Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Monday, August 22, 2011

Workers of Verizon fight for their Human Right to Strike

2011-08-22 "Bloomberg's gift to Verizon: Sandy Boyer reports on a show of support for striking Verizon workers at a meeting where New York City school officials pushed through a contract for Verizon"
Members of the CWA and the Grassroots Education Movement rally before a PEP meeting

ALTHOUGH IT was recently announced that they were going back to work without a contract, while 45,000 Verizon workers were still on the picket line, New York City's billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the company a $120 million present. His representatives on the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), which replaced the Board of Education, voted last week to give Verizon a two-year, $120 million contract to wire schools for Internet.
But thousands of strikers and their supporters were on hand—just days before an agreement was announced that sends strikers back to work while the company and the unions return to talks—to show they don’t appreciate the gift.
Bloomberg's political appointees weren’t about to let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of their generosity to Verizon. The schools already have Internet connections. This contract will provide wiring for more computerized testing and instruction--something parents and teachers say they don't need or want.
The panel also wasn't fazed by the fact that Verizon has been implicated in a $3.7 million fraud against the city. The company allegedly colluded with a contractor, chosen by the Bloomberg administration, which systematically overcharged the city for Internet wiring. The special investigator for the city school system reported that Verizon facilitated the fraud by keeping silent. Verizon hasn't returned a penny of the $400 million it made from the fraud.

BEFORE THE PEP meeting, nearly 1,000 Verizon workers and their supporters marched outside the high school where the panel met. Most people were wearing red Communication Workers of America (CWA) T-shirts, but there were signs and T-shirts from the Transport Workers Union, AFSCME District Council 37, the United Federation of Teachers and Teamsters Local 237.
As Peter Lamphere, a teacher and member of the Grassroots Education Movement, told the crowd:
"When this strike started, the teachers and parent activists in the Grassroots Education Movement thought about what could help solidarity with strikers make sense to rank-and-file educators. What does a classroom math teacher have in common with a tech who fixes fiber optic cable? When we found out about the contract up for a vote tonight, we realized that we had a heck of a lot in common. We were both being robbed by the same people. The same folks who are demanding concessions on job protections, health care and seniority rights from CWA and IBEW have been caught participating in the defrauding of the children of New York City, and have so far refused to pay the money back."
The Verizon workers on hand for the protest knew exactly what they were striking for. Marcel, a technician in CWA Local 1109 said, "[Corporations] want to be able to get cheap labor, without health benefits, retirement, pension...that's what it's all about. And they want to start with the biggest union around--Verizon CWA. If they can break our union, the rest will follow like a deck of cards."
Robert Hardy, who has worked for Verizon for 21 years, put it in more personal terms: "They want to be able to move us wherever they want, like they do with their workers in Texas. Imagine if your company could come to you and say 'we understand that you have to drop your kids off at school every day, but report to New York or else you're fired.'"
There was a brief rally where labor and community leaders and some local Democratic Party politicians urged everyone to support the strikers. However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for mayor, were nowhere to be seen.
After the rally, people crowded into the small high school auditorium, where the panel was to meet. There was a policewoman standing at the door with a counter, controlling the number who could get in. The auditorium, which holds 300 people at most, was completely packed.
The crowd was there to support the strikers. Before the meeting even started, they were chanting "CWA" and "Verizon sucks." When it got to the Verizon contract, the panel allowed the public to speak. No one was there to represent Verizon. Instead, a succession of union members, parents and community leaders spoke for the strikers.
As a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice said, "Bloomberg should put our children first. Why should he let corporate giants like Verizon and [Rupert] Murdoch feed at the trough?"
Everyone went wild when a representative the New York City Parents Union told the crowd, "We stand with the Verizon workers. We're parents. We're workers." A representative of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents the teachers at the City Colleges, got a huge ovation when he said, "The union movement in New York City is waking up."
Through all this, the panel members sat on stage and tried not to notice what was happening in front of them. Dennis Walcott, Bloomberg's chancellor, who is in charge of New York City's public schools, seemed to be checking his messages.
In the end, only Walcott would defend Verizon. The very first time he got up, people began chanting "Bloomberg stooge." Walcott could only promote the contract by claiming that it was for basic phone service. He was constantly drowned out by shouts of "Liar." One man kept yelling at him, "You're a hack."
But of course, the fix was in. Bloomberg's appointees had already cashed their checks, and they were there to obey orders. The contract was adopted by a vote of 8-4. A mother with a child in the public schools summed it all up: "This contract is a total fraud."

2011-08-22 "Workers denounce union shutdown of Verizon strike" by Andre Damon
The two unions involved in negotiations with Verizon have agreed to shut down picket lines and send their 45,000 members back to work beginning Monday night, without any agreement from the company to withdraw $1 billion in concession demands.
The move is an effort by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to demobilize the two-week-long struggle of Verizon workers as it was beginning to gain broader support and significantly impact the company’s operations. The shutdown of picketing sets the stage for the union to agree to sharp cuts in health care and pensions, along with the elimination of job security. (See, “The betrayal of the Verizon strike” [http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2011/08/pers-a22.html].)
Verizon, which made $22 billion in profits over the past four years, is seeking to freeze pensions for all workers and eliminate pensions for new hires, sharply increase health care costs, and eliminate job security, along with dozens of additional demands.
Many Verizon workers responded to the announcement with a mixture of shock, suspicion and anger, particularly as details of the back-to-work agreement began to come out.
“This is ridiculous. If we were winning, why should we go back?” asked Sean, a central office technician in the Pittsburgh area, in a telephone interview. “The company hasn’t moved on anything,” he added. “They’re still demanding that our pensions be cut, that we pay for health care and that they be allowed to cut jobs.”
Sean said the CWA was not defending its members. “The union just cares about making sure that dues keep coming in.” A significant factor in ending the strike was that the Verizon workers were not paying dues while off the job. The CWA, moreover, had to begin paying strike pay after the second week.
Other workers shared their feelings in online discussions. “The moral of the story is, never think the union has your best interest at heart,” one Verizon worker said on a Facebook page set up by the CWA. “In my opinion, the union got something very nice in return for letting us fall.”
Once workers return from the strike, existing caps on overtime will be suspended. The return-to-work order states, “For one week following the Return to Work Date, the provisions of the CBAs [collective bargaining agreements] regarding overtime caps will not be in effect in order to reduce the work backlog resulting from the strike.”
This, too, garnered outrage, “No overtime caps the first week?? They are going to kill us,” wrote one Verizon worker posting in a Facebook group devoted to the strike.
“I fear that as soon as we clean up the work load, the company will stop bargaining. Is this the best we could do?” another worker asked. Verizon lines have been disrupted by a series of storms in the region over the past few days.
In the event of another strike, the return-to-work agreement includes a voluntary agreement by the union to abide by the antidemocratic court injunctions issued against the striking workers. The injunctions limit the number and size of pickets, together with other restrictions on strike activity. The return-to-work order states, “The Company and the Union agree to abide by the terms of the consent orders and injunctions that were in effect prior to the Return to Work Date.”
The CWA noted in its Saturday conference that eighty workers would lose their jobs due to “allegations of misconduct” during the strike. The return-to-work agreement states, “The parties will meet to discuss the evidence and attempt to resolve any disputes over the imposition of discipline prior to a final determination by the Company on disciplinary action.” This means, explicitly, that the discretion over victimizing strikers will be left to the company, and that these workers have been entirely abandoned by the unions.
Many workers criticized the backdoor character of the negotiations. “I say we vote to have the negotiations made public to all union members... Where is the transparency?” asked one worker on the CWA’s Facebook page. “There is too much that we are not being told.”
Another worker asked, “Why are we always left in the dark about things, except for what they want us to know? A couple of contracts ago, CWA stayed out of work for over 3 weeks, and we returned back to work with the same agreement that was offered by the company in the 1st place… I have never understood that, and never received a reasonable explanation for it.”
Several expressed dismay that they did not know what was in the agreement. “We’re not getting any information from the locals telling us what has been negotiated or not,” one worker wrote.
“For the past decade, the union has sided with the company on virtually every issue,” wrote another. “I have no doubt all of the concessions will be on the union’s side of the contract, where any concessions by the company will be from their wish list of the things they want. How is that a win for any union members? We are so screwed. Again!!”
Another, feeling somewhat marginalized, asked, “I guess I am the only one being optimistic thinking our union leaders will get this done and done for us?”
Neither the unions nor the company announced any changes to Verizon’s demands as a result of the agreement. The union has not announced any demands of its own since the beginning of the strike, insisting that the only issue was “bargaining.”
The CWA said in a statement Saturday afternoon that “We have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured,” adding, “The major issues remain to be discussed.”
Verizon said it was satisfied with the union’s desire to shut down the strike. “The union asked us to allow the workforce back to work, and we agreed, with the terms being that they could work under the previous contract,” said Verizon spokesman Rich Young in a telephone interview Sunday.
Young said that the previous contract, which expired August 6, would be extended for 30 days, while negotiations are ongoing. He said he could not comment on what would happen after the temporary extension lapses.
When asked whether the company would be pursuing more lenient demands, Young said that, with regard to the company’s overall strategy “The agenda is the same.” He added that, “We have made progress on certain issues. We still have critical issues on the table: benefits, work rules, job security,” although he said he could not provide specific details.

2011-08-20 "Verizon workers to return to work, bargaining continues; Bay Area actions build solidarity"
by Paul Greenberg from "Liberation News" [http://pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/verizon-workers-to-return-to.html]:
 Solidarity with Verizon strikers in San Francisco, Aug. 17 (Photo: Tina Landis)

The Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers stated Aug. 20 that “Members of CWA and IBEW at Verizon Communications will return to work on Tuesday, Aug. 23, at which time the contract will be back in force for an indefinite period.
“We have reached agreement with Verizon on how bargaining will proceed and how it will be restructured. The major issues remain to be discussed, but overall, issues now are focused and narrowed.
“We appreciate the unity of our members and the support of so many in the greater community. Now we will focus on bargaining fairly and moving forward.”
That solidarity has been expressed at countless picketlines and support actions across the United States.
CWA and IBEW struck against Verizon because the company was demanding extremely unfair concessions and refused to negotiate in good faith. With 45,000 workers in an area covering Massachusetts to Virginia, this was the largest strike in the United States in the past seven years. Verizon management could not keep up with repairs or even take service orders. They could not install the new services like FiOS. UPS delivery drivers have been honoring the picket lines.

Bay Area solidarity action -
On Wednesday, Aug. 17, about 100 union members and supporters picketed and leafleted in front of the Verizon Wireless store on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. Labor and community activists took turns on the bullhorn speaking out, expressing solidarity and chanting in support of the striking Verizon workers.
The Pacific Media Guild, CWA Local 39521, called the action in San Francisco to support the 45,000 workers on strike. Gloria La Riva, president of the Typographical Sector of the Media Guild, said that her local had “adopted” the Verizon store at 768 Market Street near 4th Street and would picket there every Wednesday from 12 to 1 p.m. for the duration of the strike.
IBEW Local 1245 Business Rep. Landis Marttila said of Verizon, "They’re taking advantage of the wider economic chaos and trying to use that to wrest concessions from folks.” He pointed out that Verizon makes huge profits, and demanded that the company bargain in good faith. Marittila continued, “Keep the fight up, it’s a fight for all of us." IBEW Local 6 was also represented on the picketline.
Others from CWA expressing solidarity on the line included Gayle Crawley, CWA Local 9410 president; John Duggan; Nino Maida, University Professional & Technical Employees, CWA Local 9119; and Francis Grinnon, CWA 9415 Retired Members Council vice president and Veterans For Peace member.
Also speaking were Lisa Hoyos, Director of Strategic Field Initiatives of the Blue Green Alliance, which includes CWA; Tim Paulsen, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO); Ann Worth, Alameda County Labor Council Delegate from Sign Display Union Local 510 IUPAT; Lillian Walker Shelton and Peter Olney, Jobs with Justice; and Frank Lara, ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
Activists turned out from several other unions, including UNITE HERE, ILWU, OPEIU, International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 16 (Stagehands), and the Teamsters.

Activists make link to struggle for Social Security -
Many of the labor and community activists on the picket line walked to the Verizon store directly from an earlier rally defending Social Security two blocks down Market Street in front of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office. Feinstein still has not taken a stand on Social Security issues, including privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age, means-testing or taxing benefits. Social Security contributes not one cent to the federal budget deficit and the national debt. Yet both the Republicans and Democrats continue to put Social Security on the table in the ongoing negotiations over the contrived “debt crisis” drama.
An injury to one is an injury to all. The capitalist class now threatens to take away all the rights and benefits fought for by the workers and oppressed over decades. With all the attacks coming down on labor and the working class in general now we must fight in the streets to defend the gains we have won in the past.
Later the same day, workers picketed a Verizon store in Union City. On Thursday, workers picketed a Verizon store in Berkeley on Shatuck and Kitteridge.
Labor can win!

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