LIVINGSTON, NJ — Nearly 40,000 striking Verizon employees returned to work on June 1 after reaching a tentative agreement with Verizon Communications Inc. a day earlier.
The Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) negotiated the contract after more than 11 months of bargaining and 45 days on strike, the CWA said. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this was the largest strike in the United States since Verizon’s protests in 2011.
The agreement includes 1300 new call-center jobs, a 10.9-percent compounded wage increase, three one percent pension increases and what CWA calls a “modest” healthcare increase.
Despite some of the deal’s setbacks, Robert Speer, President and Business Manager of IBEW Local 827, which represents Livingston among its units, said that the strikes set a historic example and that he has high expectations for the future.
“This is something that’s going to make history—the amount of people that stayed out for six weeks straight and had the support of the nation,” said Speer. “I’m hoping that this corporation is realizing that enough’s enough and that people aren’t going to take it anymore.”
Speer said he hopes that Verizon is offered a fair contract by the next bargaining in 2019.
“It’s about getting a respectable contract that the people here in New Jersey and the rest of the country can live with,” said Speer.
According to Speer, local strikers held out for six weeks without pay thanks to the support of the community and fellow unions such as the Teacher’s Union, police officers, pipefitters and plumbers. Speer witnessed community members bring water bottles to the picket lines and local businesses providing meals.
According to Speer, Union members donated to food banks so that Verizon strikers could feed their families and provided financial assistance to cover healthcare costs.
For Verizon wireline employees, the new contract has clear benefits. Speer said that the majority of the unit members will be satisfied with the deal, especially the amount of jobs remaining in New Jersey and the wage increases.
Marie Shearer, a Verizon Exchange Layout Assigner in Livingston and the Chief Steward at IBEW’s Essex Subunit 7, is happy with the deal overall but resents the changes in medical care.
According to Shearer, who has worked with Verizon since 1982, employees did not have to pay into Verizon medical insurance prior to the 2012 contract. Now she says she must do so weekly. The new contract raises the employees' personal contributions.
“By the end of this contract, our monthly contributions will double. Our raise didn’t double, so I think we’re at a loss,” said Shearer. “This means there’s more money we’re putting in and more money we can’t spend on our bills. When you’re counting on every penny that you make to put out more money, it’s a hardship.”
Shearer said she is one of many single parents working in Verizon’s wireline business who will suffer. The parent of two autistic children, she relies on her mother to babysit.
Although Shearer no longer works on rotation, she once struggled to find daycares open on Saturdays and holidays. Speer said he believes that single mothers, like Shearer, formed the backbone of the Livingston Verizon strikes, as well as those across the country.
“Those ladies are to be applauded,” said Speer. “They were out there in the rain, all the time. They acted professionally and they held strong.”
The conflict between Verizon and its middle-class workers reflects the company’s shifting interests and increased customer demand. According to the New York Times, more than 99 percent of the striking employees work in wireline, meaning cable technology. This includes the Fios network, which offers landlines as well as video and Internet service.
The wireline business shrank 2 percent in the last year, while the wireless business steadily grows 7 percent each year and remains mainly non-unionized. The average wireless worker receives lower pay and fewer benefits than wireline employees.
To cut costs in the growing market, CWA said that Verizon planned to outsource call centers to places like the Philippines. This would mean closing locations in the U.S. and eliminating jobs. The unions worked to ensure job security and prevented these planned closings.
This article was written by Molly Glick, a Morristown-Beard High School senior, as part of the TAP into Livingston internship program. Molly recently committed to Northwestern University to study Journalism in the fall.