Verizon Communications' dispute with its landline workers is getting uglier as it moves from the bargaining table to the courtroom.
The company is seeking injunctions to limit the picket lines, as well as stop what it claims are acts of sabotage, harassment, and blocked access to its facilities. It has been granted statewide injunctions in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, and is heading into court in Massachusetts and New Jersey today.
The escalating dispute calls into question the prospect of an immediate resolution to a strike that began over the weekend, when 45,000 workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states walked off the job. Both sides say they are willing to work things out, but acknowledge they are still far apart on the issues. "We really want to negotiate the issues," said Verizon representative Richard Young. "We're asking the unions to come to the table with an open mind and discuss ways to make this wireline business more competitive and more successful. We're willing to do that. The unions need to do the same."
Communications Workers of America representative Candice Johnson said the talks are continuing.
The injunctions follow what Verizon claims are more than 70 incidents of sabotage, including cut fiber-optic lines, incidents of harassment of management sent to fill in, and vandalism. Verizon said it was offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for these acts. The injunctions limit the number of people who can picket near the entrance, forbids strikers to enter the facilities or block access, demonstrate too closely to private property, and commit acts of harassment or sabotage.
The unions representing the workers, the CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said they are opposed to the injunctions against picketing.
"Workers do have the right to communicate with the public about Verizon's demands and we maintain that CWA members should be able to picket about this dispute," Johnson said.
Johnson added that the unions oppose all violent and illegal actions, and expect all workers to obey the law. She added that there have been more than two dozen reports of union members struck by vehicles on the picket lines by replacement workers and managers.
Verizon is seeking a change in the contract that would allow the company to tie performance with pay, more easily fire workers, and require employees to contribute to their health plan benefits. The company argues that with the traditional landline business slowing--losing phone lines and facing competitive pressure from cable and wireless alternatives--it needs to reduce its cost structure.
Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo yesterday weighed in on the ongoing workers' strike, reiterating the company's position that the cost structure needs to change for the legacy wireline business.
"From a competitive cost structure, something has to change for it to be a viable and sustainable business," Shammo said. He added that the terms of its proposed contract are equivalent to what other telcos have offered to their employees, and remains significantly better than the equivalent cable worker.
The union has argued that Verizon remains highly profitable, and have rejected the calls for change.
The strike affects the company's landline unit, and doesn't disrupt service for its wireless operations, which are a separate part of the business that is jointly owned by Vodafone Group.