Striking Verizon Workers Take to the Streets of Manhattan
Tatiana Hill, Verizon Wireless Sales Representative, says Wireless workers are fighting for basic job protections in their first ever contract negotiation
SHARMINI PERIES, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
Nearly 40 thousand Verizon workers walked off the job last Wednesday after two labor unions in the company failed to reach an agreement. This was after 10 months of negotiations. Verizon raked in 9.6 billion in profits in 2014, 39 billion over the last three years, and Verizon executives made over 249 million last year while the CEO is making almost 90 million annually. While they are back negotiating with the workers, the workers have not let up.
In New York, the strikers took over midtown Manhattan on Monday. Today marks the sixth day of the strike, and it is also the day of the New York primaries. The Communication Workers of America have clearly endorsed Bernie Sanders as their candidate for president. We are now being joined by one of the workers on the picket lines, Tatiana Hill. She is a member of the CWA Local 1109 and she’s on the bargaining committee negotiating with the company for the first union contract for wireless workers.
Tatiana, thank you so much for joining us today.
HILL: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: So, Tatiana, you’ve been off the job since last Wednesday when you walked out with two of the unions trying to negotiate a contract with Verizon failed. While the negotiations are still going on you guys are also on the picket lines. Tell us what the issues are that you are fighting for, you and your co-workers.
HILL: Well, initially we wanted a contract. I’m on the wireless end, but we also have our brothers and sisters from the union from landline, so some of our issues are a little bit different. Would you like me to speak about wireless issues or landline, or both?
PERIES: Well, start with yours particular situation with the wireless workers, and then we can get into the broader reasons why all of you are on strike.
HILL: Okay. Well, for wireless, this is our first contract. There have never been a time when wireless workers for Verizon wireless have had a contract, so we just want to start off with a lot of limitations so we do have fair treatment at work. Previously we had a lot of bullying, sexual harassment, so we want to have a lot of strict guidelines so that the managers will treat us with respect and dignity.
So, part of our contract we want to have just clause language. We want to have grievances and arbitration so that if workers are in trouble or something does happen they have a fair way to get their job back or to fight to keep their job.
PERIES: And when you’re fighting for a contract, currently you’re just workers and you don’t exactly have a contract with specific hours, or, tell me some of the issues you are actually fighting for in terms of the contract.
HILL: So, we want to have scheduling limitations. Our managers, right now, can schedule if and when they please, so if you have childcare issues, if you need to take your children to a daycare, if you have vacation requests, all of those things are at your manager’s whim.
So, a lot of us in wireless have been transferred from store to store. The managers also have the power to do that. Well, being transferred around means that your whole life could change within a week or so. They’ll tell you today, next Monday you’re scheduled to work at a different location. Brooklyn is pretty huge. You can work an hour and a half to two hours away from your home location. Your commute can be very different, expensive. It can be out of your way. IT can limit your time with your family as well, so scheduling is a big, big issue for us.
We want to have fair base pay. Right now the company requires that you work 17 years as a wireless worker before you can reach max base pay. A lot of people at most other companies, say, for example, people who work for New York City, it takes five to six years to reach max pay. So we want fair payment for our work. Also we want job titles to be specifically stated. Most of us are either sales representatives or customer service. In doing that you have to make money, work off commission as well, but they’ve been trying to add non-commissionable items to our workload.
They’ve minimized the tech support we had in the store to zero. They changed customer service duties to be more so on the back end, not on the front with customers, so now sales reps literally are universal. They have to do every single job title in the store for the most part.
PERIES: Now, Tatiana, Verizon made $39 billion in profits over the last three years. What are they saying to you? You’re part of the negotiating committee for this particular contract. Tell us, what are they saying to you in terms of why they can’t meet these basic requirements and needs you’re demanding?
HILL: A lot of their statements revolve around wanting to treat us the same. They don’t seem to respect the fact that we even have a union. A popular statement that’s been made at the bargaining table is, I forgot exactly how they word it, but they’re basically telling us they want to give us fair and equal treatment to the rest of the nation. The rest of the nation doesn’t have a bargaining team. The rest of the nation doesn’t have a union. So they want to treat us just like everyone else, meaning if and when they want to add things to our workload, take away our pay, increase it, they can do that when and if they please. So they want to continue to do that.
PERIES: And, of course, the wireless workers, it’s their first time negotiating such a contract, but why have the rest of the some 39 thousand workers, why have they walked out?
HILL: They have walked out because a lot of these guys have been on the job for 15 to 20 years. They’ve put in a lot of time with this company and the company is now trying to take away a lot of their benefits. They’re trying to change things as far as pension, their 401(k), their health care benefits. These people have families to feed. They have children at home, and the company is taking away the things that are able to afford them to live comfortably. They’re supposed to be middle class workers, and the company is trying to minimize that so they can increase their own, personal profits.
PERIES: Tatiana, today it is the New York primaries, and I understand as a union the Communications Workers of America have endorsed Bernie Sanders. What are the sentiments on the ground, and how are people feeling?
HILL: Can you repeat that one more time? It’s a bit noisy here where I am.
PERIES: Yeah. Today, um, okay. Tatiana, today is the New York primaries, and the [Communications] Workers of America have endorsed Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party candidate. What are the feelings and sentiments on the ground on the day of the primaries?
HILL: Okay. So, Bernie Sanders is an amazing candidate. He’s been in our corner since the very beginning, even before we went on strike. My counterpart, Bianca Cunningham, was fired unfairly because she is a union organizer and supporter. So she seemed to have been fired because of her union activity, even though the company stated otherwise. Bernie literally came to a few rallies where we discussed Bianca being fired. He’s advocated for Bianca to get her job back. He’s spoken publicly about Verizon Wireless firing her.
So, we are very much in love with Bernie Sanders. He’s a man that’s for the people. He supports the labor movement, and he supports middle class workers, so we are extremely happy about him being a candidate. All of us are going out to vote. We’re educating people in our picket lines. We’ve been doing voter registration in different neighborhoods in Brooklyn as well.
PERIES: And Tatiana, this is the first week of your strike. How long do you think you will be out? How long are you prepared to be out as workers, and your coworkers out there?
HILL: So, I can’t say how long we’ll be out on strike. I can say that we’re all dedicated to doing whatever it takes. That’s a big model for us, that we’re going to go to the end [with this]. We don’t know how long it could take. It could be short, it could be long. All of these workers are really fed up. They’re tired of being mistreated and marginalized, so we’re going to go as long as it takes.
PERIES: All right, Tatiana, I thank you so much for joining us today, and all the best with the negotiations.
HILL: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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