‘Desperate’ Verizon Seeks Scabs to Offset Labor Strike

Telecom giant looks to replace thousands of striking workers.

May 24 2016, 7:36pm

Verizon employees on strike in NYC earlier this week. Image: The All-Nite Images/Flickr

Telecom giant Verizon has put out an urgent call for temporary employees as the company's bitter feud with thousands of striking workers enters its seventh week.

Last month, some 40,000 Verizon technicians and service employees walked off the job after a year of labor negotiations failed to produce a new contract.

The workers, who are represented by the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, argue that Verizon wants to freeze pensions, slash benefits, and outsource jobs to Mexico and the Philippines. The unions also say that the company has refused to negotiate improvements to wages, benefits and working conditions for a group of Verizon Wireless workers who joined CWA in 2014.

After the workers walked out, Verizon said that the company had "trained thousands of non-union Verizon employees to carry out virtually every job function handled by our represented workforce—from making repairs on poles to responding to inquiries in our call centers."

Apparently, that wasn't enough.

"The strike is working, and the top brass is starting to feel the pain."

Verizon is now actively seeking scores of "temporary" workers to repair pole attachments, service customer equipment, and work the phones to deal with angry customers who've dealt with service interruptions as a result of the strike.

"Verizon's attempt to hire thousands of scabs is an assault on the middle class," Dan Cantor, national director of the Working Families Party, told Motherboard by email. "The company is tremendously profitable, but they want to carve more away from working people, just because they can. It's unacceptable."

Candice Johnson, a spokesperson for the CWA, told Motherboard that Verizon's effort to hire temporary workers underscores how "desperate" the telecom giant has become as the strike has progressed. Many of the newly hired temporary workers are woefully unqualified for their new jobs, Johnson said.

Cantor said Verizon's aggressive effort to hire replacement workers "shows that the strike is working, and the top brass is starting to feel the pain. The company is just starting to figure out that it's the workers who actually do the work who keeps the company so successful."

On Tuesday, Verizon's website listed more than 200 openings for "temporary service technicians" throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, where the strike is taking taking place. Locations include: New York City, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Newark, Albany, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Washington, DC.

Among the qualifications: "Ability to perceive differences in wire and cable colors. Must meet weight restriction to comply with OSHA/Company safety standards. Ability to move and/or lift items such as ladders, tools, cable, test equipment and other objects weighing up to 100 pounds."

The current Verizon strike is the largest labor action since 45,000 Verizon workers walked off the job for two weeks in 2011 after contract negotiations broke down, causing widespread customer complaints about installation and repair delays. The two sides eventually were able to strike an agreement that included an 8 percent pay raise for workers.

Rich Young, a Verizon spokesperson, told Motherboard that the company has filled "thousands" of temporary job openings as the strike has progressed. He said that the temporary workers are being used to provide relief for the middle managers, lawyers and accountants whom the company deployed to work as replacements as the strike has unfolded.

Young said the typical job duration for the temporary Verizon workers is two weeks. He said they will not be receiving healthcare benefits during their employment. He added that the company was finding strong interest for temporary positions among unemployed people and college students.

Barry Sine, a New York-based industry analyst at Drexel, Hamilton & Co., estimates that the strike will cost Verizon about $200 million in lost annual earnings, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Analysts at banking giant Wells Fargo have reduced their second quarter Verizon revenue estimate by $343 million and 2016 wireline estimate by $826 million.

As the labor negotiations continue, both Verizon and the labor unions have agreed to a so-called news media blackout. "During these talks they will make no public statements, nor will there be comments from the federal officials involved," US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Labor Dept. did not immediately return a request for further comment on the negotiations.

Update: This post as been updated to reflect that fact that the temporary Verizon workers will not be receiving healthcare benefits.