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Employment

Verizon Offers Anti-Union Script to Managers, Leaked Documents Show

Verizon Communications offers managers a script on how to prevent employees from unionizing, according to new documents published by The Guardian.

Unions offer "empty promises and unrealistic expectations" and don't act with "integrity," Verizon argues, according to the documents obtained by the publication. The documents come from Verizon's human resources department and are given to Verizon managers and employees.

"We don't believe unions are necessary at Verizon Wireless or that you or your coworkers will be well served by electing a union as your collective voice," according to the documents. "Instead of treating employees as individuals, the company has to negotiate with the union on behalf of all employees collectively."

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) officials declined to comment on the documents.

According to the report, the documents specifically cite Verizon's retail stores in Brooklyn, where employees voted to unionize in 2014. "They were swayed by a good sales pitch through empty promises and unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, the union does not have to sell with integrity, and it was our Brooklyn employees who paid the price," the Verizon documents state.

However, according to several reports, a number of Brooklyn Verizon employees voted to remain unionized last year.

"Verizon Wireless continues to try to intimidate workers with its anti-union tactics. But as we recently saw in Brooklyn and Hazleton, Pa., Verizon Wireless workers understand that joining together in a union gives them real power at work," Dennis Trainor, the chair of the Wireless Workers United association from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union, said in a statement in response to The Guardian article. "Working people all over the country, like those at Verizon Wireless, are standing up for themselves and their communities, and CWA is proud to help them fight against corporate greed and for fairness in their workplaces."

Union stats
The percentage of workers who are unionized at Verizon has been declining alongside the operator's overall workforce. At the end of 2017, 23% of Verizon's 155,400 employees were represented by unions, according to Verizon's annual filing with the SEC. That number was also 23% at the end of 2016, when Verizon employed 160,900 workers. However, the figure is down from 25% at the end of 2015, when Verizon employed 177,700 workers, and is also down from 27% at the end of 2014, when Verizon counted 177,300 employees.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for its part, said it ended 2017 with around 252,000 employees, and roughly 46% were represented by the CWA, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or other unions.

The Guardian report comes at a critical time for Verizon. The company is pivoting away from its media ambitions and making a major bet on 5G network technology. Concurrently, Verizon's new CEO Hans Vestberg is settling in with new "Verizon 2.0" messaging to employees that in part focuses on "corporate social responsibility." (See Verizon Restructures in Bid for 5G Growth.)

This isn't Verizon's first dust-up with unionized employees. Perhaps the biggest battle between the company and its unionized workers occurred in 2016, when roughly 40,000 Verizon employees walked off the job for more than a month. During that period, Verizon was forced to reassign a number of remaining employees just to keep its operations afloat. That strike ended with both sides generally claiming victory. (See Verizon Drops Wireline Clues as Strike Ends.)

Verizon isn't alone in its struggles with unionized employees. For example, CWA members approved a four-year contract with AT&T at the beginning of 2018 under a deal that covered 21,000 wireless workers in 36 states. The agreement in part guaranteed an 80% increase in the portion of customer service calls handled exclusively by wireless workers in the US who are CWA members, as well as an increase in base pay from commission pay.

But the percentage of unionized employees at T-Mobile appears to have dropped to zero, according to T-Mobile's quarterly filings with the SEC. In 2015, T-Mobile said 30 employees were covered by a collective bargaining agreement. However, that was roughly the same year that the operator created its T-Voice worker group. A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled in 2017 that T-Mobile "engaged in certain unfair labor practices" and should discontinue its corporate support of its T-Voice worker group.

For its part, CWA has been a vocal critic of the proposed merger between Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile, arguing that the transaction will ultimately lead to thousands of job cuts among the combined operators' workforce.

— Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

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