Collective bargaining between unions and employers goes through two general stages. Most of the time, it involves professional negotiators hired by organized workers to obtain the best possible salary, benefits, and working conditions. If that doesn’t work to the union’s satisfaction, their Stage Two weapon is the strike.
Any individual worker could refuse to accept the conditions offered by an employer, but when a union does it, the company loses its entire organized work force. This should be a difficult tactic for the company to resist… unless the union’s demands are unreasonable. In that case, the situation becomes a contest of endurance between the company and the strikers, as both corporate revenue and individual compensation are lost.
Companies subjected to a strike don’t usually shut down. They hire outside contractors or non-union labor to keep the business running. Unions refer to these people as “scabs,” and do not like them.
You can judge how unreasonable union demands are by how quickly the strikers turn feral. That happened almost right away with the Verizon strike.
Verizon sells both landline and wireless communications. The wireless division, which accounts for a good 88% of their revenue, is primarily staffed with non-union workers. The older landline division is heavily unionized, with 45,000 workers from the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Their old contract expired on Saturday night, and since they had not been able to hammer out a new agreement with Verizon, they went on strike in nine states and the District of Columbia.
By Tuesday, Verizon was looking for injunctions from courts in Pennsylvania and Delaware, to halt union vandalism and physical confrontations. The company also put out a $50,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and prosecution of individuals that intentionally damage Verizon cables or facilities, or cause or attempt to cause physical injury to any Verizon employee or contractor.”
The Verizon press release lists some of the wacky union hijinks they’ve had to deal with so far:
Ten incidents of fiber-optic lines being deliberately cut in the Bronx, Pomona, Farmingdale and Guilderland in New York; two separate incidents in Tewksbury in Massachusetts; incidents in Bel Air in Maryland, and East Dover, Oakland and Plainfield in New Jersey.
An outage due to stolen electronic equipment in Cedar Grove, N.J., affecting a local police department, among other customers.
An incident due to tampering with a heating system at a central office in Manhattan.
Verizon’s chief security officer, Mike Mason, described these acts of sabotage as “reprehensible,” and pointed out that in addition to inconveniencing customers, they have affected “hospitals, paramedics, fire fighters, law enforcement, and other first responders.”
In an iconic moment from the strike, a union picketer dragged his pre-teen daughter, equipped with a picket sign, in front of a moving truck, and made her stand there while he unleashed a profane tirade at the “scab” truck driver. Warning: extremely graphic language is included in this video clip.
For their part, the Communication Workers of America claims Verizon contractors are deliberately trying to run the strikers down. From NJ.com:
In a statement earlier today, the CWA said it has received nearly two dozen reports of Verizon picketers being hit or narrowly missed by company vehicles driven by Verizon managers or non-union workers.
In one instance, which took place in Howell on Sunday, the victim was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion, said Bob Master, a spokesman for the union.
“All I can tell you is that we’ve never had this before,” said Master, adding he has been involved in four CWA telephone strikes since 1996. “It appears there’s a pattern here of reckless driving.”
If you can stomach the language, watch that video clip, consider the wave of sabotage leveled at Verizon operations, and ask yourself if the CWA’s claims seem plausible.
An Associated Press report filed at the beginning of the strike captures its tone:
Several hundred strikers demonstrated outside the company’s headquarters in lower Manhattan, most wearing red shirts and chanting, “Union busting, it’s disgusting!”
“We are out here fighting for our bargaining rights, said Sharon Bleach, 52, who has worked at Verizon for 25 years. “They want to take away our pensions, our medical, they want to cut our pay.”
Refusing to comply with union demands is not “union busting.” Union bosses are not feudal overlords who own the markets their workers participate in. Corporate profits are not a gift from union princes to their boardroom vassals. Verizon’s landline operation is shrinking. They’re entitled to make whatever offers of compensation fit their business plans. Workers – either individually or organized – are equally free to accept or refuse their offer. It’s telling that the unions so quickly decided that the scales needed to be tipped in their favor through sabotage and intimidation.