You are hereLabor Notes: Verizon Cuts Off Strikers’ Health Care, as Service Outages Rise

Labor Notes: Verizon Cuts Off Strikers’ Health Care, as Service Outages Rise

-by Mischa Gaus

August 18, 2011- Noisy picket lines are turning away customers at Verizon’s wireless stores as the largest strike in the country weathered a rainy second week. Some service was disrupted throughout the Northeast though the scale of the outages was hard to define.

The strike covers 45,000 members of the Communications Workers (CWA) and Electrical Workers (IBEW) from Massachusetts to Virginia. Verizon wants to eliminate pensions and job security, as well as limit raises and force big health care costs onto current workers and retirees.

On the eve of the strike, Verizon announced it would pay a special $10 billion dividend to shareholders. At the same time, its negotiators were pushing for $1 billion in concessions from workers. The company has made $3 billion already this year, and nearly $20 billion in the last four years.

End Insurance
Verizon announced it would end strikers’ health insurance on August 31. Asked if members had the reaction management hoped for—fear—CWA Local 1400 President Don Trementozzi said, “Not yet. People are pretty fired up. This is the most successful mobilization strike CWA or IBEW has ever experienced. Members’ involvement has been unbelievable.”

CWA has promised to help strikers with medical needs through its defense fund, either by paying monthly premiums through COBRA or by paying for health care services “as needed.”

In addition, it’s possible members could be back on the job before the August 31 deadline. Trementozzi said CWA had said since the beginning that once negotiators saw movement at the bargaining table, members would go back to work, rather than staying out till a definitive agreement is reached.

Meanwhile, his members, who are residential service reps and clerical workers, are flocking to help out at the union hall, even though for many who live in Massachusetts, it’s a long drive up to New Hampshire.

“A lot of my people are so angry at Verizon for how they’ve been treated over the last couple of years, how conditions have deteriorated,” Trementozzi said. “They are holding their own.”

Even in a precarious economy with 9.1 percent unemployment, only 400 of the 45,000 strikers have crossed picket lines, CWA President Larry Cohen reported.

The unions call the strike a defense of stable, decent jobs. They point out that besides pensions and health insurance, the company wants to attack sick leave and disability—while it has shipped tens of thousands of jobs overseas and paid no federal taxes in 2009-10. In fact, Verizon actually claimed a $1.3 billion tax refund.



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