UPDATE: Verizon Union Rally By CEO's House Sunday
With contract talks stalled, Union leader says that Verizon demonstrators plan to gather outside home of Verizon president and chief executive officer Lowell McAdam.
A few hundred Verizon union members were rallying on Sunday morning outside the home of Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and were planning to stay until at least noon, said said Bill Huber, president and business manager of New Jersey Local 827 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The rally had been planned earlier with a "Worksite Tax Theme," with the union disputing the company's figures showing it had paid billions in taxes at all levels, Huber said. Both sides also report no progress over an unsettled contract.
The union members were planning be at the location for a few hours, and local police already had been contacted, Huber said on Friday. The location of McAdam's house earlier had been identified as Bedminster, but Huber said on Sunday the location of the rally is in Mendham.
Huber said the union members will be rallying with the them of a "Worksite Tax theme." The union has drawn up a flyer that says that Verizon has not paid "a dime" of federal corporate taxes between 2008 and 2010, and also has received a billion worth of rebates from the U.S. Treasury.
"Such assertions by union members misstate the facts, mislead consumers and misrepresent Verizon’s commitment to paying its fair share," Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said on Friday morning.
"Verizon fully complies with all tax laws and pays its fair share of taxes. Verizon paid nearly $4 billion in total taxes in 2011," he said in response to a question about the union's allegations.
Huber on Friday afternoon asserted that the union's facts are correct, and added he is not surprised that Verizon is disputing the figures.
In March, Huber said that McAdam earns as much as the combined annual salaries of more than 300 copper line workers in New Jersey laid off in early April, reducing the staff in that department to about 20.
Huber also said that Verizon union members plan to again rally at some point by the Verizon Center in Basking Ridge, as they had last month.
About 45,000 members of the IBEW and Communications Workers of America _ including more than 5,000 in New Jersey — went on strike on when a previous contract expired in early August. The union members went back on the job by the end of August under an agreement that kept their health benefits and other terms intact. However, there has been no settlement since then, although Huber said last week that talks are set to resume next Monday in Rye, N.Y.
Verizon's online website regarding its bargaining position with the unions said the company has paid $11.1 billion in taxes during the past three year, and also has invested $22.5 billion in Verizon's wireline services during that same time period.
Gierczynski said on Friday that amount includes federal, state, employment, property and other taxes.
Of the planned rally, Gierczynski said, "It's not going to have any impact on all on negotiations. The union typically engages in this type of behavior to mobilize the troops," he said on Thursday night.
"Verizon New Jersey serves only about one third of the number of telephone lines it served 10 years ago, and consequently, the work associated with Verizon’s traditional copper network has steadily declined," Gierczynski added in an email statement on Thursday. "We routinely evaluate the needs of our business and make adjustments as needed to meet our customers’ demands and to better manage the competitive challenges we face."
"Recent layoffs in the company’s Verizon Connected Solutions unit involved employees with roles limited to our shrinking traditional, copper-based business and were simply the result of changing business trends, despite 'the sky-is-falling' contentions of union leaders," the Verizon statement said.
As expected, 336 copper line workers in Verizon's "Connected Solutions" department were laid off at the beginning of April, Huber said. Huber said that now leaves about 20 of those workers in the state.
Huber said between a million and 1.5 million phone customers in New Jersey still have copper-wire phone lines. He said many of those customers, including senior citizens with medical alert systems, don't want to switch to wireless or fiber optic networks. The unions also have filed a complaint against Verizon with the state's Board of Public Utilities regarding the cuts to the Connected Solutions staff, Huber said.
Huber said that copper line based phones can continue operating through prolonged power outages, such as those lasting about a week in 2011's Hurricane Irene and the Oct. 29 snowstorm. The FiOS fiber optic network does not have that capacity, he said last week.
Gierczynski on Thursday said the FiOS network — with much better bandwidth that serves today's customers — can continue operating for about eight hours with battery back-up. He said that most power outages do not last longer than that, and last year's storms were extremely unusual.
But he added the copper lines — unlike the fiber optic network — is more susceptible to weather, and can be knocked out of service by floods, or even wet conditions, even if there is no power outage in an area.
Verizon also previously confirmed that the Verizon Connected Solutions technicians had been told they would be laid off. "With this workload in our wireline unit continuing to decline, we had to adjust our headcount to meet the downward trend," said a statement from the company in March.
Gierczynski on Friday the layoffs would not affect service either to FiOS or customers with copper line phones.
No progress in negotiations
The one area where both sides agree is that no progress has been made recently in working out the terms of an agreement to replace the pact that expired last August.
"There's no indication of progress at this point, the way things are going," Gierczynski said on Thursday night. But he said he would not speculate on future progress, "as long as both sides can continue to try (to get together) for dialogue."
Huber last week said "no progress at all" has been made in contract negotiations with Verizon since March 22, when members of two unions representing Verizon's wireline workers and communications center employees last demonstrated across from the Verizon Center in northern Basking Ridge.
That day was a show of support for affiliated unions holding rallies down through Florida showing discontent over the layoffs and lack of a new union contract to replace a pact that expired on Aug. 6, 2011, Huber said at that time.
Last month, Verizon previously had issued a statement saying the union’s various rallies would have no impact on the bargaining process. "Verizon’s wireline business needs to make meaningful changes to its contracts in order to be competitive," the statement said.
Verizon's online site says that union members who would be subject to the continuing negotiations are being offered a "generous" package. Verizon's stated position is that most union-represented employees pay nothing for health insurance premiums at Verizon and the company is asking that its union-represented employees pay a portion of their health care premiums, as do most other Verizon employees.
Contract talks expected to resume April 16
Last Thursday afternoon, Huber said ongoing negotiations in Rye, N.Y. would not resume until April 16, following the Easter and Passover holidays.
The union workers last summer conducted a strike lasting about 17 day, but returned to their positions last Aug. 23, and have been attempting to close the gap in negotiations ever since, said Huber. "We still are under the old collective bargaining agreement."
He said the IBEW and CWA — representing about 5,600 wireline workers and a similar number in the back office of communications centers — fear the company will declare impasse in talks, and would no longer comply with the terms of the previous contract.
Under an agreement that brought the unions back on the job last Aug. 23, the employees still are covered by the previous benefits package and other terms of the contract that expired in August, Huber said in January.
Huber and other employees at the site, said that points of contention include benefits, safety, salary and other main contract issues. Full health benefits had been a major source of dispute in the negotiations, both sides have said repeatedly.
Huber also said last week he is planning to send letters to the mayors of New Jersey's municipalities, including Bernards Township's, outlining how the layoff of most of the union employees who maintain copper phone wires leaves an inadequate number to maintain a system that he said can function reliably even in a prolonged power outage.
Patch will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.