By Justin Harrison, CWA Local 13000 (personal capacity)

On August 2, union contracts for 80,000 Verizon telephone workers expired. As we go to press, CWA and IBEW union members are working with no contract, and negotiations appear to be deadlocked.

Verizon is under tremendous economic and political pressure from Wall Street to prove it has the will to cut costs, increase productivity, and win “flexibility” from the unions. Verizon’s strategy is to confine the unionized work force to the traditional telephone voice and data divisions, while moving new work to non-union subsidiaries.

Meanwhile, the unions are trying to break out of the “core” Domestic Telecom unit and secure a foothold in Verizon’s wireless and data operations. The outcome of this struggle will likely set the tone for labor relations in telecommunications for the next ten years.

Deregulation of local phone services and the growing use of cell phones and high speed “broadband” Internet connections have cut into traditional telephone revenues. Local telephone companies like Verizon have too much money tied up in old plants and equipment for Wall Street’s liking. Wall Street fears Verizon and other phone companies will be left with an underutilized, overcapitalized network and no revenue stream to pay off the debt.

Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created a new framework for the next stage of deregulation and “free market telecommunications”. To promote local telephone competition, the FCC mandated that Verizon allow competitors to access its network at below cost.

Under the new rules, Verizon does not have to share any “new” networks it builds, but is required to maintain and provide competitive access to its existing infrastructure. As a result, Verizon is proposing a massive investment of $20-$40 billion over the next ten years to bring high-speed video, Internet, and voice connections to every customer over a ‘new’ network. This is at the heart of the deadlocked negotiations.

Verizon’s “Transformation” business plan is clear: use revenue from current operations to build a “new” network that they don’t have to share with competitors; cut investment in the current network to the bare minimum to meet regulatory requirements; migrate customers to the new system; and leave unionized workers behind in a regulated, rotting, under-funded local network.

These policies, if enacted, will mean a loss of well-paid union jobs with decent benefits, and a loss of union security for a whole new generation of workers already facing a dire future in the low-wage service sector. They are a threat to all unions, workers, and their families.

In the face of this coordinated and determined attack, “jointness” agreements and cooperation with management will not protect our jobs. Convincing the company of its moral imperative to provide decent wages and benefits will not protect our jobs. Arguing to the company that unions can make the workplace more efficient, and looking for ways to help increase productivity will not protect our jobs. “Flexibility” means contracting out work, eliminating job titles, consolidating and closing work centers, and worse. If we give concessions now, Verizon will just come back later for more.

We are ready to fight! Shut them down before they shut us down! It is time for direct industrial action, backed up by a militant strike if necessary.

  • Oppose further deregulation.
  • No more cuts. No more layoffs.
  • Establish a 30-hour workweek, without loss of pay or benefits, to share work and create jobs.
  • Launch an organizing drive among non-union telecommunication workers.
  • Take the big telecommunications corporations into public ownership, under the democratic control and management of workers and communities. For a national plan of investment in telecommunications infrastructure to create jobs and bring the benefits of the information age to all.
  • Organize rank-and-file committees to support our bargaining committees, prepare for a strike, and let our leadership know that we demand militant action to win these demands!