Verizon Communications workers on strike are taking to Facebook to organize demonstrations and call out companies and individuals who cross the picket lines, CNET has learned.
Workers have set up a Facebook page that has already garnered more than 5,400 members of the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The primary aim is to educate employees on the issue, create a level of solidarity among workers, and organize demonstrations.
While the use of social networks to rally people to a cause isn't new--Facebook was a catalyst in the Egyption revolution--it appears this is the first time workers have used it to coordinate strike activities in any major way.
"As far as I know, this is a new phenomenon," said Doreen Davis, a labor attorney for law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius. "In a big strike like this, we haven't seen this kind of activity on social media."
While the main page is largely innocuous, there are documents posted that call for a boycott of specific businesses such as Pepsi and Fed-Ex, which continue to do business with Verizon. The page calls for employees to avoid restaurants run by Darden, including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and The Capital Grille because the chief executive is a Verizon director.
The page has also become a place to coordinate mass picket lines, which are illegal. Davis noted that because they were posting the plans on a public forum, the workers were likely unwittingly helping Verizon crack down on the demonstrations.
Another page lists out "scabs," or employees who cross the picket line and continue working. On the "T Scab Hunter Cwa," Facebook page, there was a document listing employees who crossed the picket line. The document, which was available to the public as recently as yesterday, has been disabled. Some of the names still appear in the comments displayed under where the document used to be.
That's a concern as the dispute turns uglier, with Verizon claiming acts of sabotage, harassment, and large picket lines that block the entrances to its facilities. The company has won injunctions in New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware to limit the union's picketing activities, and is in court in Massachusetts and New Jersey today for similar motions. Picketers in Randallstown, Md., were arrested for blocking a facility.
Verizon said today it has encountered more than 90 acts of sabotage against network facilities, some of which have temporarily affected service to thousands of customers in certain regions. The company said it was offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for such acts of sabotage. It is also working with the FBI to investigate these incidents.
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"Verizon urge strikers to express their views in peaceful fashion and in accordance with the law," said Verizon Chief Security Officer Mike Mason. "Some are engaging in criminal intimidation of Verizon employees, and we will not tolerate that."
Given the number of employees and the geographic range of the strike, the activities are expected, as these incidents have played a part in prior work stoppages.
"It didn't shock me," Davis said. "It's not unusual to have a lot of sabotage and petty incidents."
Candice Johnson, a representative for the CWA, said she was looking into the Facebook pages. She also urged restraint, but from Verizon, noting there have been reports that replacement workers and managers have been "too aggressive" with their driving, and said there have been two dozen reports of picketers getting struck by vehicles.
Verizon's push to change the terms of its contract with 45,000 workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states sparked the strike, which began over the weekend. While Verizon has argued that the eroding landline business justifies the cut in benefits, the unions have pointed to the company's profits--largely from the wireless end--and rejected the changes.
The decision to strike was a surprise tactic by the union given the state of the economy and the high unemployment rate, Davis said. She added that in prior negotiations, unions have preferred to drag their feet in negotiations and extend the talks because it would keep the benefits in place a little longer.
Verizon, meanwhile, issued a statement today saying that the company continues to "provide solid service" despite the loss of its workers.
Both sides say they are continuing to talk, meeting in Rye, N.Y., and Philadelphia, although it appears they are far apart in their stances.