Verizon Workers Stay on the Job as Contract Expires, Pressure Company From Within

On Saturday, August 2, Verizon workers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions cleared out their desks, emptied their lockers, and turned in their tools. They removed the batteries from their equipment and got rid of anything that might make it easier for managers and scabs to do their work while they were on strike. No one doubted that a strike was imminent, and most people expected it to be a long one.

The company was well prepared for a long strike. They lined up 30,000 managers and scabs to work as soon as the union members walked, many of them flown in from around the country. Verizon reportedly reserved eight months worth of hotel rooms and hired additional security personnel to monitor strike-related activities.

But a few hours before the contracts between Verizon and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) were set to expire, the unions announced that they would continue negotiating.

More than 78,000 union members in thirteen states from Maine to Virginia and the District of Columbia returned to Verizon for their regularly scheduled shifts over the next few days without a contract. Under federal law the conditions of the old contract, with the exception of arbitration and dues check-off, still apply.

“I was stunned that we were working without a contract,” said Steve Smith, a Verizon construction worker in Massachusetts and a steward in IBEW Local 2222. “We’ve never done that. Thousands [of workers] who showed up Saturday night were ready to strike.”

“I’ve got 35 years on the job,” said Steve Carney, a field technician in Westchester, New York and a steward in CWA Local 1103. “At first I thought ‘hey, no contract, no work.’ But different times require different strategies.”


Monday morning, August 4 rolled around and everyone was back on the job. And many workers weren’t happy. No one wanted to strike, but people knew the company wasn’t going to back down without a major fight. But as the workers got information out about the strategy, the mood shifted.

“The company wanted us to strike,” said Jim Zanfardino, a service rep in Massachusetts and a member of CWA Local 1400. “When we didn’t that threw a monkey wrench in their plans.”

The unions’ strategy was to surprise the company, stay on the job, and pressure management through an inside strategy, rallies, leafleting customers, and a carrier switch campaign. Since the threat of a strike is still real, Verizon has to keep its strike contingency plan in place, costing the company approximately $1 million a day.

“By staying on the jobs we’re winning the customers’ support,” said Keith Cofresi, a field technician in Staten Island and a member of CWA Local 1102. “Every customer I’ve seen has been behind us 100% in fighting corporate greed.”

Verizon-with a national presence, deep pockets, and a virulently anti-union management inherited from GTE-represents a more formidable foe than the regional phone companies of the past. While the unions have been mobilizing, they weren’t nearly as prepared for a long strike as the company was. And a number of factors make a strike particularly risky.

Following the 1989 four-and-a-half month strike, the union estimated it would take more than two months for the company to begin to feel the effects of a strike.

Most significantly, the unions stand to lose thousands of jobs in the event of a strike. Call center jobs could be moved from New York and New England to lower cost states, or out of the country altogether.

“All of the jobs in my local would be at risk if we strike,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400, representing service representatives in New England. “All the inside jobs period would be at risk. We believe the company has the technology to flip a switch and those jobs are going to go somewhere else.”

In addition, varying levels of economic support in different regions present a challenge in the event of a long strike. jStrikers in New York state would be eligible for unemployment benefits after seven weeks, but strikers everywhere else would probably not be.

CWA members would receive $200 a week in strike benefits after two weeks, and $300 after four weeks. But the IBEW has no strike fund, and its members would have to rely on getting other jobs, food banks, individual contributions, and fundraisers.




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In the first week following the contract expiration there were dozens of pre-work and lunchtime rallies at work locations. Verizon workers, joined by politicians, Jobs with Justice activists, and other supporters picketed Verizon central offices before and after work.

“We have pre-work rallies before we go in,” said Cofresi. “Everyone lines up and goes in together. We wear red [the union color] every day. On Thursdays we have 100% of the people in red; on other days 75-80%.”

Call center workers bring picket signs to work “just in case” they need to walk out. “We keep our picket signs on our desk,” explained Zanfardino. “When we go home, we take them with us. When we go to lunch we take them and practice picket at lunch. It drives management crazy.”

With the help of the AFL-CIO the telecom unions are collecting commitments from Verizon customers to switch to union-represented AT&T local service where it’s available, and to drop extra service features where no union alternative exists. The customers agree to switch back to Verizon once the company signs a fair contract.

The union estimates this could cost Verizon as much as $800 million, and are expecting the threat to move Verizon at the table. It’s a strategy that makes many workers nervous.

“I’ve got mixed feelings,” said Zanfardino. “I understand where the union is coming from. If everybody switches back it’s a good strategy.”

In order to clear out any backlogged work in case of a strike, Verizon declared a state of emergency in many areas, eliminating the limits on forced overtime. For weeks prior to the blackout many members were already working twelve-hour days, seven days a week. And working without a contract has been stressful.

“The company is cracking down,” said Carney. “There’s a lot of fear and intimidation.” During the last strike management fired and suspended roughly 50 workers for strike-related activity, most of it later found to be unfounded.

Verizon started using similar tactics even before the current contract expired. Kathy Blair, a field technician in Westchester, was fired for an alleged incident at an August 2 protest of an operator training for scabs.

“A woman attempted to get in the building,” said Carney. “There were a lot of things being yelled. She turned to see what was said, and missed the curb. She went down hard. She looked at Kathy, who couldn’t have reached her if she’d tried, and said ‘that woman kicked me.’”

The next day management left a note on Blair’s door telling her she would be fired.


Just prior to contract expiration CWA stepped up its web-based version of the newsletter “Unity at Verizon,” with almost daily updates of mobilization activities. Still, many workers are not on the Internet and it’s been difficult to get enough information out to them.

“We could be better,” said Carney. “We need to educate people what work-to-rule is.”

Maintaining an inside strategy campaign over an extended period of time is difficult. Management already closely monitors inside workers, and every second of their time is accounted for.

Outside workers have less supervision, but also have less contact with their co-workers throughout the day, often making it difficult to build a sense of collective action. Working without a contract requires a high level of discipline, and the unions’ ability to keep mobilization happening and information flowing over a sustained period of time will be critical. Time will tell how effective these strategies will be.

Pam Galpern is a field technician and a shop steward in CWA Local 1101 in New York City. For more information on the carrier switch campaign go to