Can You Hear Them Now? Verizon Employees Strike for Workers' Rights

Verizon workers are on strike. (Thomas Altfather Good/Flickr)

Usually if we hear people complaining about Verizon, it's because they've just gotten a bill with a number they really don't like. Verizon isn't in the news for high phone bills right now, though -- they're being accused of mistreating their workers.

Nearly 40,000 Verizon customer service reps, network technicians, repairmen, and other skilled workers went on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning after the corporation failed to reach an agreement with them on a new contract. They've been working without a contract since August and (clearly) they're sick of it.

Verizon and the unions have been in talks about the contract since last June, but hadn't been able to come to an agreement over the past months. So workers are taking things into their own hands.

This is one of the biggest American strikes in years. Hey, Verizon, can you hear them now?

Why are the workers striking?

The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers called the strike to fight for better healthcare, the right to keep their pensions, and to keep jobs in the United States instead of outsourcing them to other countries.

Verizon has apparently been planning to cut healthcare and pension-related benefits over the next three years, which infuriated employees who feel like that's unfair to people who have dedicated decades of their lives to the company.

They haven't had a contract since their last one expired in August, so tensions are running high.

Where are they striking?

Mostly in the Northeastern US: including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and D.C.

So can Verizon afford what they're asking for?

The unions definitely seem to think so. Here's what the official strike website says:

On August 1, the union contract covering 39,000 IBEW and CWA members up and down the East Coast expired. Now, workers are working without a contract and continue their fight for a fair agreement while on the job.

Despite making $18 billion in profits in the last 18 months and top executives raking in $249 million over the last five years, Verizon is still insisting on slashing job security, health care, and retirement security, and refuses to engage in serious bargaining towards a fair contract.

At the same time, Verizon refuses to build out FiOS to many underserved communities up and down the East Coast, and has abandoned upkeep of the its landline network, leading to extensive service problems for customers who depend on their landlines.

Verizon needs to get serious at the bargaining table and stop trying to destroy the livelihoods of the workers who make their success possible.

They think that the majority of those profits is going to corporate leadership, while Verizon tries to cut benefits for employees and bring in more contracted workers.

What does Verizon say?

They're not too pleased, as you can probably guess. Verizon reps say that all they want is more flexibility in managing their workers, plus the ability to reevaluate health care issues for their older workers since medical costs are going.

They even took out a full page ad in The Boston Globe to try to convince people that this strike is useless.

Verizon's landline operations have been suffering just like every other phone company as people move away from home phones to cellphones. The landline part of the business generates about a third of the company's revenue, but only 7% of operating income.

Wait, I have Verizon and I live on the East Coast. So is this going to mess up my service?

That depends on what you use Verizon for. If you're a wireless customer who only uses them for your cellphone, this doesn't concern you. If you use them for a landline phone or your internet, on the other hand, you might be affected--especially if you had an installation scheduled for today.

Verizon says that customers shouldn't experience any interruptions because they've trained thousands of non-union workers to fill the spots of the union members who have gone on strike. The numbers don't work in their favor, though -- nearly 39,000 people went on strike and Verizon only trained around 10,000 to fill their spots.

What happens next? How long is this going to last?

There's no way to know. About 45,000 Verizon employees went on strike back in 2011, and then the strike lasted about two weeks.

If enough customers complain about the inconvenience, Verizon might be inspired to move a little faster to end the strike. The strikers also have some famous support:

This article was written by Lauren Wethers and originally appeared on Kicker. Kicker explains the most important, compelling things going on in the world and empowers you to get in the know, make up your own mind, and take action. For more, check out the Kicker site, like their Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter.