Bernie Sanders joins striking Verizon workers

Union officials say they are trying to protect workers' living standards

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 13 April 2016 13:38
Bernie Sanders joined Verizon workers on a picket line

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has joined thousands of striking Verizon wireless workers - saying they were working for a corporation interested only in its own interests.

Countless thousands of Verizon customers on the US East Coast are facing a potential disruption to the service they receive from the company after nearly 40,000 landline and cable workers went on strike.

The employees are members of two unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represent installers, customer service employees, repairmen and other service workers in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC.

“We’re on strike to maintain good jobs and maintain our standard of living,” said Keith Purce, president of CWA Local 1101 which represents about 3,500 workers in New Yory city.

The Associated Press said union officials had revealed a total of 39,000 workers had walked off the job on Wednesday after talks with the company broke down last week and no new negotiations were scheduled. Mr Sanders - who was criticised by the CEO of Verizon - joined the picket line in New York and addressed the crowds.

The workers’ latest contract expired in August and so far, the unions and management say negotiations have been unsuccessful.

The unions have said Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make lay-offs easier and rely more on contract workers. The telecom giant has said there are health care issues that need to be addressed for retirees and current workers because medical costs have grown and the company also wants “greater flexibility” to manage its workers, the news agency said.

Verizon also is pushing to eliminate a rule that would prevent employees from working away from home for extended periods of time. In a television advert, the unions said the company was trying to “force employees to accept a contract sending their jobs to other parts of the country and even oversees.”

Verizon said on Tuesday that it has worked for more than a year to prepare for the possibility of a strike and has trained thousands of non-union workers to fill in for the striking workers.

Employees from other departments across the US also will be sent to replace the striking workers, the company said. In August 2011, about 45,000 Verizon workers went on strike for about two weeks.

“Let’s make it clear, we are ready for a strike,” Bob Mudge, president of Verizon's wireline network operations said.

The New York Times said that subscribers to Verizon’s cellular phone and data services should not notice any changes. But it added that Verizon’s wireline customers could expect a deterioration in customer service quality.

Even with preparation, the company said it has trained only upward of 10,000 employees to fill in for the nearly 36,000 workers who went on strike. In addition, many unionised workers who are striking have been doing this type of work for far longer than the one year that Verizon has trained nonunion workers to fill in.

“There will almost certainly be some functions which may be slower or unavailable during the strike, because they require specialised skills or there just aren’t sufficient alternative resources available to fill all functions,” said Jan Dawson, an independent technology analyst for Jackdaw Research.

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