Exclusive: Verizon letter disputes union claims

Tina Nguyen Contributor
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In a private letter obtained by the Daily Caller, Verizon flatly denied claims that the company has been preventing union workers from repairing networks damaged by Hurricane Irene as punishment for going on strike.

The telecom company’s regional president Tracey Edwards blasted recent claims that Verizon had been denying overtime to workers fixing downed telephone lines after Hurricane Irene as punishment for striking. “Those comments are way off base and just flat out wrong,” Edwards stated.

“As you well know, many times the union leadership directs technicians to turn down offered overtime. In fact, technicians in Suffolk County turned down the opportunity to work overtime, negatively impacting customers. In one especially critical case they refused overtime to restore a cable cut affecting the Huntington area.”

Though the strike may be over, the struggle between CWA and Verizon over landline workers’ contracts reached a new level last week. At a public rally with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, CWA Distrcit 1 Vice President Chris Shelton alleged Verizon was retaliating against workers for striking by preventing them from working overtime.

“The customers who are out, they’re leaving them out. They don’t care,” Shelton said. “They’re just sitting there with thousands of repair jobs.”

The strike, which lasted two weeks in August, rose from a contract dispute between landline workers, represented by the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and Verizon Wireless. Nearly 45,000 workers went on strike after negotiations over possible cuts in wages, pension eliminations, and employee contributions to health care plans fell through on August 7.

The striking employees eventually returned to work two weeks later when the unions and Verizon reached an agreement to continue bargaining, but the contentious war of words between the two entities has continued in public.

This spat was the most recent iteration of Shelton accusing Verizon of preventing “ready, willing, and more than able” employees from working overtime to fix downed lines and poles in retaliation for the strikes.

The Verizon letter retorted that “with our employees’ safety paramount — we must await the go-ahead by power companies that a particular area is safe for our work. These areas also must be free from loose, uprooted and dangling tree branches and trunks.”

Chris Shelton could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Update (5:10 PM):  Chris Shelton gave the following statement to the Caller:  

“Verizon finally declared an emergency today to meet the needs of their customers whom they have been ignoring since CWA members went back to work.  As of yesterday, there were approximately 40,000 customers awaiting repairs.  It took Verizon a week after the hurricane to declare an emergency, after we went to the newspapers.”

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Tina Nguyen