Verizon Strike Not as Intimidating as It Appears

Less than half as many workers on strike now, as compared to a similar strike 16 years ago

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. April 15, 2016

Despite its recent strike at Verizon, which started April 13, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) doesn’t have as much muscle to flex as it did 16 years ago. 

In 2000, 85,000 Verizon employees went on strike. In the ensuing decade, the union lost half its membership. Now about 40,000 Verizon employees are striking, noted Peter List, CEO of Kulture, a national labor-employment consultancy based in the Charleston, S.C., area.

Verizon has nearly 40 percent fewer workers than a decade ago, the CWA acknowledged.
The decline in membership is why the union wants to unionize Verizon Wireless, said List, who used to belong to the CWA and was a chief shop steward before he became a union avoidance consultant.

More than 99 percent of the workers on the strike are employed by Verizon’s wireline business, which includes its landline phone service and fiber optic network that supplies Internet, phone and video service, The New York Times and International Business Times reported. A smattering of strikers work for Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless and Verizon are two separate operating companies, List noted. “The growth of wireless, compared to ‘old’ telephones, has transformed the industry. One of the issues of the 2000 strike was the CWA’s desire to unionize Verizon Wireless. They were never able to accomplish it,” he said. “As the technology grew and Wireless grew, the union numbers diminished.”

Strike Pay

The CWA has a propensity to act tough, but when it gets to the picket lines, it typically ends strikes within two weeks before it has to shell out strike pay, List said. That was the case when it went on strike in 2011, he observed.

If the strike goes beyond two weeks, “the financial resources of the union will be strained,” List said.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which also is taking part in the strike, does not have strike pay, List added. The IBEW represents 10,000 of the nearly 40,000 workers on strike. The IBEW employees are in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Strike Issues

List said the strike is about:

  • Cost-containment.
  • Moving newer employees away from pensions to 401(k) plans.
  • More cost-sharing with health benefits.
  • More management flexibility with moving employees around.

In a statement, the CWA said the strike was about:

  • Offshoring and contracting out more customer service work to Mexico, the Philippines and other locations.
  • Cutting job security for all workers.
  • Requiring technicians to work away from home for as long as two months.
  • Refusing to negotiate improvements to wages, benefits and working conditions for those Verizon Wireless workers who are unionized.
  • Freezing pensions at 30 years of service and forcing retirees to pay high health care costs.
  • Slashing benefits for workers injured on the job.

Verizon negotiations began in June 2015 and the workers’ contract expired on Aug. 1. Verizon’s CEO is making 200 times more than the average Verizon employee, according to the CWA.

Business Continuity Plans

As part of Verizon’s business continuity plan for the duration of the strike, trained nonunion employees such as supervisors will cover for striking workers and provide customer assistance.

“Millions of Americans rely on Verizon for the ability to communicate, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon’s wireline network operations. “We remain fully prepared to handle any work stoppage so that our products and services will be available where and when our customers need them.”

The company further asserted that “while the company has on the table proposed wage increases, continued retirement benefits (including a generous 401(k) match) and excellent health care benefits, union leaders decided to call a strike rather than sit down and work on the issues that need to be resolved.”


Phillip Wilson, president and general counsel with the Labor Relations Institute in Broken Arrow, Okla., said, “Strikes are all about leverage. If Verizon can continue operations with replacement workers—and it looks like they can—then the CWA has no leverage and they won’t get anything.” The Labor Relations Institute is a leading full-service labor and positive employee relations consulting firm.

Wilson added, “Not only that, it may backfire,” particularly if one-third the number of regular staff can perform the work of the strikers.

“This is why strikes are rarely effective today. Companies are often able to perform at least as well during a strike—many perform better—which takes away all the leverage from the union,” Wilson said.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.


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