Is the End of the Verizon Strike a Victory for Union Workers?
Earlier this week, Verizon made a tentative deal to end the strike by nearly 40,000 of its union employees. The workers, who were represented by The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America unions, returned to work today under a short-term agreement. The strike has been ongoing since April 13.
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“This agreement will keep good middle-class Verizon jobs here in America, while getting our members back to work serving the consumer,” IBEW representative Myles Calvey said in a statement, reported by The Verge.
In a separate statement, Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America, said, “This contract is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people.”
Provisions of the deal include:
- Over 10 percent in pay raises over the next four years.
- 1,300 new, east-coast call center jobs.
- The suspension of proposed cuts to pensions and accident and disability benefits. (The unions did agree, however, to allow cuts to healthcare benefits.)
Verizon is also claiming victory in the agreement, citing the ability to outsource calls to other states within the U.S. Previously, a set percentage of calls had to be answered by workers in the state they originated from; now, they can be answered by workers anywhere in Verizon’s wireline footprint. The new rule allows for more efficiency, the company says.
“It’s a big deal; it eliminates an unnecessary step,” Richard J. Young, a Verizon spokesman, told The New York Times. “It’s all about minutes here and there. Minutes add up to hours; hours add up to jobs.”
A Win for Workers … But for How Long?
Some experts think that Verizon’s agreement foretells the end of their involvement with the wireline business – meaning that this week’s achievements might be limited in the long-term.
Roger Entner of Recon Analytics told Fortune that he thinks the deal “reinforced their commitment to basically exiting” wireline, “the least profitable, most problematic part of the business.”
“They needed to end the strike and they bit the bullet,” Entner said, adding that that new contract “gives Verizon four years basically to get rid of the unit. Let it be somebody else’s problem.”
Still, it’s possible that this agreement could have positive repercussions for union workers beyond the immediate. Some economists point to the decline of labor unions as a possible explanation for why wages have continued to stagnate, despite an improved economy.
“Workers over all have been greatly diminished in their bargaining power, and wages have been stagnant for quite some time,” Jeffrey H. Keefe, a professor emeritus at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, told The Times. “I want to see the details of this contract, but this may be a real shot in the arm for unions.”
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