By Pamela Wolf, J.D. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez has intervened in the ongoing labor dispute between Verizon and the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. After unsuccessful attempts to reach a contract agreement, an estimated 36,000-40,000 Verizon workers went on strike April 13. The parties said they would return to the bargaining table on May 17. When the strike began, Verizon said that it had proposed wage increases, continued retirement benefits—including what it called “a generous 401(k) match—as well as “excellent healthcare benefits,” but “union leaders decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.” Offshoring jobs. The IBEW saw it differently: “Sadly Verizon has refused to compromise on its most extreme demands, like its call to further outsource American jobs overseas, while rejecting our offer to save the company millions in health-care spending without gouging retirees,” the union said. Matters went from bad to worse when the CWA said on May 13 that its representatives had gone to seek a meeting with Verizon executives in the Philippines and were purportedly confronted by armed security and a SWAT team called in by the company. According to the union, Verizon is offshoring customer service calls to numerous call centers in the Philippines, where workers are paid only $1.78 an hour and forced to work overtime without additional compensation. “Executives repeatedly have claimed that Verizon offshores few jobs, and none that affect our members,” CWA President Chris Shelton said. “Recently, our union was contacted by call center workers in the Philippines who revealed that Verizon was lying to our members and the public about the extent of the off-shoring of good American jobs, so we sent four CWA members to the Philippines to learn the truth. When our members uncovered how Verizon is padding its incredible profit margins by replacing good-paying American jobs with poverty-wage jobs abroad, Verizon sent armed guards and a SWAT team after them.” Labor Secretary steps in. The Labor Department issued a release on May 15, stating Perez met with Lowell McAdam, chairman and CEO of Verizon; Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America; and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for “an open, frank and constructive dialogue about finding a comprehensive way forward to resolve disputed issues and get people back to work.” The parties will return to the bargaining table on May 17, according to the DOL. “The best way to resolve this labor dispute is at the bargaining table, and I am heartened by the parties’ mutual commitment to get back to immediate discussions and work toward a new contract,” Perez said. “I was singularly impressed by the parties’ appreciation that time is of the essence, and their strong commitment to use the collective bargaining process to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.”
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