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Labor peace on horizon for employees, Verizon

Labor peace on horizon for employees, Verizon

By Donna Goodison

Sunday, August 21, 2011 – Updated 3 hours ago

Verizon Communications workers abandoned picket lines and their two-week strike yesterday, agreeing to resume work beginning tomorrow despite the absence of a new contract agreement, as both sides signaled progress in talks.

“We told the company that when they got serious about bargaining, we would send our people back to work,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 in Portsmouth, N.H. “We feel, based on the conversations over the last 48 hours, that is what’s going to happen. The attitude at the bargaining table and their commitment to be reasonable . . . led us to believe that this would be a correct decision.”

Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said both sides knew in the past few days that they didn’t want the strike to continue.

“So I think they worked in earnest and hammered out how we’re going to go forward on these negotiations and how we’re going to get everybody back to work,” he said. “Both sides were making progress on local and regional issues.”

The 45,000 union employees will work under the existing terms of their expired agreement, which will remain in force for an indefinite period as their leaders prepare to resume negotiations with the nation’s No. 2 telecom provider in about a week.

All major contract issues, including medical benefits — Verizon pays 100 percent of the workers’ health-care premiums — as well as job security, pensions and attendance policy, remain unresolved. But the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said Verizon has agreed to a more meaningful and narrowed dialogue at the bargaining table.

Verizon hadn’t previously offered to let the employees continue working under their existing contract, according to Ed Fitzpatrick, president of IBEW Local 2222 in Dorchester.

“That was not the deal that was on the table the night we went on strike,” he said. “It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal — take it or have no contract.”

Workers for Verizon’s landline and FiOS Internet and cable operations — who walked off their jobs Aug. 7 from Massachusetts to Virginia as contract negotiations stalled — left picket lines as of 12:30 p.m. yesterday after a contentious work stoppage.

The New York-based Verizon has found more than 200 incidents of alleged sabotage to its cables since the strike began, according to Santoro. On Friday, it won an injunction in Suffolk Superior Court that prohibited picketers from blocking access to its offices, stores and parking.

It’s too early to tell if there is a winner or loser in the back-to-work agreement reached, according to Seth Borden, a labor and employment attorney at McKenna Long & Aldridge in New York.

“The short, trite answer would be: If they’re going back to the bargaining table, everybody is winning in some respect,” Borden said. But the extremely cooperative tone of both the unions and Verizon yesterday is a marked departure from their public relations machines of the last two weeks, he said.

“What it suggests to me . . . is the parties must have had to reach at least some understandings on their other positions on some of these issues,” Borden said.

Neither side was winning “hearts and minds,” according to Borden. As much as Verizon denied it, the company was having understandable customer service pressures, and the unions didn’t get the PR traction that they likely expected, he said.

“They went on a strike in a very difficult environment to garner public sympathy,” Borden said. “There were people without jobs every day walking past those picket lines.”

Labor peace on horizon for employees, Verizon

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert, August 19, 2011

An update from the the ARA covering everything from the Primary Race to the newly creates Super Committee on social security….

Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert, August 19, 2011: On Saturday, Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race to win the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Five days later, his Thursday morning stop on the campaign trail was met with dozens of angry seniors and protesters from the New Hampshire Alliance. They sent a strong message: “Hands off Social Security and Medicare,” with chanting and signs leading up to Perry’s arrival at the Popovers on the Square diner. Once inside, Perry fumbled a question from the crowd about why he deemed Social Security “unconstitutional.” CNN, The New York Times, the Associated Press, and ABC covered the spectacle. To see all the coverage, go to http://bit.ly/qTD1V8. “The Alliance will continue to spread the word about the extreme positions of Governor Perry and his allies who support the GOP budget plan to end Medicare and falsely claim that Social Security is unconstitutional or a ‘Ponzi Scheme,’” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

Last Saturday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) won an Iowa straw poll showing who has early support from Republicans in that state. Bachmann has called Social Security “a tremendous fraud.”

Verizon Cuts Off Strikers’ Health Care, as Service Outages Rise | Labor Notes

Quotes From President Trementozzi Local 1400

Verizon Cuts Off Strikers’ Health Care, as Service Outages Rise

Mischa Gaus

August 18, 2011

Noisy picket lines are turning away customers at Verizon’s wireless stores as the largest strike in the country weathered a rainy second week. Some service was disrupted throughout the Northeast though the scale of the outages was hard to define.

The strike covers 45,000 members of the Communications Workers (CWA) and Electrical Workers (IBEW) from Massachusetts to Virginia. Verizon wants to eliminate pensions and job security, as well as limit raises and force big health care costs onto current workers and retirees.

On the eve of the strike, Verizon announced it would pay a special $10 billion dividend to shareholders. At the same time, its negotiators were pushing for $1 billion in concessions from workers. The company has made $3 billion already this year, and nearly $20 billion in the last four years.

End Insurance

Verizon announced it would end strikers’ health insurance on August 31. Asked if members had the reaction management hoped for—fear—CWA Local 1400 President Don Trementozzi said, “Not yet. People are pretty fired up. This is the most successful mobilization strike CWA or IBEW has ever experienced. Members’ involvement has been unbelievable.”

CWA has promised to help strikers with medical needs through its defense fund, either by paying monthly premiums through COBRA or by paying for health care services “as needed.”

In addition, it’s possible members could be back on the job before the August 31 deadline. Trementozzi said CWA had said since the beginning that once negotiators saw movement at the bargaining table, members would go back to work, rather than staying out till a definitive agreement is reached.

Meanwhile, his members, who are residential service reps and clerical workers, are flocking to help out at the union hall, even though for many who live in Massachusetts, it’s a long drive up to New Hampshire.

“A lot of my people are so angry at Verizon for how they’ve been treated over the last couple of years, how conditions have deteriorated,” Trementozzi said. “They are holding their own.”

Even in a precarious economy with 9.1 percent unemployment, only 400 of the 45,000 strikers have crossed picket lines, CWA President Larry Cohen reported.

The unions call the strike a defense of stable, decent jobs. They point out that besides pensions and health insurance, the company wants to attack sick leave and disability—while it has shipped tens of thousands of jobs overseas and paid no federal taxes in 2009-10. In fact, Verizon actually claimed a $1.3 billion tax refund.

Stop the Contract

Yesterday a thousand red-shirted New Yorkers rallied loudly near Verizon headquarters, and 200 overflowed a hearing on the New York City Department of Education’s renewal of a $120 million contract with Verizon for school phones and internet.

The mayor-controlled panel voted up the deal 9-4 but not before members were blasted from the microphones by strikers and supporters for enabling union-busting. “Shame!” yelled the crowd after the vote.

Verizon has tried to drive a wedge between union members and the millions who are just hanging on in the fragile economy. The company has claimed that some union workers make $150,000 per year in wages and benefits. “Are you kidding me?” asked James Stone, a CWA Local 1101 member. “I’d be in Saint-Tropez, not on a picket line.”

Tashauna Jackson, a CWA Local 1105 steward in Brooklyn, said call center service reps start at $40,000 and top out at $63,000.

Justin Harrison, a unit secretary in Pennsylvania’s CWA Local 13000, said only a few techs with high seniority could earn close to Verizon’s “average”—and only if they sucked up hundreds of hours of overtime. “Your family wouldn’t know what you looked like,” he said. “You’d kill yourself.”

Verizon’s concession demands would funnel millions out of workers’ pockets and send it up the income ladder to top execs—who already took a quarter of a billion dollars in compensation in the last four years.

“We can never end this recession by cutting the wages of workers,” Cohen said.

Injuries, Arrests, Injunctions

Bob Master, CWA District 1’s legislative and political director, said cars driven by scabs have struck 25 picketers so far, sending at least two to the hospital.

Jimmy Tarlau, a CWA staff rep covering Virginia to Pennsylvania, said 15 picketers were arrested in the first week for blocking strikebreakers’ access to buildings and trucks. The arrests are spontaneous and not coordinated, Tarlau said.

Verizon has secured several injunctions limiting the number of picketers in front of offices, stores, and mobile work locations.

CWA attorney Gay Semel said that to win an injunction the company needed to claim that police can’t protect Verizon scabs and property, and that the company produced 20 instances of alleged violence. While courts are no friend of the worker, Semel added, she called these injunctions among the least restrictive she’s seen.

The company claims disgruntled strikers have cut wires, including a fiber-optic cable in upstate New York that served hundreds of thousands of customers.

Members point out that rain harms wires (and downpours have soaked the East Coast recently), while an exec from a fiber-cable provider admitted that squirrels have a strange fondness for chewing through lines.

Whatever the cause, the telecom network is feeling some impact. A premier Manhattan grocer posted signs Monday insisting on cash purchases since the Verizon service fueling its debit transactions had failed.

Supportive Verizon managers are telling strikers that the company has cancelled all fiber-optic installations for a month. Verizon spokesman Ray McConville declined to confirm that but said, “The focus has been on repair.”

The Pennsylvania injunction says one side’s lawyer must notify the other side’s lawyer of any alleged violation, which starts a 10-day clock to resolve the issue before law enforcement is involved. But some sheriffs, tired of fielding calls all day from managers irritated by mobile pickets, are just locking up strikers.

“From our point of view, the sheriff is overinterpreting the injunction, and the company is violating it,” Harrison said.

The union dispatched its negotiators back to the table, where Verizon has submitted new proposals that the union was evaluating yesterday. Verizon removed its proposal that attached wage increases to management-determined productivity measures this week, but union officials say the company is still stalling. They filed charges saying so with the labor board.

LINK

http://labornotes.org/2011/08/verizon-cuts-strikers-health-care-service-outages-rise

LONDONDERRY VERIZON WIRELESS STORE PICKET

By Doug Ireland direland@eagletribune.com The Eagle Tribune Wed Aug 17, 2011, 12:13 AM EDT

LONDONDERRY — A strike involving 45,000 Verizon Communications workers from Washington, D.C., to Massachusetts has now moved to Southern New Hampshire.

Several dozen workers from the company’s Andover call center picketed outside the Verizon Wireless store on Nashua Road yesterday as they wait to hear if company and union negotiators agree on a new contract.

The picketers, wearing raincoats and holding umbrellas, stood along the sidewalk and the roadside in the pouring rain. They held up signs, receiving frequent honks of support from passing motorists.

Although the strike isn’t occurring in New Hampshire, one-third of the 350 workers at the Andover center live in the Granite State, union steward Karen Whittier said.

Many of the picketers were from Londonderry, including Eileen Doyle.

“It affects a lot of us who live in New Hampshire,” Doyle said. “We want to keep our jobs so we can continue living here.”

The picketers, members of Communications Workers of America Local 1400, have been on strike since Aug. 6. They are concerned about pay cuts, losing pensions, more expensive health insurance and job security, expressing fear their customer service positions will be outsourced.

“We want a fair contract and we want to keep our jobs,” union steward Carrie Gugliota of Manchester said. “We want to go back to work. We work very hard for this company and their profits show it.”

Although Verizon is the country’s largest wireless provider, the three-year contract that expired earlier this month only affected workers in its land-line division.

The New Hampshire workers picketed throughout Massachusetts until Monday. Then they began picketing at the Londonderry store and will continue from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day until the dispute is over, Gugliota said.

While many Massachusetts residents were familiar with their quest for a new contract, many Granite Staters do not know why they are picketing, Doyle said.

“A lot of people don’t think it has anything to do with up here,” she said.

Gugliota said most passers-by support their cause and only four voiced disapproval.

“There are a few people telling us to go back to work, and we’re ready to,” she said.

But Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said a deal won’t be reached until workers agree to concessions, none of which include outsourcing. Contract negotiations began in June and recently resumed after breaking off.

“We hope it will lead to fruitful discussions and we will get a contract soon,” Santoro said. “The main issue is health care.”

He said the company is asking workers to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums for the first time. The company also believes workers should no longer have both pensions and 401k retirement plans.

Verizon can no longer afford to have longtime workers receive “lifetime job contracts” at a time when its land-line business is declining, he said.

“The business they work in has changed over the years,” Santoro said. “It’s a much different world we live in today.”

Santoro said he didn’t know of any problems with the Londonderry picketers.

There also has been picketing at Verizon sites in Methuen, Andover, Haverhill and Lawrence.

No one from the Londonderry store would comment on the strike.

But several passers-by said they support the strikers, including Dawn Macomber, 40, of Derry. Macomber said she has a friend who is a Verizon operator.

“I feel with the bills that Verizon charges, they should be able to pay their operators more money,” she said.

Mike Roberts, 31, of Derry agreed.

“Verizon is the biggest company out there; they shouldn’t be downgrading their people,” he said. “I think Verizon charges way too much. They should at least be able to pay their people and not take anything away.”

link

http://www.eagletribune.com/newhampshire/x850302039/Strikers-picket-near-Londonderry-Verizon-store

LTE on Right To Work and Photo ID bills

In his letter, Wally Kilgore criticizes me for opposing the so-called Right To Work (HB 474) and the photo ID (SB 129) bills. According to the Taft-Hartley Act, no worker can be forced to join a union. The proposed Right To Work bill would eliminate the agency fee now paid by nonunion members to cover the costs of negotiating a new contract. The agency fee is, on the average across individual contracts, significantly lower than union dues paid by union members. By federal law, both union and nonunion workers receive all benefits negotiated in a contract.
Mr. Kilgore writes, “I think that if the unions were so good for the workers, they would voluntarily contribute, but apparently Mr. Patton thinks that most workers are ‘deadbeats’ and wouldn’t pay.”
Mr. Kilgore, suppose a person were given two options: He or she could join a golf club and pay full membership dues, or could receive the same rights and benefits as a dues-paying member, but get them for free. I think that rational, logical people who know a bargain when they see one would choose the free option. The same logic applies to the elimination of the agency fee.

Medicaid cuts are hurting real people.

Medicaid cuts worst decision made by GOP | Seacoastonline.com
Exeter resident Suzanne Brooks said she will forgo her own medical needs to care for her young children, ages 1, 2 and 5, if she loses medical assistance as a result of the New Hampshire Legislature cutting Medicaid funds for the state’s largest hospitals.
“I probably wouldn’t go to the doctor if I didn’t have Medicaid,” she said. Is this what the Republican majority had in mind when they ended the Disproportionate Share Hospital Program that reimbursed hospitals for their provision of Medicaid to uninsured patients?
The state will continue providing this financial assistance to the state’s smaller, critical-access hospitals, but those are in rural areas with smaller populations. Meanwhile, most of the state’s largest hospitals, which care for the vast majority of New Hampshire residents, are now weighing a slew of cuts to deal with an unexpected loss of revenue.

MAINE:Citizens rise up in Maine

It is good to see our neighbors to the east standing up for what is right. Republican Governor LePage and the Maine State House and Senate enacted laws banning “same day registration”. I will let you guess who those 60,000 new voters were voting for? What is the real reason behind all these anti-voter laws? (you can read previous posts on ALEC and Voter Fraud)

Citizens rise up in Maine: “AT LEAST 68,000 Maine residents signed a petition to repeal a recent law that prohibited Election Day voter registration. That should be more than enough to certify a November referendum, finally resolving a dispute that has turned Maine’s nearly four-decade tradition of allowing voters to register on Election Day into one of the most heated battles in the national war over the ballot box.

Maine has much to be proud of in its voting laws. The state managed to register 60,000 new voters on Election Day in 2010 – and the only claims of voter fraud were specious. Along with Minnesota and Wisconsin, both of which also had same-day registration, Maine ranked well above the national average in voter turnout. But this year, Maine’s new Republican-led House and Senate voted to get rid of same-day registration, and the state’s new Republican governor, Paul LePage, was more than eager to oblige.”

State DOL tells LGC we are watching you!!!!

Will LGC ever return the money they owe the cities and towns?

CONCORD — The N.H. Department of Labor has “exclusive authority” over the Local Government Center’s troubled workers compensation program and has written to the LGC to remind “we are watching,” said DOL legal counsel Martin Jenkins.
“We’re not breathing down their neck,” said Jenkins, adding that the labor department wrote to the LGC to ask how it plans to fund the workers comp pool if it returns $20 million as mandated by the Secretary of State’s office.In an Aug. 2 report published by Bureau of Securities Regulation attorney Earle Wingate III, the LGC was informed it “must return” at least $20 million to municipalities for money diverted from health and property liability pools to the workers’ compensation pool. The BSR attorney noted there’s evidence the funding municipalities never agreed to allocate one percent of their employees’ health insurance costs to pay for workers’ compensation.
“This is evident in the Position Paper issued by the city of Portsmouth on Return of Surplus Health Insurance Premiums under letter dated November 19, 2010, and the town of North Hampton’s publicized demand for return of similar funds,” Wingate wrote. “The only discussion of the issue appears to have been at the level of the LGC board. To reiterate, if there is enough money to siphon off sums for purposes apart from health care or property-liability coverage, there is more than is needed for these coverages. This is surplus. For both the reason that this is surplus, and that municipalities did not agree to this diversion of funds, sums used for this purpose must be returned to the cities and towns.”

Read full article

LGC Insurance fears spur uprising from Unions

PORTSMOUTH — Heads of statewide public employees unions are lashing out against the Local Government Center in response to a story in Tuesday’s Herald reporting that employees’ insurance contracts were endorsed by what state officials call “illegal shell companies.”
According to the LGC’s financial reports, as well as the contract for public employees’ prescription drug benefits, LGC Health Trust LLC signed the contracts for employees’ health and prescription drug insurance. In a report released last week, Bureau of Securities Regulations attorney Earle Wingate III said the LGC Health Trust is illegally formed as a nonprofit limited liability company — an entity that doesn’t legally exist in New Hampshire.
As such, he said, that and other risk management pools formed by the LGC in Delaware have no ability to do business in New Hampshire.
Steve Arnold, a retired Portsmouth police detective and current legislative director for the Police Benevolent Association, called for a receiver to take over management of the LGC, so “not a nickel gets spent without oversight.”
“This is like a Ponzi scheme,” he said. “If I was a member of the LGC board, I’d be running for cover right now.”
Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees Association of New Hampshire, said Tuesday that her union now intends to “be an engaged participant.”

Read full article

As Verizon Demands Huge Cuts To Worker Benefits, Its Profits Soar And Its CEO Gets $18 Million In Compensation

As Verizon Demands Huge Cuts To Worker Benefits, Its Profits Soar And Its CEO Gets $18 Million In Compensation

By Zaid Jilani on Aug 8, 2011 at 11:50 am

Yesterday, 45,000 Verizon employees, represented by the Communications Workers of America, went on strike following the breakdown of negotiations between union representatives and management on Saturday. The workers are battling a long list of concessions that the company is demanding of them, ranging from asking employees to contribute more to their health care plans to halting pension accruals this year.

The AP News Service filed a video report about the strike. Watch it:

Cutting workers benefits as a cost-saving measure is a natural part of a market economy when times are bad, but what is particularly outrageous about Verizon’s demands is that the company’s fiscal health is actually rapidly improving and its profits soaring. The company’s quarterly report released in January found that their profits nearly doubled from the same point last year. Then in April, Bloomberg reported that the company’s profits “more than tripled” after the company began offering services on Apple’s popular iPhone, with net income approaching $1.44 billion:

Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), the second-largest U.S. phone company, reported earnings that more than tripled as taxes decreased and the carrier attracted new customers after introducing Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPhone. Net income rose to $1.44 billion, or 51 cents a share, New York-based Verizon said today in a statement.

Their 2010 annual report shows that their stock returns are actually outperforming the wider market, easily overcoming the S&P 500 index:

“They are outperforming the overall industry,” said financial analyst Michael Nelson of their Spring 2011 returns. Meanwhile, one person at Verizon who is not being asked to take any cuts is Ivan Seidenberg, the company’s CEO. His compensation actually rose four percent in 2010 to $18.1 million. The Communications Workers of America note that the “top five executives [at the company] received compensation of $258 million over the past four years.”

It appears that Verizon’s stockholders and executives are being treated well by the company while it demands sacrifice from its workers. “We are regular folk like most other folk out here trying to pay our mortgages, pay our bills and survive and we don’t think that is a lot to ask when the company is making billions of dollars in profits,” said one striking worker.

Update

It should be noted that Verizon isn’t just trying to skimp on worker benefits — it is also a notorious tax dodger, paying little in taxes in years past and actually netting benefits from the U.S. taxpayer.

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/08/08/290205/verizon-strike-profits/

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