At 12:01am on Sunday over 45,000 Verizon employees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states went on strike as a result of failed negotiations between workers and management on Saturday evening. The collective action has been initiated and organized by the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
Late last week management at Verizon Communications Inc. demanded that the workers accept a bevy of concessions. According to CNET, the company is attempting to “change employment contract terms to allow it to more easily fire workers, tie pay increases to job performance, halt pension accruals this year, and require union workers to contribute to health-plan premiums.” Most participating in the strike are field technicians whose base pay, by Verizon’s own admission, begins at $19,864/yr. Meanwhile over the past year, Ivan Seidenberg, the company’s CEO has witnessed his compensation burgeon by more than 4% to $18.1 million. Know this: Seidenberg accrues, on average, 947 times more than the field technicians he employs.
Critics of the strike argue that slashing worker benefits is a necessary cost-saving measure during difficult financial times. Perhaps; but how then does Verizon explain its demands in light of its record profits? Verizon’s quarterly report released on January 10, 2011, claimed that that its profits nearly doubled from the same point in 2010 ($4.65 billion compared to $2.37 billion). Then, on April 21, 2011 Bloomberg reported that the company’s profits “more than tripled after Verizon began offering services on Apple’s iPhone. If these figures aren’t troubling enough, Verizon paid an effective corporate tax rate of 19.2% last year, a rate significantly lower than my federal income tax rate and I’m a graduate student.
What makes this story so remarkable is precisely that it isn’t. Whether it’s Verizon or Boeing or Starbucks the capitalist mantra has changed very little over the past few centuries: privatize profit, socialize debt. Repeat. Is it really too radical an idea to demand that everyone receives firsts before some take seconds? Far from communist tub-thumping, my request is for table manners.