WESTFIELD, NJ – Several Verizon employees took to the streets in Downtown Westfield to picket outside of the Verizon Wireless store on North Avenue Tuesday afternoon. The workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), are participants of a nationwide strike.
Now in their second week of the strike, workers who have been without a contract since August 2015 are in a contract dispute over a proposed bargaining agreement, pressing for improvements to the proposed medical and retirement benefits as well as increased job security. Verizon is seeking to cap retirement pensions at 30 years, cut medical benefits and outsource thousands of jobs overseas while eliminating several customer service centers based in America.
In a press release issued April 13, Verizon said that the strike is taking place despite the company’s good faith efforts to get to new labor contracts, and that CWA and IBEW leaders were unwilling to make an agreement or even seek the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).
“For the past 10 months, Verizon has tried to reach agreements for the company’s 36,000 wireline associates in the East,” the press release stated. “While the company has on the table proposed wage increases, continued retirement benefits (including a generous 401(k) match) and excellent healthcare benefits, union leaders decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.”
Pete Phillips, a central office technician in Elizabeth, said he is picketing in Westfield because Verizon wants to "cut way back" on medical benefits, freeze pensions and outsource thousands of office jobs overseas, and because of the redistribution of workforce rules.
“We have a long-standing agreement with the company that they can relocate someone 30 miles from their work center, if they needed someone to work in another area,” said Phillips, who said he is a 27-year Verizon veteran. He said that the company is attempting to increase the maximum distance of relocation by fourfold.
“If they get what they want, they can send me to a location 120 miles away for up to two months," he said. "It would be a hardship on someone who has family that they’ve got to take care of.”
Phillips, who is represented by the IBEW, suggested that the strike “isn’t really about the wages, but the benefits.”
Another long-time Verizon employee picketing was Debra Anderson, a consultant for the sales support team in Newark. She said she has been with the company for more than three decades in a career that has spanned through the mergers of New Jersey Bell and Bell Atlantic, among others.
“I’m close to retirement, so I’m going to need these benefits when I retire,” said Anderson. “They’re trying to take back four years of my pension that they’ve already put into, so I have a problem with that. I have to live, I need to survive and I need more money and a fair contract with good benefits and wages.”
“Enough is enough. We want fair wages and benefits now,” Anderson said. “I’ve been through the whole gambit of companies that they have changed and I’m tired of all these mergers.”
The strikers suggested that they will continue to push back Wednesday and beyond that until what they believe is a fair resolution has been reached.