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Workers: Does Strike at Verizon Have Darker Horizon?

August 15, 2011

NEW YORK - More than 45,000 members of two unions - IBEW and CWA - have entered the second week of a strike against Verizon. During negotiations on a new contract, each side accused the other of not bargaining in good faith. The company says it is losing customers and revenue in its land-line business, as people turn to wireless, cable and Internet calling options.

George Bloom of CWA Local 1104 on Long Island says the dozens of concessions Verizon wants include a pension freeze, fewer sick days and higher employee health insurance contributions. He sees this as part of a broader pattern.

"They're trying to capitalize on what's going on in Wisconsin and Ohio, and on the economy. They believe it's stylish for corporations to prey on the middle class."

He says other unions are closely watching the nation's largest strike in four years because the IBEW and CWA are strong unions, and if they don't prevail, the implications for labor in general could be dire.

The solidarity expressed by other labor unions is appreciated - and understandable, Bloom says.

"They recognize that this a fight for our lives; it's a fight for the middle class. They know the CWA is a very powerful union, the IBEW is a very powerful union. Between the two of us, if we can't bring this corporation to their senses, they're worried where they're going to stand."

Verizon workers are being supported by organizations like Long Island Jobs With Justice, where Charlene Obernauer is not buying the company's claim that the large-scale concessions it is asking for are driven by falling revenue.

"That's ridiculous. Verizon earned $6.9 billion in net income for the first six months of this year. Their top executives pulled in a quarter-billion dollars last year. Verizon's chairman was paid 300 times what an average worker earns."

Bloom says the unions helped Verizon when the company went before legislatures and regulatory agencies to expand into cable and fiberoptics, but he says the company doesn't seem to appreciate that.

"After everything we've done for them to make them a profitable company - they have a short memory."

Verizon went to court late in the week, seeking injunctions to limit picketing and claiming instances of vandalism by striking workers. The unions say they oppose all violent and illegal actions.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY