Wireless, Landline Jobs Caught Up In Verizon Strike

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Verizon landline workers are on strike. They say their service is the bedrock of the company's booming wireless business. They don't want to give up benefits just because they work on a less profitable side of the business now. Management says to stay competitive, the 45,000 landline workers can't be paid as if the company is still a monopoly.


Forty-five thousand Verizon workers have walked off the job over the traditional issues of pay, health care benefits, pensions and work rules. The strike is traditional in another way. It does not involve the company's booming wireless division. Instead, workers from two unions are striking against the part of Verizon that provides landline service.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.


Along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., Verizon workers are hitting the picket lines. It's been a loud strike, with large number of hostile and vocal strikers and Verizon accusing some of its unionized workers of sabotage.

Melissa Melanson was one of dozens of workers outside Verizon's offices in downtown Boston.


MELISSA MELANSON: We're just trying to what we have already have. We're not trying to fight for anything outlandish. We just would like benefits, fair wages, things that our forefathers basically fought for.

GLINTON: On one side of the fight, two unions: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America. On the other side: Verizon Communications, one of the largest and fastest-growing companies in the telecom industry. Rich Young is a Verizon spokesman.

RICH YOUNG: What we're facing here is Verizon's wireline business is a declining business. We've had a declining number of landlines for the past decade.

GLINTON: The workers on the landline side are union, and on the wireless side, they're not. The landline workers tend to make more money. Verizon says in order for the landline business to be more competitive, it needs to bring pay and benefits more in line with the market.

YOUNG: We're asking the union to sit at the table with an open mind, to look at the state of the economy, the state of this wireline business and work with us on a deal that will make the wireline business more successful.

CANDICE JOHNSON: The idea that these workers are going into somebody's home and installing a rotary telephone, just not true.

GLINTON: Candice Johnson is with the Communications Workers of America. The union says there's a false distinction between the landline and the wireless workers.

JOHNSON: These workers build and maintain the fiber optic network that actually makes wireless communications possible. If you did not have this fiber optic wireline network, you couldn't have the cell phone towers communicating each other. You wouldn't have wireless service.


GLINTON: But that sound, workers on a picket line, is becoming as rare as the sound of, well, a landline telephone ring. The number of labor strikes in the U.S. is at 50-year low, as is the percentage of the work force that's unionized.

David Stebenne is a labor historian at the Ohio State University. He says despite major labor setbacks in recent decades, this particular strike has all the ingredients necessary to be successful. He's going to list those ingredients.

DAVID STEBENNE: If only one major company in a sector that's highly competitive is struck, that helps labor.

GLINTON: So while Verizon may be the industry leader, it has plenty of competitors ready to take any customer, ones who are frustrated after waiting too long on hold or having the service installer show up late or miss an appointment.

STEBENNE: If the union involved is well-organized, well-financed, sophisticated in its leadership and strategy, that helps.

GLINTON: Verizon's unions are among the oldest and best-financed.

STEBENNE: If the issues on the table being fought over are ones that people outside can relate to and feel sympathy toward labor about.

GLINTON: In this case pay, healthcare costs and other benefits.

The final ingredient, Stebenne says: the U.S. president's view on organized labor.

STEBENNE: And at the moment, the Executive Branch is as union-friendly as it has been since the early 1960's.

GLINTON: Stebenne says that's a recipe that could make this strike for unions a rare, recent success.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you are listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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