of their jobs after reaching their breaking point. The workers have been without contract since August and have a vast list of grievances, including the outsourcing of jobs and the cutting of healthcare benefits.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam recently visited striking workers in Dewitt, New York — a suburb of Syracuse — to chide them for what he calls a strike that “makes no sense to anybody.” But what really doesn’t make any sense is how a CEO is comfortable making a reported $18 million a year while jobs are being outsourced and workers are being asked to transfer across states away from their families for months at a time.

These workers are justified in their dissent because Verizon’s attempts to maximize profits at the expense of employees have gone too far. Whether or not this strike bears any fruit, it should serve as a stark reminder that workers and the unions that represent them will not take abuse by larger corporations lying down.

Indeed, the strikers are weaponizing public opinion to help pressure the company into giving into their demands. Soon after McAdam visited Dewitt, presidential hopeful and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders expressed his support to the striking workers in New York and brought much-needed publicity to the cause. It was crucial for the striking workers to stay relevant and cause public scorn for Verizon in order to have their demands met, since their interruption of service is not making any headway for the group.

Despite the fact that negotiation efforts have stalled and neither side seems willing to budge on their position, the indefinite strike really isn’t hurting Verizon due to a commendable amount of planning on the company’s behalf. Verizon has learned from a similar strike in 2011, which saw 45,000 workers walk off the job. Since then, the company has invested in training 10,000 substitute workers should situations like this arise, according to The Wall Street Journal. Other Verizon employees have also stepped up to fill in the jobs the trained technicians have left vacant because of the strike.

Verizon recently outsourced 5,000 jobs to Mexico, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic as well as ramped up the hiring of lower wage, non-union workers to save money. These cost-cutting measures are in response to the decline of wired services, which most CWA workers serve and the steady loss of profits from the sector. Ironically, the jobs Verizon has shipped overseas are also helping to ease the pressure caused by the striking employees.

As abominable as Verizon’s actions are toward the union, their ability to carry on as if nothing is wrong is admirable. Though it’s business as usual for customers, it’s extremely doubtful that these scab workers are providing the same quality of work the trained technicians would be able to offer. Either way, Verizon’s ability to stay the course represents a large point of leverage for the company.

With the corporation having lost 1.4 million customers last year along with 2 percent of its sales, it may seem like Verizon is simply stuck between a rock and a hard place — between hurting workers and losing money. This is simply not true considering Verizon is still reporting $8.9 billion in wireline profit, according to CNN. Arguments in favor of the company ignore the fact that Verizon FiOS, another section of wireline sales that the striking workers manage, has seen a 9 percent growth in sales.

Verizon seems simply unwilling to cut into its profits to keep jobs in the United States and increase the pay of its technical workers who only make, contrary to misinformation spread by Verizon, an average of $74,000 yearly, according to CNBC.

Jan Ondrich, a professor of economics in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, agreed that there is a problem with Verizon’s priorities.

“I don’t think anyone (Verizon’s chief executives) is worth that amount of money,” said Ondrich. “Companies need to be more responsible to their employees before taking compensations like that.”

The CWA could be criticized for its reluctance to appear before mediators immediately after the strike began, as suggested by Verizon. But the union cannot really be blamed for its reluctance because there has been no progress on either side of the negotiations in nearly 10 months.

Whether or not the strike pans out for the embattled employees, it at least offers a glimpse of what workers face in today’s corporate world. What is being demanded by the protesters is not greedy — at the very least, many can agree that jobs should stay in the U.S. when at all possible.

Avoiding outsourcing and giving workers fair benefits is something all companies should strive to do. Yes, sometimes hard decisions must be made, but not when the company is more than profitable and its CEOs are making tens of millions a year. It’s time Verizon and other companies remember that its workers are its most valuable asset and should start treating them as such.

Theo Horn is a sophomore political science and public policy dual major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at tahorn@syr.edu.

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