April 16, 2016
Local union workers picket Verizon
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Verizon lineman Phil Gauss, of Groton, left, and line maintenance worker Brad Mathewson, of Cortland, right, picket outside the Verizon headquarters as part of a strike Friday by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America.
The largest organized strike in this country’s recent memory is going on right now and union workers in Cortland County are part of it.
Roughly 36,000 Verizon workers and members of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers walked off the job Wednesday after the last round of negotiations with the company stalled.
This includes members of the CWA Local 1111 representing Cortland-based workers. On Friday morning about a dozen workers marched in circles outside their offices at 16 Groton Ave.
Workers ranging from field technicians to customer service representatives have been without a contract since August when the previous contract expired. Workers have a long list of demands, including a guarantee that call center jobs won’t be sent overseas and that pensions and health benefits for injured workers remain intact.
Verizon issued a news release Wednesday morning saying the company offered wage increases as well as health and retirement benefits and even agreed to begin mediation with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to resolve the issue, but the unions, “decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.”
“Union leaders have their own agenda rooted in the past and are ignoring today’s digital realities,” Verizon’s chief administrative officer, Marc Reed, said in the statement. “Calling a strike benefits no one, and brings us no closer to resolution.”
Nationwide, union workers are saying the negotiations have failed because they are victims of corporate greed, arguing a company like Verizon, which boasted record-breaking profits last year, can afford to treat workers better than they have.
Groton resident Joe Charbono has worked for Verizon for about 19 years as a field technician. He is also a CWA member and assistant vice president of the Local 1111 eastern district.
He said Friday he and the other 144 union members across Central New York and Northern Pennsylvania agree with the national union’s position that the interests of the workers are being set aside for profit.
“We’re fighting against a company that over the past three years has made a little over $39 billion in profits,” he said. “We feel that at over a billion dollar a month (in) profit, they should be able to meet us with a fair contract.”
Charbono went into some of the reasons he and his fellow union members are striking at the local level, including what he called forced transfers. This means under their contract they would be required to work anywhere in the Verizon coverage area for up to four months.
Union member and cable locator Ed Ryan will have been working for Verizon 29 years in May. He said as far as he’s concerned, that’s four months too many away from his home in Cortland.
“We don’t mind helping out when there’s an emergency somewhere,” Ryan said. “Everybody’s volunteering to go, but just to travel because they don’t want to hire more people to do the job in the area is ridiculous.”
He also said there is plenty of opportunity to retain or create jobs here at home, especially when it comes to the possibility of expanding Fios, Verizon’s fiber optics communications network, here in Cortland.
“We’ve all gone to different areas ... and all worked on building their Fios networks but the company won’t invest in putting it in Central New York,” he said. “The fiber literally runs right through this town. I would like to see the Fios here and all the surrounding areas. There’s no reason they can’t build it here.”
Ray McConville, Verizon’s corporate spokesperson for labor and human resources, said Friday Cortland residents should know the company is committed to customer satisfaction over the course of the strike.
“Right now all of the resources we have in our contingency force, its all being focused on maintaining service,” he said.
Locally, Charbono has said he heard that is not the case. In fact, there have been calls for immediate repairs that have gone unanswered and will likely remain that way for a while, he said.
“We haven’t seen anybody working in this area so the customers ... are getting neglected,” Charbono said. “They’re not getting their installs, they’re not getting their repairs. They’re not getting the service they deserve.”
This strike is the largest strike this country has seen since 2011 when 45,000 union workers were just as frustrated with Verizon as they are now.
That strike lasted nearly three weeks. Charbono said the union is ready to strike longer if necessary.
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