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Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

1:25 PM -- Strikes are nothing new in the telecom world, but the current Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) labor stoppage has turned very ugly, very quickly. And that's a sign of what's at stake for both sides. (See Verizon Fends Off Saboteurs.)

Adding fuel to the already hot fire is the current political climate, in which unions are viewed as evil incarnate by one side and union-busting is viewed the same by the other. Thus commentary on the Verizon strike has degenerated into typically strident rhetoric that paints Verizon management as evil overlords or casts the union members as irresponsible extremists.

The reality is that the wireline telecom world that supported unions in a traditional way no longer exists. Even Verizon, which placed the biggest of multibillion-dollar bets on modernizing its local network, still sees its wireline operating revenues decrease quarter over quarter, as it becomes a predominantly wireless company. The decline has been less steep recently, because of FiOS and Verizon's success in cloud-based services, but there has yet to be growth in wireline revenues. (See Verizon Q2 Revenues Up 2.8 Percent at $27.5B.)

So pro-union commentary that cites Verizon's fiscal health isn't really on target here, as that profit comes largely from the wireless side of the business.

On the other hand, the wireline network isn't going away any time soon and is, in fact, the bedrock for wireless service. So the idea that jobs for the folks that help service, maintain and upgrade that network are going away completely is also false.

But many of those jobs are becoming more software and IT-focused, and some of the skilled workers of the past don't have these skills for the future.

Verizon's challenge remains figuring out how to transition its current workforce, where possible, to the future skill set, while improving the efficiency of wireline operations. Clearly management believes that requires driving down the cost of employment by getting workers to bear a larger share of their growing health-care costs and by getting more flexible work rules.

I don't pretend to know where the middle ground lies here, but it's clear the harsh nature of the debate on both sides gets both sides nowhere.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:56:36 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

I think one of the motivations for Verizon to embrace FTTH and wireless so quickly is that the labor was less expensive and the new tech was outside the reach of all the old rules that governed the traditional phone network. 


That's a pretty telling trend, no?

cnwedit 12/5/2012 | 4:56:35 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

I think that shift away from unions was always something that management craved. But I'm not sure the FTTH build is the clear-cut - I think some of the folks who were installing FiOS were long-time Verizon techs, who would have been union. And I think they also hired outside contractors, who wouldn't have even been employees, at least during the fat years of the rol

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:56:33 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

 


Carol,



I believe what Phil is referring to is not the elimination of union jobs per se, but a simplfication of the job classifications associated with telco.  If you have ever done booth construction in Chicago at Supercomm, you know that the Unions get upset when people go outside their job classifications or if somebody does work that is within the union job classification.


So, one way of making a simpler (and over time smaller) workforce is to have fewer job classifications that have broader duties.


seven


 

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 4:56:33 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

I don't know for sure that the current fight involves job classifications, but what we're seeing generally is that Verizon simply needs fewer and fewer people that have union-covered jobs. So while the network evolves and the majority of the revenues start to come in from the efforts of non-union workers, the power base of the unions gradually gets weaker and more desperate, hence they are probably not a calm, cool group at the negotiating table.

cnwedit 12/5/2012 | 4:56:33 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

Got it.


Is that the essence of the fight over work rules that they are having now?

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 4:56:31 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

I just went through the process of trying to get an old battery/copper wire phone (Katrina-five 9s) and separate FIOS Internet and TV to go with my ATT cell phones.


I found that the newer FIOS sales and marketing were as badly organized and knowledgeable as the phone folks were. I got a wide range of answers to the same, not so complicated, questions. I found that they (FIOS) were less knowledgeable about the product at even a second level question, (does it support QAM receivers - No SD & HD). They could only check the order boxes the one way they knew how. I had hoped that the newer generation wouldn't have some of the problems (knowledgeable and flexible) that I encountered when I ordered Enterprise circuits. But the VZ structure limited what the FIOS people could do outside their small/simple area.


I had to cancel my first order. What I later learned, was yhat a contract sales rep  made promises that VZ would not keep, and it appeared the operations people didn't want to support it's instal. They tried to amend the order to put my phone on FIOS. Some understood this was not necessary, but many didn't think it was even possible and did not know how to do otherwise. So I canceled the order and started over ordering one at a time to make the order simpler. I was driven to persevere by the big difference that FIOS offers as features/cost, once it gets installed correctly


A poll of my neighbors found they also experienced the same weeks of hassles to get a FIOS order correctly installed. Some was due to VZ not managing (intentionally?) contractors well and also isolating VZ personnel to a specific area. Not unlike the phone/union delivery of services. I looked up 'FIOS Reviews' to determine if we were unique and found many had experienced similar problems and found great advice on how to get through the VZ org structure.


I found problems had more to do with corporate culture/structure, as some people worked with me well and others just made promises to put me off (Both FIOS and Old POTS) until I would go away. Reviews highlighted this. Just persevered until I found employees that would work with me.


OP


PS Seven - I did understand the details of how BW is allocated on FIOS ATM (shared tokens) & IP, and it's effect on traffic management & speed results. But I discovered only a very few even had a clue that it is not a dedicated (say TDM), but a shared service speed across OLT. More so on IP ONT/OLT.

Duh! 12/5/2012 | 4:56:30 PM
re: Strike Rhetoric Benefits No One

I seem to recollect that job classifications for FiOS were part of the negotiation in the contract before last.   They'd agreed to more flexible work rules in return for keeping more of the FiOS jobs with the union and training POTS crafts to do PON deployments and FiOS installs.  At the time, all this was being touted by both sides as a new era of cooperation between the union and the company, and from the outside, it certainly seemed to work.   I've heard stories of rough edges here and there and my own FiOS install was... interesting.  But by and large, I'd say the whole thing was win-win for a few years.


But then was then and now is now and now is not pretty.  The folks who have it worst are the ones who are now on strike duty, having to cross picket lines to do not particularly pleasant jobs they didn't really sign up for, received limited training for, and aren't particularly good at, 12 hour days and 6 day weeks, while normal business associated with their day jobs waits for them.    Those folks include quite a few LR readers, as well most of  the "usual suspects" from whom LR gets their quotes for Verizon wireline stories.  My sympathies lie with them.

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