Cumberland Times-News

Local News

August 18, 2011

No end for Verizon strike in sight

CUMBERLAND — Verizon workers remain on the picket lines with little hope for a quick return to work, while members of the public are reporting more and more problems using their Verizon phone lines to connect with available services.

The connection troubles reported to the Times-News and other news organizations didn’t surprise local union leader Chuck Fouts.

“When you have techs working every day, things will get fixed quickly. Now you have managers working, trying to fill in,” Fouts said. Most of those managers aren’t familiar with the jobs they’re being asked to perform, he said. Fouts is president of Local 2109, based in Cumberland.

Chester Carnes said he heard a recent editorial regarding the new 511 service, which provides travel information, so he decided to give it a whirl and see if the grant money that funded the project was being put to good use.

The problem was, he couldn’t access 511 through his Verizon lines. When a Times-News staff member made the same call from a non-Verizon office line, the call went through. When the same call was made from a home Verizon line, the calls didn’t go through. Carnes listened to the editorial through The National Federation for the Blind’s Newsline program. The program provides a reading of more than 300 newspapers nationwide for the blind, including portions of the Times-News.

Reports of being unable to reach 511 and other services through Verizon are being reported nationwide. Verizon denies any large-scale service problems and blames sabotage for many of the reported breakdowns in service.

“Since Aug. 6, Verizon crews have encountered more than 90 acts of sabotage against network facilities,” a Verizon press release stated. “These acts temporarily affected service to thousands of customers across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including police stations and other emergency responders.”

Verizon Communication Inc. has said that its 45,000 unionized workers in the East should not expect the kind of compensation they were paid when the phone company was a monopoly — and when no one questioned whether a household needed a land line.

“If Verizon wasn’t making money I’d be more than willing to compromise on my wages,” said Fouts. Fouts said negotiations appear to be halted, with no budging from the company on any issue.

Fouts said the billions the company has earned over the last few years show that the company doesn’t need more concessions. And land lines aren’t the entire story, he said.

“Everything is built on the landline people,” Fouts said, “they maintain the fiber optic lines, the only thing we don’t do is sell the cell phones,” he said. The broadband capabilities of Verizon are tied to the core company, he said.

“We’ve got to get Verizon back to the table, really negotiating. They can’t find a single thing they can agree with us on,” Fouts said.

Public reaction to the strike and picketers has been mixed, Fouts said, with many drivers honking their horns in support and a few telling strikers to go back to work. Fouts wished they’d stop to talk and find out about the issues in the strike. There has been no local picket line violence, he said.

Fouts said Verizon hasn’t invested in the company’s plant, lines and other services. “If you’re not maintaining services, they go down,” he said.

Fouts said strikers are in good spirits despite being frustrated by the lack of progress. It might be good for Washington to intervene and appoint a federal mediator, he said.

“I’m not asking for the world,” Fouts said.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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