Verizon Strike Ends Without Agreement

The big Verizon strike appears to be wrapping up.  From an Associated Press report:

Thousands of striking Verizon workers will return to work starting Monday night, though their contract dispute isn’t over yet.

Both the company and the union say they have agreed to narrow the issues in dispute and have set up a process to negotiate a new contract. But the talks are likely to be contentious. The two sides still disagree on touchy subjects such as health care benefits, pensions, and work rules.

So two weeks of lawless behavior and thuggish intimidation tactics by union strikers got them nowhere.  Of course, union spokespeople are trying to put the best possible face on the situation:

Jim Spellane, a spokesman for the IBEW, said the strike occurred because Verizon “came in with an extreme set of proposals and never really moved off of them.”

But after the 14-day strike, “I think they realized the unions are serious,” he said. “It’s in everybody’s best interest to get back to work.”

What was the “extreme set of proposals” Verizon may have been kinda-sorta intimidated into maybe possibly sweetening a bit?  What suffering did the callous executives of the telecom giant have in mind for the noble middle-class champions of the IBEW and CWA?

Candice Johnson, spokeswoman for the CWA, said Verizon is asking $20,000 per worker in annual concessions. The company has disputed that but hasn’t offered its own figure.

Johnson said earlier this month that the union’s best-paid Verizon workers get about $77,000 a year in New York. The company puts the figure at $91,000 and said benefits average $50,000.

“These are very important issues” being negotiated, she said. “They are issues that help families ensure a middle-class life.”

And how was this brutal reduction in the already difficult six-figure life of the Verizon union worker to be implemented?

Verizon says that it needs to cut costs in the traditional landline phone business, which is in decline as more Americans switch to mobile phones. The company has proposed freezing its pension and switching union workers to its non-union health plan, which has higher costs for employees.

Freezing pensions and asking Verizon’s 61,000 union workers to settle for the same health care package as its 135,000 non-union employees?  Oh, the horror. 

There’s nothing wrong with trying to get the best possible deal from your employer.  Everyone wants better pay and benefits.  No one greets the prospect of reduced pay or benefits with joy.  Conversely, every employer wants to keep labor costs as low as possible.

Every employee is free to reject offers from employers.  Employment can be terminated by either party, for a host of reasons.  Employees may find it advantageous to coordinate their efforts and make collective demands to gain leverage.

The modern private-sector union movement has become dependent on the idea that stockholders and management don’t have a clear moral claim to the company’s assets and profit.  Instead, they are obligated to share this with the workers, who become de facto stockholders, with influence far beyond any actual stock they might own. 

In Verizon’s case, the unions argued that the company’s fast-growing, non-union wireless operation is “supported” by the relatively stagnant, unionized landline division, and the company “can afford to maintain the benefits in the contract that expired on August 6,” as the AP report puts it.  Why should the union be the judge of what Verizon can “afford,” or what employees are “entitled” to?  Especially when they’re not the ones who have to devise business plans to cope with future market conditions?

Modern labor unions aren’t organized groups of employees within a particular company.  They’re more like giant corporations in their own right, selling labor to various other companies… but enjoying special legal advantages thanks to decades-old labor laws, and the occasional lease of hard-core government muscle, as with the NLRB’s assault on Boeing. 

Unions have become corporations that can only compete on unfair playing fields, within specially protected monopolies, while employing a slanted moral language that makes the refusal to accept middle-class benefits into a “defense of middle class interests.”  Meanwhile, those who employ union members are said to be motivated solely by “corporate greed.”  Nobody talks about the “corporate greed” of the IBEW and CWA as they conclude their strike and resume their seats at the bargaining table.