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Worker Says Verizon Strike 'A Fight For The Middle Class In General'

Workers on strike say inefficiency is one area where Verizon could cut costs to honor former contract terms. The company calls the idea "fairly minor."

Dan Herbert's drive to work used to take about five minutes round-trip.

Today, he can spend anywhere from 80 minutes to three hours getting to and from his job.

Herbert worked as a cable splicer for Verizon in Pottstown.

"It was super convenient," said Herbert, a Verizon employee for nearly 20 years. "Living that close and having my truck that close, my response time ... was about as close to immediate as you could get."

Last year, the company closed the Pottstown facility and transferred roughly 45 employees to Norristown.

Now, Herbert and others drive from Pottstown to Norristown to pick up company vehicles, drive back to Pottstown to work, later return to Norristown, collect their personal vehicles and head home to Pottstown.

"Every time I get in the truck I'm looking at the gas guage," Herbert said of his personal vehicle.

And the company, since the move, also pays for more fuel and vehicle maintenance, he said of trucks that get eight to 10 mpg.

The distance also means Pottstown customers experience a longer wait for service.

"It increases the response time by a minimum of 30 minutes," he said.

And there are more problems.

Early Monday morning, Herbert and about 200 other Verizon employees protested outside a Verizon business just outside Pottstown.

The workers and about 45,000 others from Massachusetts to Virginia . Verizon wants to cut employee pensions, health care and other benefits, union officials for the workers say.

Richard Sibley also worked at the company's Pottstown garage before Verizon closed it.

"I worked there for 18 years," said Sibley, a Verizon cable splicer and Unit 22 president at CWA Local 13000 which covers Montgomery, Bucks and Chester counties. 

The former Pottstown Verizon garage remains for sale and vacant, he said.

Sibley also participated in Monday's protest in Pottstown, where parked cars donned license plates from states as far away as Florida. Sibley said the cars belonged to "strike breakers."

"We were able to see all of the out of state workers," he said. 

The company used union workers and "quality labor" to build its network, then brought in the outsiders to fill local Verizon jobs, he said. Sibley also claimed Verizon is paying the substitute workers for expenses including 12-hour shifts, meals, travel and lodging and is touting "smear ads" that claim workers make higher wages than they actually do.

"If that's what we made, we wouldn't be on strike right now," Sibley said.

According to Sibley, the strike symbolizes the struggle many U.S. families face to make ends meet.

"It seems to have become a fight for the middle class in general," he said.

Sibley estimates the company paid roughly $260 million in additional executive compensation over the last three years. He said second quarter reporting, as of June 2011, indicates Verizon made $6.9 billion in profit.

Sibley claims that in addition to a benefits package that includes a corporate jet, the company's CEO, Lowell McAdam, makes about $55,000 per day, 365 days per year.

"I make roughly in a year what he makes in a day," Sibley said.

On Monday afternoon, Lee Gierczynski, Verizon spokesman for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, said a number of issues contribute to the lack of a contract agreement between management and workers.

Verizon's idea to transport Pottstown workers to Norristown is "fairly minor in the grand scheme of things," Gierczynski said.

"If the union has any issues with the past contract, it was a contract they agreed to," he said. "They had avenues to pursue."

A bigger issue includes the $4 billion dollars per year Verizon spends on employee health care, he said.

"Free health care is not sustainable with 'rampant competition,'" Gierczynski said. "The company and the union need to recognize how the world has changed."

The telecommunications industry experienced a "drastic change," he said, and added that 47 million telephone lines have been reduced to 25 million over the last five years.

Gierczynski said 30% of U.S. households are now wireless.

"The union needs to recognize the current state of the economy and work with the company," he said. "The union chose to go on strike."

Verizon trained "tens of thousands" of people to step into "critical areas," he said.

"It's irrelevant" where those workers come from, he said. "Their goal here is to serve customers."

That said, customers are experiencing longer hold times to reach Verizon's call centers and wait longer for repairs, Gierczynski said.

"At this point, we just ask our customers for their patience and understanding as we work through this," he said.

Meanwhile, employees like Herbert say they just want return to work under the same terms they had.

"Not having my salary has really impacted us," Herbert said of his family's income loss due to the strike. 

"If [Verizon] had offered us the same contract that just expired, I believe we would have signed this morning and be working tonight."

truedat August 16, 2011 at 08:52 PM
The top dogs are laughing their butts off as union and non union middle class people fight with each other on these boards and all across the country. I came across a little story on the web yesterday that really sums it up fantastically. A corporate executive , a union worker and a non union worker are sitting at a table about to have breakfast. On the table are a dozen doughnuts. The corporate executive puts 11 doughnuts on his own plate, points to the remaining doughnut and says to the non union worker "watch out I think the union guy is going to take your doughnut!" The top few execs at a healthy, profitable company make 60 million a year and then want to take away every benefit their union workforce has.And then the non union workers are mad at the union workers for having those benefits in the first place. Unbelievable.
Bob J August 16, 2011 at 11:03 PM
OK..so one idea that was floated by management and shot down by union officials was to allow some of the workers to take their trucks home in stead of having to commute to various locations. The Union said no way. Wonder why? Well its all got to do with overtime and the ability for the union to be able to keep all its members in one location for organizing purposes. Another example of Unions getting in the way of efficiency.
Bob J August 16, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Hey Mel..your a jerk
Bob J August 16, 2011 at 11:17 PM
Hey Mel...Look dumbass, her husband isn't a scab..he works for the company too and believe me he would prefer to do his own damn job. The only reason he is doing your job is because you won't pay $100/month for health care. Cut back on the Starbucks and get back to work. Oh and Mel, you forgot to mention that not only aren't you getting paid, you also won't be getting any benefits in the near future....
jacyn August 16, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Tell my husband where he can pick up his check from you, Mel, that will compensate him for the loyalty you believe he owes you, that will cause him to be fired. You know. So you can get the contract you want, be protected by the union he isn't a part of, and keep both your job and benefits that he doesn't have. We'll be there. We'll even bring picket signs for you to hold while you're yelling, "Fucking scab" at the people who have no choice.
Jim Glidden August 17, 2011 at 12:43 PM
A man stands on his own two feet. I make sure that I have the skills that the market place demands and, as a result, I have no problem finding good work. Ganging up on an employer in an effort to extract higher pay than your skills command is not an honorable way to live one's life.
truedat August 17, 2011 at 12:51 PM
bob j. you are misinformed if you think that the paying into healthcare is the only issue.The company also wants to take away pension,overtime,holidays.sick time,job security(company has sent alot of American jobs to India already) and still more.
truedat August 17, 2011 at 12:55 PM
Jim , someday your kindly employer may decide that in order to make the stock price go up 50 cents (because he has 5 million stock options) that he is going to send your job to India where people will do it for 2 dollars a day. Verizon has already done this to alot of non union workers. Do you defend this ?
bf in pa August 17, 2011 at 01:40 PM
This is an open nerve issue. The union workers want to keep their benefits (I can respect that). Look at other industries (IE the steel and auto industries) the unions bankrupted one and without a Government intervention (at the expense of millions of non union tax payers) would ave been both. I am being called a scab going to work at a Verizon Wireless store. Our company (Verizon Wireless) is not the same company as Verizon Communications. Union member look what a "scab" is. A scab is an outside worker who crosses a picket line to do the job of a striking worker. A company employee who is going to work and being told by his/her boss to do a job isn't a scab, they are the victim of you walking off your job. Take your about average pay and use some of it for YOUR retirement and YOUR health care cost. I have to and so do all the employees simply going to work for the company they worked for before your walked out on it.
James Myers (Editor) August 17, 2011 at 02:34 PM
I've had to delete some of the comments from this article after they were flagged for use of obscenities. I'm glad I can give folks a platform to debate this issue and I have no intention of censoring anyone's opinion on the matter, just keep the language clean. Thanks.
Jim August 17, 2011 at 03:21 PM
wah wah wah I don't have it as good as you so you shouldn't either. The level of stupidity here is amazing. EVERY person here bashing the union people would take what they have in a second, but they would not defend it and it would be lost. They don't get that the last time 1% of the population owned 20% of the wealth we had a depression. That is where we are now heading, but without a middle class or the creation of one, we will not be able to climb out of the mess. Verizon is NOT in any trouble financially,it is not GM or a government entity. VZ wireless IS the same company and the network is THE SAME> Cell phones are not magic the wireless network is maintained by the people on strike. btw the people on strike are fighting for the whole middle class, including those of you who ,out of ignorance, bash it. I could go on but why bother ...
Jim August 17, 2011 at 03:27 PM
A union is only able to get the most a company/industry can afford to pay for a particular skill set. The company agrees to the contract, it is not forced on them. Large corporations and the unions which represent the employeees have a symbiotic relationship. people like you don't understand that.
kjc August 17, 2011 at 03:29 PM
youre an idiot and a scab. why did you fight so hard along with cwa members for union rights over the years under the same ceo who now runs verizon communications. Why are the profits from communications and wireless shared amongst the corporate pigs. same company. dummy. so many jobs on the communications end cover wireless work and vice versa. youre a moron. you didnt get the rights and representation that you wanted so now youre ok with others losing what they got. youre an idiot. verizon wireless ceo is under same corporate structure as communications. check out his benefit package. corporate pigs love employees like you- ones that settle for what they got and defend them. keep feeding the coporate gravy train.
Jim August 17, 2011 at 03:32 PM
I'll try to explain this so even you can understand...VZ/VZwireless, same stock,same ceo, same network(i don't have time to explain that to you) same company and VZ wireless union workers ARE ON STRIKE TOO. I want you to have it as good as I have it, but you want to pull me down to your level, ummm no thanks !
Jim August 17, 2011 at 03:32 PM
sure...and that is the WHOLE story !!!
Jim August 17, 2011 at 03:37 PM
we pay 7% towards our healthcare. and we contribute to our 401k. anything else Einstein ? btw the companies you mention were destoyed by our own government aloowing foreign companies to compete unfairly !! we didn't walk off our jobs ( illegal)WE HAVE NO CONTRACT !!
Jim August 17, 2011 at 03:39 PM
YOU NAILED IT !!!
bf in pa August 17, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Ignorance??? Verizon Wireless is a name only. The actual name of the company is Cellco Inc. It is a joint venture between many companies including Verizon Communications, Vodifone and others. Verizon Wireless is not traded, it is considered a privately held business. Dishing out insults and name calling appears to be the only tactic that union picketers have. They are short of facts or the ability to look towards the future. If your business is down by 40% or more over the past 5 years (which the land line company is) the leaders must make changes. Stop drinking the koolaide and go to the financial stories that are reporting on this strike. Those with any knowledge of business can see that there has got to be changes. I see value in CWA's side of the issue, they need to fight for their members. It is the American way. On the other side the workers of a company have to also fight for the health of that company. The company already has to fight the Government who wants to strip away funds to give to those who will not work. I am glad I will not have to go work for managers (or mangers as many of the CWA video post are calling them, yes, they cannot even spell manager) that they have been throwing insults at. I truly do pray for your prosperity and well-being. Just not at my expense.
bf in pa August 17, 2011 at 04:33 PM
BTW, the day the strike started the first 3 people that bought stuff from my store were all Verizon Communications employees. They took their corporate discount bought stuff then went outside and started striking. Hypocrites. Don't shop at Verizon Wireless is what they are stating on their hand outs to other people outside of my store, but they can buy stuff.
Bob J August 17, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Truedat..I'm not misinformed. I just focused on one issue. I know that Verizon is asking for more than a contribution to healthcare. But they don't want to "take away" pensions, or overtime or sicktime...they just want to reduce the benefit back to a market based level. Those benefits were negoitated when the company was a regulated entity with no competition. Take a look at the benefits that Comcast and Cablevision and Time Warner provide and you will understand where the market is. If you really want to fight for the middle class, go harass the management of those companies.
Norm Hill August 18, 2011 at 12:13 AM
The real name of Verizon wireless is CELLCO, at least that's who signed my checks. It's been only recently that Verizon Wireless was assumed to be part of Verizon Communications. Verizon (55 percent) and Europe's Vodaphone (45 percent) provided initial funding to begin CELLCO. When it came to choosing a name, it was decided Verizon was better known than, say Bell Atlantic Mobile or NYNEX cellular which is what was first purchased. For the record, the unions wanted our employees which numbered far more than the number on strike and we didn't want to as Sprint and AT&T are union and without factoring those pesky union dues, we made far more in salary, bonuses, and profit sharing.

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