WASHINGTON -The head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, George Cohen, has stepped in to try to bring an agreement in the struggle of the Communications Workers and the Electrical Workers against Verizon.
The struggle has seen the members of the unions, which together represent 45,000 workers at the giant telecom, refuse Verizon's demands for what CWA President Larry Cohen says would be 50 years' worth of rollbacks in workers' gains.
The first session was at the FMCS offices here on July 25. George Cohen also asked both the unions and the company to put a lid on comments about the talks.
"Because of the sensitivity of these negotiations, in keeping with our past custom and practice, and the agreement between the parties, the FMCS and the parties will refrain from any public comment concerning the future schedule and/or the status of talks among the parties until further notice," George Cohen said.
The unions note Verizon's brass still refuses to move off its concessionary demands, even after a year of bargaining and a two-week strike last August that forced Verizon back to the table. Verizon also fired 23 workers for picket line "disruptions" of various types, such as alleged threats to supervisors who crossed lines.
The National Labor Relations Board has ruled the firings are illegal, and CWA President Cohen said recently that a settlement will not occur until the 23 are returned to their jobs and their discipline wiped off the books.
Verizon wants to drastically cut benefits and employment security, the unions note, though it netted more than $16.3 billion over the past four years. The $100 billion firm's board recently raised its CEO's compensation by 200 percent annually, to $23.1 million.
"This delay in reaching a fair agreement is not only bad for workers, it's bad for consumers and bad for our communities," said, CWA Vice President Chris Shelton and IBEW Council 6 Chairman Myles Calvey before FMCS entered.
"For the past year, we have been flexible and shown a willingness to negotiate, including significant proposals on healthcare and other key issues for management, but management continues to insist on proposals that would reduce jobs and cut our benefits by thousands of additional dollars per year, and fail to return thousands of jobs that the company has offshored," added CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney, 2-13 and Bill Huber, President of IBEW Local 827.
"The company still wants givebacks that would destroy the standard of living of our workers and their families," Larry Cohen said before the FMCS session.
Photo: Tony Fischer // CC 2.0