Mike Elk is a labor journalist and staff writer for In These Times
Crossposted from the In These Times Working blog
Citing Obama's healthcare reform legislation, the company wants concessions. Union members want a show of solidarity
Last Saturday, about 100 Verizon workers and their supporters from the Washington D.C. area —some of the 45,000 company employees who went on strike last week around the country—protested outside of a Verizon wireless store at 13th and F streets. Verizon is demanding nearly $1 billion in concessions from union workers after the company recorded $10.2 billion in profits last year.
Mike Harris, president of D.C.-based Communication Workers of America Local 2336, told me that the concessions “would crush the union." Many union supporters have said that the total cost, per employee, of the pay and benefit concessions Verizon is seeking is seeking would amount to $20,000.
The picket line I attended on Saturday was only two blocks from the White House. President Barack Obama was not on the picket line. “I know the president is a very busy man, but he should be here,” Harris said. “This is a fight about saving the middle class and saving our union."
Indeed, during his campaign, President Obama said: "If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain, when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States because Americans deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”
Harris believes his union’s ability to bargain is being threatened by Verizon’s demands—but so far the president has not marched on a single picket line. The White House has not even issued a statement on where it stands on the largest strike in four years. The White House press office declined to comment on the strike.
It would not be unprecedented for a U.S. president to become involved in resolving a labor struggle. In the past, presidents have often stepped up in to help mediate a labor struggle and have occasionally even sided with workers in a labor struggle. In December 2008, President-elect Obama sided with workers in a labor struggle when he made a statement of support for the UE workers occupying Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago.
Yet the White House has made no public statements whatsoever on the Verizon strike.
This despite the fact that President Obama’s healthcare reform is playing a very big role in Verizon’s push for workers to pay more for healthcare. Currently, Verizon union workers say they pay 7 percent of their healthcare in the form of co-pays and deductibles (they do not pay premiums). Under Verizon’s plan, workers would pay premiums, contributing at least $1,200 each year. The company has cited the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") as the reason for asking union employees to contribute to their healthcare plan.
In literature distributed to employees and in the press, Verizon said:
Under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an excise tax will be levied on healthcare plans with very generous plan design components (so-called "Cadillac plans"). . . . This excise tax is projected to cost the company as much as $200 million in 2018 when the tax is imposed; however, Verizon is required to account for this cost now. Accordingly, we will need to modify plan designs to avoid the impact of this tax.
President Obama could release a statement saying it is wrong for companies to shift excise tax costs to workers (seven years before the tax goes into effect)—something Obama said would not happen when the legislation passed last year.
An image of President Obama standing on a picket line with workers fighting a profitable company demanding deep concessions could help Obama win re-election in 2012. By standing with Verizon picketers, the president could help heal an uneasy relationship with organized labor, which has been frustrated by Obama’s failure to push for labor law reform, his focus on lowering the deficit as opposed to creating jobs, and his push for free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Standing with striking Verizon workers could help capture some of the same energy unleashed by this year's protests in Madison, Wis.
Instead, the White House has been silent.
But some unionists think it's not too late for the president to show which side he's on. “I think if Obama walked on a picket line with us, it would show he was trying to stand with workers. I think it would be more than a photo op,” says Providence, R.I.-based Verizon worker Eddie Blackburn of IBEW Local 2323. “Obama has been a big letdown. A lot of things we want he has let fall by the wayside. Where are the jobs? Where are the things that are going to help the labor movement?"
The unions (IBEW and CWA) and Verizon management remain far apart in contract negotiations; this strike will likely continue for months and affect the phone service of millions of people from Maine to Virginia. D.C.-based Verizon workers plan to picket this week at 17th and L streets and 13 and F streets, both a few blocks from the White House.
“President Obama is welcome to come down to our picket line any day he wants,” Harris says. “We would love to have him. We think he needs to be on this picket line standing up for the middle class.”
November 9th, 2013
Click here for this week's full schedule for the State Theatre and Bijou by the Bay in Traverse City, Michigan. The day has arrived. For ...
September 10th, 2013
[View the story "John Kerry's Accidental Diplomacy" on Storify]
July 30th, 2013
Today Bradley Manning was convicted on 20 of 22 counts, including violating the Espionage Act, releasing classified information and disobeying orders. That's the bad news. ...
June 5th, 2013
This past week, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the main federation of Hollywood's six major studios, posted on their web site a list of what they believe ...
March 23rd, 2013
This evening is going be a big moment in turning our country around on the issue of gun violence. That's why I desperately want you ...
March 21st, 2013
I am hosting a nationwide series of house parties this Saturday night where tens of thousands of people will gather together in living rooms to ...
March 15th, 2013
The response to my Newtown letter this week has been overwhelming. It is so very clear to everyone that the majority of Americans have had ...
September 11th, 2010
OpenMike 9/11/10 Michael Moore's daily blog I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero. I want it built on ...
December 14th, 2010
Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that ...
May 12th, 2011
"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." – Michael Moore in ...
November 22nd, 2011
This past weekend I participated in a four-hour meeting of Occupy Wall Street activists whose job it is to come up with the vision and ...
September 22nd, 2011
I encourage everyone I know to never travel to Georgia, never buy anything made in Georgia, to never do business in Georgia. I will ask ...
December 16th, 2010
Dear Swedish Government: Hi there -- or as you all say, Hallå! You know, all of us here in the U.S. love your country. Your ...
November 2nd, 2010
This letter contains (almost) no criticisms of how the Democrats have brought this day of reckoning upon themselves. That -- and where to go from ...