By Mark Gruenberg
Press Associates Union News Service
MONTCLAIR, N.J. – As the strike that wealthy telecom Verizon forced on 40,000 workers neared the end of its fourth week, a rank-and-file Verizon worker, Amanda Poe, penned an open letter to the company’s CEO, telling him why he forced her to walk the picket line.
In so many words, said Poe, a single mother of two teenage daughters and a maintenance administrator in Verizon’s Wilmington, Del., office, she’s doing it for her kids. And especially for one daughter who needs extensive medical care.
Writing in the Montclair (N.J.) Patch, Poe explained – on Mother’s Day – that her youngest daughter, Halley, was born with a birth defect that has forced her to undergo five operations so far, with more to come. “I promise you there is nothing normal about handing your baby over for surgery every few years,” Poe wrote in her open letter to Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam.
“She has undergone five surgeries to date, and she requires a few more. My health coverage during her younger years covered her surgeries and the extensive hospital stay associated with each surgery. I have always been grateful for that coverage.
“Changes to the health coverages offered by Verizon could prevent us from getting the help Halley needs to complete her health care plan. I am currently paying out of pocket for orthodontics; I am now paying for her fifth set of braces. Affordable health care is not an option for me – it is a necessity. Is she worth it? Absolutely.
“I am not just a number, Mr. McAdam. I am someone’s mom … When making changes and negotiating this contract, please remember we all have lives and stories. Our stories are what make us human and real … Allow me to raise my kids in my community; provide me health care I can afford. I will always be their mother, but will I have a job that allows me to be a mom?”
Verizon’s health care demands are just one reason its unionized workers, members of the Communications Workers and the Electrical Workers, were forced to strike on April 13 after nine months of fruitless talks with a telecom that refused to budge from its giveback demands.
Though Verizon earned $39 billion in profits over the last three years, and spent $5 billion on a stock buyback last year, it demands workers take a 7.5 percent pay hike over five years in the latest contract proposal – and negates that by huge health care cost hikes.
A CWA fact sheet with details about Verizon’s latest offer notes that health care costs for workers would at least double.
In the managed care network, the deductible would go from zero now to $325 yearly in 2018. The out-of-pocket maximum the worker would have to pay would rise from $1,050 yearly to $1,700. Emergency room charges would almost double, as would individual workers’ and family premiums, from $660 and $1,320 yearly to $1,224 and $2,448.
There would be similar increases of workers’ costs in Verizon’s health maintenance organization and EPO options. Both are already more expensive than the managed care network.
Drug co-pays shouldered by workers would double, reaching $116.64 per mail order prescription for non-preferred brand drugs. Those mail order co-pays are now $56.18 each.
“Today we have an open formulary, meaning the plan covers medications your doctors deem necessary. The company proposes a closed formulary, meaning the plan will only provide medications the insurance company deems necessary based on costs for any particular condition,” the union bargainers’ update added.
All this led to nationwide protests on May 5, including a protest inside and outside Verizon’s shareholders meeting in Albuquerque, N.M. The two unions have coined a nickname for Verizon: VeriGreedy.
Inside, the unions and their allies presented shareholder resolutions challenging the corporation’s path and governance. Outside, demonstrators unfolded signs about its employee relations and staged a peaceful sit-in on a highway. Police arrested 15 of them.
Major investors, including New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and the California Public Employees Retirement System, have also told McAdam that Verizon’s decision to force its workers to strike has degraded service, harmed its reputation and would, as DiNapoli said, “undoubtedly affect the morale and productivity of Verizon employees.
“I am concerned that a disenfranchised workforce and the associated negative publicity may ultimately impact Verizon’s profitability,” DiNapoli added. Four investment firms, including ScotiaBank and Sanford Bernstein, recently downgraded their ratings of Verizon.
“All Verizon shareholders should be alarmed at the corporation’s penny-wise but pound foolish business strategy,” Mark Balsamo, a recent Verizon retiree from Baltimore, told CWA. “Verizon executives have consistently put short-term profits over the long term sustainability of the company, including the basic needs of its workforce.
“Instead of investing in good jobs and expanding service, Verizon is refusing to negotiate with workers in good faith and failing to keep its promises to meet consumer demand for its FIOS service. As Verizon employees, we want our customers to get the quality they deserve. As shareholders ourselves, we know it’s time to make some major changes to ensure that Verizon’s corporate leadership is accountable to all of us.”