How the Verizon strike could impact workers, employers

Posted at 12:46 PM, May 11, 2016

The current Verizon strike could have far-reaching effects on both workers and employers.

While a projected end to the nearly month-long strike is unknown, an amicable truce depends largely on how long both sides are willing to endure the disruption.

“I think the workers feel pretty threatened and would be willing to hold out for a fairly long time,” said Jeremy Schwartz, associate professor of economics at Loyola University. “It depends on how Verizon is able to cope with these workers being absent, and how the workers can cope with being out of work.”

RELATED: Verizon workers lose benefits during strike

Nearly 40,000 unionized workers along the East Coast walked off the job in April, claiming layoffs have led to longer work hours and job insecurity. Strikers said employees are also being forced to work out-of-state positions for extended periods of time.

Workers are surviving on a fund -- about $400 million from the Communication Workers of America -- set aside to help striking families.
But those funds could run dry.
However, union representatives said they aren't going away and that their side will ultimately prevail.
"It's not over money," said Amy Sparks, a Rosedale woman who was on strike outside a Verizon store at The Avenue at White Marsh.
Heavy rain was falling as strikers, many from the Communication Workers of America, walked in a line beside the store holding signs calling on Verizon to meet their demands.
"We're trying to keep the jobs in the USA," Sparks said. She was standing with her son, whom she said she had taken to a free healthcare clinic in order to get a vaccine for HPV, though she previously had health insurance through Verizon.
On May 1, the company canceled health benefits for thousands of workers on strike.
Sparks said she was a survivor of breast cancer, and had her life insurance canceled.
"It could come back tomorrow, and what am I going to do?" she said, adding that it affected more than herself. She brought her son to the picket line. 
"We had to go to the free clinic down at Franklin Square to get his second HPV shot ... because they just canceled my health insurance," she said.
Schwartz said these moves by the company could play a dramatic role in the success of workers' efforts.

“These are not upper-class workers, so I’m sure the time that they’ve had off of work is already pretty painful,” he said. “It will be a difficult time for the workers, but the fact that they’re willing to go this long is a testament to how threatened they feel.”

RELATED: Verizon workers prepare to strike amid contract dispute

While Verizon issued a statement saying they’ve offered workers a 7.5 percent salary increase over the next three years with no layoffs as a final offer, the strike could continue for some time.

“It’s kind of a game of chicken in who blinks first,” Schwartz said.

Negotiations hit a stalemate after sides met last Monday. 
Bob Speer, president and business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, another union involved in the strike, told ABC2 major sticking points include the loss of 3,800 jobs to international outsourcing over the three year term of their previous collective bargaining agreement, which expired in August; the percentage employees pay to receive healthcare benefits; various pension issues; and assurances there would be no layoffs.
Speer said the company was asking its workers to contribute a higher percentage of their earnings toward healthcare benefits.
USA Today reported that Verizon's net profit during the first quarter of 2016 reached $4.4 billion.
Schwartz said the threat of sending jobs oversees strengthens Verizon's hand, as more and more jobs have been outsourced in the past 30 years.
"In Maryland in particular, one in four workers used to be part of a union. Now it's one in 10," he said. "Those union workers have the potential to be replaced by jobs oversees at a much lower cost, and that gives management a lot of power." 
The latest offer from Verizon was rejected by union negotiators. A Verizon spokesperson said that "moved the ball in the opposite direction," and that leaders need to start "getting serious about reaching an agreement."
Speer said his group expected to have a counter-offer written up shortly, with plans to present it to Verizon by the end of the week.
Local union leaders said they believed their stance was strengthened the longer the strike continues.
"If the public gets behind us and we stay as strong as we are right now, we won't have a much longer strike," said Mike Somers, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 2100.

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