• Advertisement

Billion$ (Trillion$) Down the Drain: Verizon as a case study of what’s wrong with the economy

photo by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) via Wikimedia CommonsThese days, most corporations indulge in stock buybacks. A buyback – or, “share repurchase” – is exactly what it sounds like.  Executives decide to use corporate money to buy back shares of stock, rather than investing that money in expanding the business, or using the money to pay back debt, or spending the money on employees.

So far this year, Verizon has spent more than $5 billion (with a “B”) buying back shares of its own stock. But what has that money actually bought?

The theory is that stock buybacks raise share prices. The theory is that if there are fewer shares, investors will be willing to pay more for them.

But as Verizon’s stock history shows, that only works in the short term. The artificial stock-price-boost doesn’t seem to last very long.

For instance, the $5 billion buyback Verizon announced this past February. This particular buyback was both announced and mostly completed within days. Verizon’s per-share price increased from $47.86 on February 5th (the day the buyback was announced) to $49.81 on February 11th. But the next day, share prices started falling again. By March 10th, the per-share price was even lower than it had been before the buyback.

And after the past few weeks’ stock market decline, Verizon stock is now trading at about 5% less than it was on March 10th.

So, what did that $5 billion buy?

The sad truth: as far as I can tell, it didn’t buy Verizon much of anything in the long run.  Investors who sold their Verizon stock on February 11th probably made some money.  Otherwise, at least from my perspective, it was all just “money down the drain.”

The real tragedy is: that money could have been used for so many other things. It could have been used to

…expand their business. Verizon even turned down $568 million in federal funding that would have subsidized the expansion of their broadband network.

…maintain their corporate assets. Millions of customers rely on Verizon’s copper landlines, and pay hundreds of dollars each year for service – yet Verizon spends remarkably little to maintain the network.

…fund fair contracts with its labor unions. Yes, Verizon is engaged in yet another contract standoff with its unions, because the corporation wants to cut shift and overtime differentials, job security and employee benefits. And executives have been preparing for this fight for more than a year now: according to a corporate press release, “Verizon took extensive measures to ensure its customers would not be impacted by any potential work stoppage. Thousands of non-union Verizon employees and business partners have undergone extensive training in various network and customer service functions.”

…change corporate practices that have resulted in more than $100 million in penalties from the Federal Communications Commission. $90 million for illegal billing. $7.4 million for consumer privacy. $5 million for rural call completion problems. $3.4 million for 911 outages. (And that’s just within the past year.)

It’s all about choices.

And Verizon executives have chosen to spend more than $5 billion buying back corporate stock.

Providing – as far as I can tell – no long-term benefit whatsoever to the corporation. (Although, yes, investors who sell their shares immediately following a stock buyback do benefit.)

Here’s the thing that bothers me, even more:

Since the 2009 “end” of the Great Recession, corporations have spent more than $2.4 trillion on stock buybacks.

Water going down a drainYes, that’s $2.4 trillion, with a “T.”

…Money that did not go toward job creation.
…Money that did not go toward business expansion.
…Money that did not go toward paying down corporate debt.
…Money that did not go toward improving wages, benefits or working conditions for employees.
…Money that – as far as I can tell – provided no long-term benefits whatsoever to the corporations that spent it.

Money that – as far as I can tell – just went “down the drain.”

Like that $5 billion for Verizon buybacks, back in February.

————

H/T to economist William Lazonick.  Read his “Profits without Prosperity” here.

Tens of thousands of Verizon employees have been working without a contract for more than a month. Read more here.

This post is just the first in a series. Please check back to read the next installment.

CWA Files Letters Calling for Regulators to Investigate Verizon’s Refusal to Invest in Traditional Landline Upkeep

 Verizon told FCC it spends less than one percent of the average phone and DSL customer’s rate on upkeep of the network 

Legislators Join Call to Investigate Verizon

2000px-Verizon_logo.svg

WASHINGTON- The Communications Workers of America (CWA) today announced they were filing letters with telephone regulators in six states and Washington, DC calling on them to open investigations into the deterioration of Verizon’s copper landline networks.  In July, Verizon admitted in a letter to the FCC that it had only spent $200 million over the last seven years to maintain its copper landline network in eleven states and the District of Columbia.  

The $200 million investment is less than one percent of the amount phone and DSL customers pay Verizon for service, which means the average customer is financing wireless and fiber expansion, rather than the upkeep of the network they rely on.

In light of the new evidence presented by CWA to regulators, scores of legislators across the region joined the call for renewed investigation into Verizon’s abandonment of the copper network. 

“Verizon pulls in more than a billion dollars in profits each month.  $200 million represents less than half a percent of the $50 billion Verizon spent on its wireline network from 2008 to 2014 and less than one percent of what they charge the average voice customer,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President of District 1 of the Communications Workers of America. “We support Verizon’s expansion of FiOS, but the company also has a legal obligation to provide safe, reliable service over its traditional landline network.”

To put the $200 million in perspective:

  • $200 million represents 0.39 percent of the $50.7 billion Verizon spent on its wireline network from 2008 to 2014. Nearly 100 percent of Verizon’s wireline investment was spent to build its fiber network.[1] CWA supports Verizon’s FiOS expansion. But where Verizon has refused to deploy its all-fiber FiOS network, Verizon has the statutory obligation to maintain its copper plant to provide safe, reliable service. (Verizon spent $59.9 billion on its wireless network, 2008-2014.)
  • The $200 million that Verizon spent over the past seven years on its copper network amounts to an average of $28.6 million a year per year across its entire landline footprint.
  • CWA estimates that Verizon currently has upwards of eight million retail customers on its traditional copper landline network.  (Verizon no longer publicly reports this number.) Using this figure, Verizon’s annual spending on its copper network amounts to about $3.50 a line per year for poles, cables, wires, pedestals, terminals, batteries, and other plant and equipment needed to build, maintain, repair, and service its copper network. (This is a conservative estimate since Verizon had many more copper customers in earlier years.)
  • Across the Verizon landline footprint, residential and single-line business customers pay between $300 and $370 a year for basic voice service and about $400 a year for DSL service.  Even using our conservative calculations, Verizon spends less than one percent of the rate it charges for basic voice service and less than half a percent of the rate it charges for a voice/DSL bundled service on the upkeep of its copper network.
  • Verizon spent $200 million over a seven-year period on a copper network that covers the vast majority of the population in eight states — New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, plus Washington, D.C., and parts of California, Texas, and Florida. (Prior to 2010, the Verizon footprint included an additional 4.8 million lines in 14 additional states.) 

CWA’s letters also point to Verizon’s peer to peer online forums and recent FCC filings by Verizon customers alleging that the company is neglecting copper facilities and lines. Frontline Verizon employees are also chiming in, saying that they’ve seen firsthand how Verizon’s policies, procedures and inadequate investments have led to the virtual abandonment of the copper network and is keeping quality services from paying customers.

These letters come after a series of worker led protests and rallies throughout the Northeast calling on Verizon to negotiate a fair contract with its employees. Verizon makes $1 billion in profits every month and has refused to bargain constructively with its 39,000 employees over the terms of its contract, continuing to insist on the ability to outsource more jobs, increase health care costs by thousands of dollars a person and slash retirement security.

Background Contract Negotiations

39,000 workers are currently working without a contract at Verizon.  Fortune Magazine ranked Verizon the 15th largest corporation in America in 2014, with revenues of $127 billion, profits of $9.6 billion, and market capitalization of $198.4 billion. Verizon had profits of $28 billion over the last five years, and paid its top five executives $249 million during that time. 

On July 21st, Verizon reported profits of $4.4 billion in 2Q2015 on revenues of $32.2 billion. This came on top of $4.2 billion in profits in 1Q2015, which means Verizon has made $1 billion in profits every month for the last 18 months. The company also reported that during the first six months of 2015 it has paid out over $9.3 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks, an increase of almost $5.8 billion over the first half of last year. In the Wireline division, Operating Cash Flow rose to 23.5%, and operating income doubled, from 2.6% to 5.3%. FiOS continues to expand and succeed, now constituting 79% of Verizon consumer revenues on the wireline side, and achieving penetration rates of 35.7% for video and 41.4% for internet in markets where it is competing. 

Verizon has not significantly moved off its outrageous initial bargaining demands, made on June 22nd, which includes the following proposals:

  • Completely eliminating job security and gaining the right to transfer workers at will anywhere in the company’s footprint.
  • Increasing workers’ health care costs by thousands of dollars per person, despite the fact that negotiations in 2011-2012 have cut the company’s health care costs by tens of millions of dollars over the life of the past contract.
  • Removing any restrictions on the company’s right to contract out and offshore union jobs.  This comes on top of Verizon’s outsourcing of thousands of jobs in recent years.
  • Slashing retirement security.
  • Reducing overtime and differential payments.
  • Eliminating the Family Leave Care plan, which provides unpaid leave to care for sick family members or care for a newborn.
  • Eliminating the Accident Disability Plan, which provides benefits to workers injured on the job.

CWA is also negotiating for about 100 Wireless technicians in New York State and 75 retail employees in Brooklyn and Everett, MA.  Verizon’s Wireless operation is even more profitable than Verizon’s wireline operations.  Yet Verizon is not offering major improvements in the technician’s contract and is refusing to negotiate a new contract including major wage and benefit improvements for the retail employees in Brooklyn and Everett, MA.

A damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process. 

In addition, rates for basic telephone service have increased in recent years, even as Verizon has refused to expand their broadband services into many cities and rural communities, and service quality has greatly deteriorated. Verizon’s declining service quality especially impacts customers who cannot afford more advanced cable services, or who live in areas with few options for cable or wireless services. 

In 2005, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) eliminated automatic fines for Verizon’s telephone service quality failures, reasoning that “competition” would improve services.  Instead, service quality plunged. In the 3rd quarter of 2010, Verizon cleared only 1.2% of out of service complaints within 24 hours, almost 79 percentage points lower than the PSC’s 80% requirement.  Rather than reverse course, the PSC changed its measurements, cutting out 92% of customers from service quality measurements and consolidating 28 repair service bureaus into 5 regions.  On paper, terrible service quality was almost miraculously transformed. In reality, service quality continued to decline. 

Verizon Walks Away From $550M+ In Federal Broadband Money

Verizon Only Telecom Company to Do So, Exacerbating Digital Divide 

Millions in Eight States and DC to Remain Without Access to High-Speed Broadband

2000px-Verizon_logo.svg

WASHINGTON- Verizon today became the only major U.S. telecommunications company to turn down federal funding to build broadband in unserved, primarily rural, communities, leaving many residents in eight states and the District of Columbia without access to vital communications options.  The company was offered $568 million over six years by the Federal government to bring broadband to 270,000 locations in Washington, DC, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. 

“Verizon’s track record is clear,” said Bob Master, Assistant to the Vice President of District One of the Communications Workers of America.   “Even while raking in a billion dollars per month in profits, Verizon is turning its back on underserved communities by refusing federal subsidies to expand high-speed internet access. Instead, its top priority is slashing job and retirement security for its employees and eliminating benefits for workers  injured on the job.”

In April, the Federal Communications Commission launched Phase II of the Connect America Fund.  The FCC offered major telecommunications companies nearly $1.7 billion a year over six years to provide high-speed internet and voice to unserved, primarily rural, communities.  The carriers had until August 27 to decide whether to participate.  The program was based on the successful universal service program, which ensured telephone service was available in rural communities.

Verizon accepted funding for two states where it is selling its network to Frontier Communications and rejected funding in the other states it operates.  

Verizon’s attitude toward the federal subsidies is sadly consistent with its approach in New York State, where the company refuses to avail itself of Governor Cuomo’s $500 million New New York Broadband Fund, which offers up to 50% subsidies to companies willing to build high-speed service in underserved areas.  For years, Verizon has steadfastly refused to bring its high-speed internet service (or FiOS) to areas like Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Rome, Utica and numerous other upstate New York cities, as well as much of Eastern Suffolk.  At a series of hearings held by New York State, elected officials from Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, the North Country, the Southern Tier and the Hudson Valley decried the lack of FiOS in their communities.

Campaigns in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have also called for FiOS to be built in their communities.

A damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process.

At the same time, Verizon has been letting its traditional phone network deteriorate.  In 2005, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) eliminated automatic fines for Verizon’s telephone service quality failures, reasoning that “competition” would improve services.  Instead, service quality plunged. In the 3rd quarter of 2010, Verizon cleared only 1.2% of out of service complaints within 24 hours, almost 79 percentage points lower than the PSC’s 80% requirement.  Rather than reverse course, the PSC changed its measurements, cutting out 92% of customers from service quality measurements and consolidating 28 repair service bureaus into 5 regions.  On paper, terrible service quality was almost miraculously transformed. In reality, service quality continued to decline. 

New York State Mayors Join CWA at Bargaining Table, Tell Verizon to Stop Stalling on FiOS

 Elected Officials Representing More Than a Million NYers Write Letters to Verizon Leadership, Demand Action

With Days Remaining Before Contract Expiration, CWA and IBEW Demand Good Jobs, and Verizon Commitment to Good Service and FiOS for All 

Rye, New York – With days remaining before the contract between Verizon and its 39,000 unionized workers, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Kingston Mayor Shayne Gallo joined the workers at a bargaining session with Verizon in Rye, New York.  At the same time, four other elected officials from across New York State wrote letters calling on Verizon to stop ignoring their communities’ need for high-speed internet and television service. 

The unprecedented visit and supportive letters from the Mayors of Albany, Utica and Rome and the Town Supervisor of Brookhaven demonstrate the common cause between the workers and customers around the state who are fed up with Verizon leaving them behind.  Verizon is refusing to build its state-of-the-art FiOS network in lower-income areas, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers at the mercy of their local cable monopoly, while at the same time letting its copper landline network deteriorate. 

In New York City, a damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process.  

The calls to build out FiOS come as the build-out of FiOS has become a bargaining issue between the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Verizon as they negotiate a new contract.  The contract expires at 12 midnight on Saturday August 1 and covers 39,000 CWA and IBEW represented telephone workers from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Read more about possible Verizon strike and the radio ads CWA is running about “Verizon’s Failure to Develop FiOS Broadband Service.

CWA Launches Radio Ads in Seven Regions Slamming Verizon’s Failure to Develop FiOS Broadband Service

Ads Come as Thousands Rallied Last Saturday to Reject Verizon’s Demands to Eliminate Job Security, Slash Pensions, Increase Health Care Costs

With Days Remaining Before Contract Expiration, CWA and IBEW Demand Good Jobs, Verizon Commitment to Good Service

New York – The Communications Workers of America announced today a series of seven radio ads slamming Verizon’s failure to build out universal FiOS broadband across the East Coast. The 30-second ads are scheduled to begin running Wednesday across NYC/New Jersey, Upstate New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware [full scripts below and audio files can be heard here]. 

Listen to the ad for Massachusetts

The ads come on the heels of an announcement that 86% of Verizon workers voted to authorize a strike if necessary. Their labor contract expires at 12 midnight on Saturday August 1 and covers 39,000 CWA and IBEW represented telephone workers from Massachusetts to Virginia.

“Verizon isn’t doing right by their customers or their workers. The company made $9.6 billion in profits in 2014, and reported $4.4 billion in profits just in the 2015 second quarter alone, yet refuses to build its high-speed FiOS network in numerous areas across Verizon’s footprint, especially in lower-income cities like Baltimore, Buffalo and Bethlehem, PA. At the bargaining table, management has refused to budge off harsh contract demands that unfairly penalize the hard-working men and women who make Verizon work,” said Bob Master, Legislative and Political Director for CWA District One. “We reject these demands, and we’re fighting to ensure that Verizon’s workers and customers get the good jobs and good service they deserve.”

The union and its supporters point to the company’s refusal to build out its state-of-the-art FiOS network and its lack of investment in maintaining the original copper network. 

A damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process. 

And recently, a PSC Staff Report on Telecommunications in NYS found: “Aging copper plant is an issue in both urban areas of New York, where Verizon’s fiber technology may run parallel to copper, as well as in rural areas, where fiber deployment is less prevalent…In many areas of New York City, the legacy copper infrastructure is in such poor condition that copper failures due to weather conditions can cause long delays for service restoration and Commission service quality standards are missed.” 

Background On The State Of Negotiations With Verizon

39,000 workers are currently negotiating new contracts at Verizon.  Fortune Magazine ranked Verizon the 15th largest corporation in America in 2014, with revenues of $127 billion, profits of $9.6 billion, and market capitalization of $198.4 billion. Verizon had profits of $28 billion over the last five years, and paid its top five executives $249 million during that time.  

On July 21st, Verizon reported profits of $4.4 billion in 2Q2015 on revenues of $32.2 billion. The company also reported that during the first six months of 2015 it has paid out over $9.3 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks, an increase of almost $5.8 billion over the first half of last year. In the Wireline division, Operating Cash Flow rose to 23.5%, and operating income doubled, from 2.6% to 5.3%. FiOS continues to expand and succeed, now constituting 79% of Verizon consumer revenues on the wireline side, and achieving penetration rates of 35.7% for video and 41.4% for internet in markets where it is competing. 

But at the bargaining table, the story is different. Verizon is demanding:

  • Elimination of long-standing job security protections including protections against layoffs and forced transfers.
  • Slashing retirement security.
  • Sharply increasing health care cost contributions.  Higher deductibles, co-pays and premium sharing.  Remove the union’s right to negotiate over retiree health care.
  • Vastly increasing ability to contract out of work.
  • Off-shoring call center jobs.
  • Elimination of cost-of-living raises.
  • Eliminate Accident Disability Plan for workers injured on the job.
  • Eliminate 20-year old Family Care Leave policy.

Other Radio Ads:

Virginia

Up State New York

Pennsylvania

New York / New Jersey

Maryland

Delaware

Verizon Workers: We’re Ready to Strike

 Thousands Rally in New York to Reject Verizon’s Demands to Eliminate Job Security, Slash Pensions, and Increase Health Care Costs

With a Week Remaining Before Contract Expiration, CWA and IBEW Demand Good Jobs, and Verizon Commitment to Good Service and FiOS for All

|

New York – At a rally today with thousands of workers and supporters, the Communications Workers of America announced that 86% of Verizon workers voted over the last two weeks to authorize a strike if necessary.  The contract expires at 12 midnight on Saturday August 1 and covers 39,000 CWA and IBEW represented telephone workers from Massachusetts to Virginia.

“Our members are clear and they are determined – they reject management’s harsh concessionary demands, including the elimination of job security, sharp increases in workers’ health care costs, and slashing retirement security. Verizon made $9.6 billion in profits in 2014, and reported $4.4 billion in profits just in the 2015 second quarter alone. Their demands are completely outrageous and unwarranted,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President for CWA District One. 

The union and its supporters also pointed to the company’s refusal to build out its state-of-the-art FiOS network and its lack of investment in maintaining the original copper network. 

“On the one hand, Verizon refuses to build its high-speed FiOS network in lower-income areas.  And on the other, they are systemically ignoring maintenance needs on their landline network,” said Ed Mooney, Vice President for CWA District 2-13, which covers Pennsylvania to Virginia.  “This leaves customers at the mercy of a cable monopoly or stuck with deteriorating service while Verizon executives and shareholders rake in billions.”

A damning audit of Verizon’s FiOS rollout in New York City found that Verizon has failed to meet its promise to deliver high-speed fiber optic internet and television to everyone in the city who wanted it.  During its negotiations for a city franchise, Verizon promised that the entire city would be wired with fiber optic cables by June 2014 and that after that date, everyone who wanted FiOS would get it within six months to a year.  The audit found that despite claiming that it had wired the whole city by November 2014, Verizon systematically continues to refuse orders for service.  The audit also found that Verizon stonewalled the audit process. 

In addition, rates for basic telephone service have increased in recent years, even as Verizon has refused to expand their broadband services into many cities and rural communities, and service quality has greatly deteriorated. Verizon’s declining service quality especially impacts customers who cannot afford more advanced cable services, or who live in areas with few options for cable or wireless services.

In 2005, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) eliminated automatic fines for Verizon’s telephone service quality failures, reasoning that “competition” would improve services.  Instead, service quality plunged. In the 3rd quarter of 2010, Verizon cleared only 1.2% of out of service complaints within 24 hours, almost 79 percentage points lower than the PSC’s 80% requirement.  Rather than reverse course, the PSC changed its measurements, cutting out 92% of customers from service quality measurements and consolidating 28 repair service bureaus into 5 regions.  On paper, terrible service quality was almost miraculously transformed. In reality, service quality continued to decline.  

“The 2.5 million members of the New York State AFL-CIO will stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters of CWA and IBEW in their fight for fairness,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. “It is through their hard work and dedication that Verizon continues to rake in huge profits. Yet bargaining proposals offered by Verizon punish workers by taking away job security, reducing pension benefits, and increasing health care costs. The dedicated men and women of CWA and IBEW deserve better. Our brothers and sisters will have the full resources of the NYS AFL-CIO at their disposal until a fair contract is reached.” 

 

Background

39,000 workers are currently negotiating new contracts at Verizon.  Fortune Magazine ranked Verizon the 15th largest corporation in America in 2014, with revenues of $127 billion, profits of $9.6 billion, and market capitalization of $198.4 billion. Verizon had profits of $28 billion over the last five years, and paid its top five executives $249 million during that time.  

On July 21st, Verizon reported profits of $4.4 billion in 2Q2015 on revenues of $32.2 billion. The company also reported that during the first six months of 2015 it has paid out over $9.3 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks, an increase of almost $5.8 billion over the first half of last year. In the Wireline division, Operating Cash Flow rose to 23.5%, and operating income doubled, from 2.6% to 5.3%. FiOS continues to expand and succeed, now constituting 79% of Verizon consumer revenues on the wireline side, and achieving penetration rates of 35.7% for video and 41.4% for internet in markets where it is competing.

But at the bargaining table, the story is different. Verizon is demanding:

  • Elimination of long-standing job security protections including protections against layoffs and forced transfers.
  • Slashing retirement security.
  • Sharply increasing health care cost contributions.  Higher deductibles, co-pays and premium sharing.  Remove the union’s right to negotiate over retiree health care.
  • Vastly increasing ability to contract out of work.
  • Off-shoring call center jobs.
  • Elimination of cost-of-living raises.
  • Eliminate Accident Disability Plan for workers injured on the job.
  • Eliminate 20-year old Family Care Leave policy.

 

After Winning Union Election WMUR Production Assistants Begin To Negotiate Their First Contract

by Christopher Harley FLIKR

by Christopher Harley FLIKR

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor from Brian Wilson. 

My name is Brian Wilson. I am a full-time “Production Assistant” (studio camera, teleprompter, video server and audio operator) at WMUR-TV in Manchester, NH. The station is owned by multi-national media giant, Hearst Corporation.

I am writing to inform you (and ask for your support of) an organizing effort that has been underway among a group of production employees at the station over the past 12-plus months.

On February 25th of this year, Directors/TDs, Production Assistants, and Graphic Designers at the station petitioned the NLRB seeking an election for union representation. After an attempt by the company to exclude workers it calls “freelancers” from the bargaining unit failed, the company agreed to an election.

About six weeks after the petition was filed, on April 6th, 2015, a group of 20 eligible workers voted 15-4 in an NLRB-conducted election to be represented by Local 1228 of the IBEW (the same union that already represents Videographers/Editors, Master Control Operators, and microwave/satellite truck operators at WMUR.)

On April 17th, 2015 the NLRB certified IBEW Local 1228 as the exclusive representative of the bargaining unit.

NLRB Case: http://www.nlrb.gov/case/01-RC-147033

The station and union have agreed to an initial bargaining session which has been tentatively set for early June.

Through collective bargaining, workers in this unit at WMUR are fighting to improve wages and working conditions, gain job security, and to stabilize and make uniform the conditions of employment which so often have been set in an arbitrary and unequal way.

These workers have seen the substantial improvements achieved by the other two bargaining units at the station and are striving to win a first contract that brings the same level of results.

These employees have also seen the financial success of the station, but do not feel that they have been given the opportunity to share in that success. They deserve fair compensation for their hard work and effort in helping to make WMUR as successful and profitable as it is.

I hope that you will support and stand with these workers and their families as they fight for fairness and to secure a place in a shrinking middle class.

Sincerely,

–Brian C. Wilson

Union Members Approve Of Agreement With FairPoint And Completely End Strike

Workers to Return to Work on Wednesday, February 25

AUGUSTA, ME—After three days of voting, IBEW and CWA members in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have ratified tentative agreements with FairPoint Communications. The new agreements protect good jobs and ensure quality telecommunications service for New England communities.

“This is great news for our members, their families, and our communities,” said Peter McLaughlin, chair of the union bargaining committee and Business Manager of IBEW Local 2327 in Maine. “Our members remained united and committed to this fight for more than four months and today we have a fair deal that will bring them back to work and good service back to our communities.”

After initially demanding $700 million in concessions from workers, FairPoint implemented the terms of its proposals on August 28 saying the parties had reached an impasse in bargaining. The implemented terms included a dramatic increase in health care costs, a two-tier wage structure that would have paid new hires as much as 20 percent less to do the same jobs as current workers, and a greatly increased ability to outsource union members’ work to low-wage contractors from outside our region.

Ultimately, FairPoint agreed to a union-administered health insurance plan with better benefits that will cost workers and the company less. FairPoint also agreed to eliminate the two-tier wage structure.

“This agreement is a win for our members and for future FairPoint employees,” said Don Trementozzi, President of CWA Local 1400. “We went on strike last October because we are committed to keeping good, middle-class jobs in New England. Our members walked the lines for more than four months, not just for themselves, but for future generations. Our success will benefit FairPoint workers—and New England’s working families—for years to come.”

The unions also successfully negotiated to protect jobs from outsourcing. During the strike, FairPoint brought in replacement contract workers to do the jobs of experienced, union workers. Complaints skyrocketed in all three states as customers experienced inadequate service, delays for repairs and installations, and increased wait times when calling customer service.

“Our communities have seen the results of outsourcing these last four months, and it has not been pretty,” said Glenn Brackett, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire.  “There’s no replacement for well-trained, skilled workers. Our members are eager to get back to work and get our network functioning the way it should.

Approximately 1,800 FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont launched their strike on October 17. The longest strike in the United States in 2014, workers picketed for 18 weeks.

“Our members are incredible. They walked the picket lines in blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. They stayed strong and they stayed together,” said Mike Spillane, Business Manager of IBEW Local 2326 in Vermont.

The strikers enjoyed widespread support from their communities and from thousands of allies around the world. Lawmakers in all three states walked the picket lines with members; individuals delivered hot beverages and snacks to picketers; and people and organizations contributed more than $350,000 to the Solidarity Fund to provide financial aid for striking workers to pay for everything from prescription medicine to heating oil.

“The support we’ve received over the past four months has been overwhelming,” said McLaughlin. “Union brothers and sisters from all over the country sent financial help and messages of support. And our friends and neighbors right here in New England showed us their appreciation for our sacrifice every day. They knew that our members were not just striking to protect their own jobs, but that they were fighting for good jobs and quality service for all of New England.”

The new contracts will be in effect until August 4, 2018.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) System Council T-9 includes local unions in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and represents nearly 1,500 employees at FairPoint Communications. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400 represents nearly 300 FairPoint employees in the three states. For more information, visit www.FairnessAtFairpoint.com.

Patrick D. Longley: Standing Strong While We Strike Against FairPoint

By Patrick D. Longley 

Patrick on Day 1 and Day 75

Patrick on Day 1 and Day 75

I wrote this essay after being on strike for just a few weeks. It has now been over three months. At the time this was written, I was experiencing many of the same feelings that are now a part of my daily routine: fear, uncertainty, and disappointment; however, these days there is deeper anger and stronger resolve. The strength and unity of the IBEW and CWA throughout this strike is inspirational and historical. While this essay is very personal, I feel that it is representative of the fight we are all actively participating in – as a union.

November 2014

I was hired for employment as a Splice-Service Technician for Bell Atlantic on August 3, 1998. I was happy to have secured a union job with the potential to provide me with a good life. I started my career in Fitchburg, MA at a garage that was within walking distance of my apartment. I was assigned to the oldest open-back utility truck in the fleet, an early ‘80s three-speed manual GMC with over 200,000 hard miles on it. Seasoned technicians from the monopoly-era New England Telephone Company trained me. The early years were learning years. I accepted that in order to make a life for myself I had to be realistic and settle into a job that perhaps was not aligned with my “dreams,” but would be tolerable if not gratifying.

As it turned out, I found much gratification in this job, most notably through interactions with customers. In 2004, I leaped at an opportunity to transfer job location to Milton, VT. I’ve felt privileged to live within the beauty of Vermont’s landscape. I have become well acquainted with many of the towns in Northern Vermont and have been in many homes throughout Chittenden, Franklin, and Lamoille Counties. I have always tried to be respectful to each customer that I visit. Respect is the foundation of good working relationships.

In 2008, FairPoint Communications took over as my employer. They made many promises but the transition made my job less gratifying. Problems with systems caused service delays and unsatisfied customers. On October 26, 2009, FairPoint Communications filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection. The company emerged from bankruptcy in January 2011, thanks in large part due to tireless efforts by its union workforce.

Rainy October 18In April 2014, with a contract set to expire in August, the IBEW and CWA (the unions which represent FairPoint’s workforce) formed a bargaining committee with the goal of negotiating a contract that would be fair for both parties. The unions presented comprehensive proposals that would have saved the company $200 million. Throughout the process, FairPoint did not actively participate in meaningful negotiation. The company’s unwillingness to negotiate demonstrated disrespect for its employees. In May, 25 percent of us in the Milton garage were forced to take on a new shift with only 2 weeks notice. This inconvenience to workers and our families seemed born of spite rather than a necessity of the business.

When our contract expired on August 2 of this year, the company and the union agreed to work under the old contract for an undetermined time period. But at the end of the month, the company declared an impasse and imposed an invariable contract devoid of compromise. The union filed unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The climate at work was in no way gratifying.

As weeks progressed, the unions continued to attempt negotiation. FairPoint’s representatives maintained rigid adherence to their original proposal. The workload was heavy and so was the stress of the whole situation. The company’s demonstrated disrespect for its workforce was taking its toll on those of us who maintain the network.

On October 16, the union and the company met and no compromise was met. The union called a strike and on Friday the 17th I was walking the picket line in Milton. The company claimed that strikers “jammed” call center phone lines and caused service interruptions by vandalizing equipment. No evidence was ever presented. A full-page advertisement was placed in major newspapers stating that the average FairPoint worker is paid $115,000 annually – a blatant embellishment. (Before the strike, I had worked over 400 hours of overtime and, even so, fell far below that salary.)

Since this strike commenced, I’ve heard all the pro-union and anti-union arguments. I’ve read horribly negative remarks by the uninformed. I’ve had middle fingers pointed in my face. I’ve witnessed replacement workers doing my work in an inefficient and unsafe manner. But what sticks with me most is the support I’ve received from my fellow workers and our community. As a union, we are standing strong while facing middle fingers and invective. We are documenting unsafe work practices by replacement workers. We are making our case and receiving positive support from our elected officials. On October 28, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders held a press conference at his office in Burlington urging FairPoint to get back to the bargaining table. Governor Peter Shumlin made an encouraging visit to a picket line in St. Albans and listened to some of my fellow worker’s side of the story. It is time for FairPoint to show some support for its union workforce and focus on real negotiation. Respect is the foundation of good working relationships.

 

Patrick D. Longley

Underhill,VT

 

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement