Workers at two corporate-run Verizon retail stores north of Seattle, Washington—in Everett and Lynnwood, respectively—voted to unionize in April 2022, becoming the first retail stores outside of New York to do so.

About 15 workers across the two locations voted nearly unanimously to unionize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), after their request for voluntary recognition in March 2022 was rejected by Verizon. 

Since the union election win, workers have filed five separate unfair labor practice charges against Verizon. Meanwhile, Verizon retail workers in Portland, Oregon, and Flint, Michigan, have also recently filed for union elections, citing the union win in Washington as a major inspiration. The CWA has made a point of calling out Verizon’s long history of union busting at their retail stores, including in 2014 when several stores in New York City unionized.

Since the union election win, workers have filed five separate unfair labor practice charges against Verizon.

The charges against Verizon include: claims that two workers were fired in retaliation for union activity; a change in dress code policy that prohibits workers from wearing union pins (a form of protected activity, as outlined by the National Labor Relations Board); denying a worker union representation during a meeting with a manager after the union election win; and threatening a worker with discipline for asking a question about staffing. 

The day after attending the union election victory party for the Everett and Lynnwood stores, Jesse Mason, a Verizon sales rep in Washington state who was leading a union organizing effort at an additional two stores in Seattle Northgate and Aurora Village, was fired. He filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, alleging that he was unjustly fired by Verizon in retaliation for union activity. 

“I went to their vote count party and was photographed celebrating their election win, and then I went back to work the next day. At the end of the day, they fired me, after working my whole shift,” Mason told TRNN. 

After the union organizing campaigns went public, Mason noted, human resource executives from Verizon descended upon the stores to dissuade workers from unionizing and to tamp down their organizing efforts through one-on-ones with workers. 

Mason explained that short staffing in stores, unilateral policy changes handed down from corporate, and pay issues were among the key factors contributing to workers wanting to unionize. 

“At Verizon there was consistently a queue all the time—anywhere from half an hour to an hour or two hours where people were checked in and waiting—and oftentimes the stores were appointment only, so people were getting turned away at the door,” added Mason. “It made the job really stressful.” 

He noted that, despite being a top sales rep, he only received a meager 1% raise in 2022; moreover, he complained that commission goals were frequently changed without input from workers. 

In an unfair labor practice charge filed with the NLRB, the CWA claimed Mason’s firing was illegal and is seeking his reinstatement.

“Jesse’s firing, just days after dozens of other workers at two nearby Verizon Wireless retail stores successfully formed a union, is a clear tactic meant to intimidate other workers,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens in a public statement. “This is par for the course from Verizon, which is notorious for trying every anti-union tactic in the book in its retail stores.”

Like workers in a myriad of other industries—healthcare, education, retail, and more—workers at Verizon report having to deal with chronic understaffing. Austin Hitch, an employee at Verizon for about 10 years and a union organizer at the Everett and Lynnwood retail stores, explained that understaffing has been a significant issue at the stores. Customers have to make appointments and wait in long queues, Hitch notes, because there are only two to three workers on staff in the store at any given time. 

“Corporations in general need to understand their workers deserve to be treated with respect, compensated fairly, to have grievances heard, and not be treated like cattle.”

Austin Hitch, Verizon employee and union organizer

“The amount we are understaffed—it’s unsustainable and it leads to terrible employee and customer experiences,” Hitch told TRNN. “Corporations in general need to understand their workers deserve to be treated with respect, compensated fairly, to have grievances heard, and not be treated like cattle.” 

 Hitch said a manager actually threatened to write him up with a code of conduct violation because he asked a question about understaffing during a morning meeting. Workers have included this interaction between Hitch and the manager in question among the unfair labor practices charges filed with the NLRB. 

“It [A code of conduct violation] can mean a write up, disciplinary mark, or it could also lead to termination,” added Hitch. “What those threats feel like is worrying, I have a mortgage to pay and medical bills.”

Natalia D’aigle started working at Verizon right before the company’s human resource executives came into the stores to try to stop the union campaign, but she immediately supported the union—and felt the camaraderie among her coworkers, which only grew as they held firm against Verizon’s efforts to stop it. She filed an unfair labor practice charge related to a change in Verizon’s dress code policy that prohibits workers from wearing pro-union pins, though federal labor laws permit workers to do so. 

“Having all of the HR union busters in the store was definitely hard at first. It was a little weird. It’s uncomfortable to be put in a room and have them ask you intense questions about the job,” said D’aigle. “These things are not fun to go through, you never want to have an unfair labor practice, but when you have a support system to talk to and say ‘I’m not going to let this go unnoticed, I’m not going to let it go unchecked,’ it gives you a sense of strength.”

Verizon did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story. Workers at the Everett and Lynnwood stores ratified their first union contract on Aug. 1 in spite of the union busting and allegations of retaliation.

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a contributor to The Guardian and a journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @msainat1.