Showdown at Verizonby Ryan Grim
By the time you read this, the employees of mid-Atlantic Verizon may already be on strike, or they may have settled on a new contract. But throughout this summer Verizon workers and managers were getting psyched up for that worst case scenario—that necessary evil—the labor strike. Through it all there was something a bit surreal about the girding for war.
“I’m looking forward to it, to tell you the truth,” said my childhood friend and Verizon employee Adam (we’ll leave his last name out of this). “My wife and I kind of planned our vacations around the contract expiration date.” According to Adam and others I spoke with, the general feeling is the same. The union will pay $250 strike benefits to picketing workers. And most workers, advised by their union, have saved enough money to last for a strike of a month or two. It is also not uncommon for striking workers to find temporary cash employment.
Part of what’s at issue are employee health benefits. Just as important is the fact that an older generation of workers had to strike to get those benefits. “Twenty years ago our guys went on an 18-month strike for health insurance. We can’t allow the sacrifice they made to be for nothing. It’s our duty to protect it for them and for the workers who’ll come after us,” says Adam. The union tends to be popular with Verizon workers. Management, knowing of the preparations, is under that much more pressure to meet the union’s demands.
So with the cards stacked in the workers’ favor, frontline management must have been dreading the fight. Right?
“Actually, I can’t wait,” said a Verizon manager named Thomas, who is also an old friend on mine (though not of Adam’s—their antipathy predates their manager / employee conflict, extending back into the middle school locker room). “I’ll get mad overtime and an extra $1,500 a month for the hardship or whatever they call it. I hope they strike for six months.”
As the Rail went to press, management’s initial offer had been roundly rejected by the union, which responded with a proposal so far from management’s that a strike seemed imminent. And the rank and file workers have authorized union negotiators to call a strike with no further vote. While managers see dollar signs, and workers get ready for a vacation on the picket line, the rich shareholders who own most Verizon stock are feeling the heat. But hey, isn’t the risk of losing lots of money what makes investment exciting?
RYAN GRIM is the senior congressional correspondent for the Huffington Post. He is the author of This Is Your Country on Drugs (Wiley, 2009).