Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers are holding the line of a strike that began last Wednesday at 6 a.m., as tensions between management and employees over off-shoring, pay, and benefits remain high.
Thousands marched in Times Square, holding signs reading "We are people, not machines" and "Build up Fios. Not executive pay," joined by local labor groups and city politicians Monday. Bernie Sanders joined the protesters for the second time since their strike began.
Compensation has emerged as a talking point for both sides of the dispute. Verizon’s CEO received $18 million in compensation last year, 243 times the average Verizon worker, according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who represent the strikers.
Verizon said the average striking worker gets a compensation package worth $130,000 per year, inclusive of salary and benefits like health care and pension contribution; in New York City, that average rises to $160,000. "Most reasonable Americans agree that we offer great jobs," spokesperson Rich Young told BuzzFeed News.
The unions called the number misleading, placing average pay, excluding benefits, at $74,000 a year. (Highly skilled technicians, who install or service Fios fiber-optic cable, top out at $84,600 in New York and about $76,000 elsewhere, while customer service representatives average about $69,000 a year, they said.)
And strikers have clashed with the company with more than just words. On Friday, the CWA reported that two union members were hit by a Verizon management attorney driving his Porsche in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Kevin King, director of corporate communications for Verizon, called the story "total fabrication" and "hogwash" in an email to BuzzFeed News.
"These are the sort of antics we see from the unions during any strike," he wrote. "Similar allegations surfaced four years ago and we expected it again. This is straight out of the union’s playbook: picketers brush-up against cars and claim they were struck."
"I don’t understand that. The police were called," CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson told BuzzFeed News. "Verizon should be instructing its managers to be careful rather than denying responsibility."
Johnson said one of the workers was taken to the hospital, while the other wasn't badly hurt.
Verizon has also faced criticism from customers and city officials since last fall for its uneven rollout of Fios high-speed internet service, with the company defending itself before a fiery City Council hearing in October. Verizon said at the time that the complaints were linked to ongoing negotiations with CWA and called the charges "nonsense."
The company met with the unions on Friday to discuss the contract, including disputes over health care, pensions, and outsourcing, but "after 30 minutes and more demands to devastate workers' jobs, company executives left for the weekend," said CWA representative Ed Mooney in a statement.
King told BuzzFeed News that the company has accepted the support of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which assisted Verizon in reaching an agreement with the unions when workers struck back in 2011.
"It’s now up to the union to come back to the negotiating table," he said.
The nearly 40,000 workers on strike mainly support Verizon's wire-line business and customer service, as opposed to their more profitable wireless division. They have now struck for almost half as long as their last work stoppage, in 2011, which lasted two weeks.
Cora Lewis is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Cora Lewis at email@example.com.
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