Local 2108 of the Communications Workers of America protested in Annapolis, Md. Wednesday as part of a tense labor fight with Verizon.
Tensions between the company and union were building even before the labor contract expired Aug. 2. Local 2108 has done a lot to put pressure on Verizon. It has held traditional rallies, conducted theme days, symbolically slit wrists, had a fake funeral, dressed as militants, waved red flags and used a giant inflatable “fat-cat.”
“If I had to limit it to one word I would say fairness,” Local 2108 President Marilyn Irwin told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They want us to pay thousands, each of us, thousands of dollars a year.”
Irwin noted that despite making record profit, the company is now demanding employees pay for more of their own benefits. This includes pensions for retirees, which was the main focus on the rally in Annapolis.
Pensions are just one of the many issues Local 2108 and Verizon are struggling to agree on. The union warned in its June newsletter that the negotiations were likely to be its toughest ever.
“They are already indicating that concessions on job security and every benefit we enjoy now is on the table,” the newsletter noted. “This is not business as usual. They are out to kill our union.”
Healthcare is one major benefit employees also fear the company may take away from them. For the past few Thursdays employees have dressed in red hospital gowns and surgical masks in protest. One employee even put bandages on their wrists to symbolize the company “bleeding us dry.”
The company has fought back though. When employees began dressing in camouflage for “Militant Mondays” one supervisor took issue. The theme was chosen to show solidarity in a humorous way while letting the company know they are serious.
“We had one supervisor threaten our members that they would be sent home without pay,” Irwin noted. “We found in the dress code that it doesn’t ban camouflage.”
Verizon even tried to stop employees from rallying on company grounds. In one incident, Irwin noted, Verizon accused workers of trespassing. A situation she found interesting considering they are employees of the company.
“Two weeks ago this Thursday we had a rally,” she said. “Verizon didn’t like that. They were out the next day with no trespassing signs.”
Irwin also argues despite the record profits, the company has turned its back on its own customers. She noted that Verizon should start investing in its FIOS network again and build up its internal network to better suit customers. The fake funeral, which included a coffin, was to mourn Verizon employees and customers.
“Number one is to be fair to the employees,” Irwin continued. “But also to their customers.”
Benefits were up for debate during the last contract talks in 2012 as well. Irwin notes that the union and employees were much more willing to concede certain benefits because the company was still struggling from the recession. The company, however, is doing much better now.
“The economy was different, we took 16 months to negotiate the contract,” Irwin recalled of the last round of negotiations.
“We made changes in our contract in 2012,” she added. “We’re paying more than we ever have before.”
The one thing the union has not done is authorize a strike. At the moment, though, the union does have the backing of employees if they decide to do so. Instead, Irwin feels the union can get their point across and put pressure on the company while still working.
Verizon did not respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF.
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