Verizon Management and the Unions Put the Strike on Hold

Carl Weinschenk

The strike by Verizon wireline workers is sort of over. The workers are returning tomorrow, but a settlement hasn't been reached. Whether the move is due to the progress that reportedly has been made if the workers blinked - the company previously said that it will cut health care coverage Aug. 31 - is difficult to say.

Over or not, the questions that can be asked about the strike are the same as at the end of any job action: Are the givebacks and takeaways that Verizon sought (and, in this case, is still seeking) legitimate during troubled times, or is the company - which reportedly had a strong performance during the second quarter - using the bad economy as an excuse to roll back workers' rights? Is labor stubbornly clinging to outmoded work rules and conditions that no longer are justified as the economy and technology transition?

Anything having to do with labor is based on the trends in the particular industry at large. It is certain that the big picture here - beyond the give and take of negotiations and how the parties have agreed to work to a conclusion - has to do with the rising and sinking fortunes, respectively, of wireless and wireline services. Even acknowledging that Verizon's wired arm, which includes FiOS, is doing well - the second quarter results were good - it is clear that the telecommunications labor force (in this case, 35,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and 10,000 by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) must adjust to the wireless nature of the world.

The inescapable conclusion is that wireline services are being downsized. More and more households are abandoning their wired phones altogether and, in general, a great deal of the telecommunications sizzle is on the wireless side. FiOS, U-verse and the other big fiber projects are more or less cable replacements, which, by definition, aren't as sexy as things that are new. There is no wired equivalent to the high profile of Android, iOS, various app stores and all the other cool wireless technologies and services that are exploding off the real and cyber shelves.

Another reality is that fiber, the vehicle of growth within wired networks, itself is a limiting factor. One of its main benefits is that it is more stable and requires less upkeep and maintenance over earlier platforms. Thus, the number of employees necessary for the care and feeding of a given amount of infrastructure is less than the equivalent a decade ago.

In the final analysis, a reality that can't be denied is that the wireline world is shrinking. It is impossible to say how big an impact that macro change is having on this once, and perhaps future, strike. The bottom line, however, is that management and organized labor must deal with the changing nature of telecommunications technology as time moves on.

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