45,000 Verizon landline workers have been on strike since Sunday, in the largest strike America's seen in years. The unions and Big Red are locked in a bitter battle over proposed cuts to union benefits, which executives claim are necessary because of the bad economy and the company's less lucrative landline division. Unions, of course, scoff at that premise—pointing to the executives' high salaries and the landline division's profit increases—and are digging in for a long fight. In this video, you can see they mean business (warning: the worker's salty talk maybe NSFW):
Scattered reports of violence are emerging: Verizon executives say a worker fired a BB gun at a co-worker who crossed the picket line in the Bronx, and the Daily News reports that strikers "pushed a nonstriking worker into scaffolding in Albany—and crowded around workers at a Manhattan manhole and refused to leave when police were called." Fiber optic circuit boxes on Staten Island have also been sabotaged. The Communications Workers of America issued a statement saying, "Our unions do not condone violence in any form. Safety is paramount, and that's why we're also calling on Verizon to make sure that our members on the picket lines aren't hurt by replacement workers and management while the strike continues."
According to NJ.com, Verizon managers and non-union workers have driven company vehicles dangerously close to picketers, and in one instance a striker was actually hit, knocked unconscious, and suffered a concussion at a picket line in Howell, New Jersey. Yesterday, Verizon filed a lawsuit in five Eastern states, seeking a court order "to limit picketing and stop what it claims is harassment, sabotage and blocking access to its facilities," the AP reports.
For more on the financial dispute between the unions and Verizon, the Times has a thorough report. The takeaway is that Verizon Wireless is hugely profitable company with an operating income of $9 billion in the first six months of 2011, while the landline business had operating income of "just" $606 million. But Verizon Wireless is a mostly nonunion venture in which Verizon is majority shareholder.
George Kohl, a union rep, points out that Verizon used billions of dollars in profits from the landline business to finance its expansion into wireless. "The wireline guys sweated day by day to make the profits to create wireless," Kohl tells the Times. "And now they want to take away the middle-class life from the wireline employees who made the investment in wireless possible."