City Council votes to support Verizon union workers

Thousands of miles of separation is not enough to stop the Berkeley City Council from taking a stance on a labor dispute.

On Tuesday night, the council voted to send a letter to Verizon Communications President and CEO Lowell McAdam expressing the council’s support for Verizon employees — who largely work on the east coast — as they negotiate their contracts with the company.

“We appreciate the support of the city of Berkeley,” said Jim Spellane, a spokesperson for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a union representing Verizon employees. “I think (the resolution) shows that this is an issue that goes beyond geographic area.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who sponsored the resolution, said Verizon’s executives are placing a disproportionate burden of the company’s declining revenues on employees.

“Corporate executives are not taking a hit,” Worthington said. “They are raking in the highest salaries in history. We want to see a little bit of fairness.”

According to the resolution, Verizon has paid its top executives $258 million over the past four years while demanding nearly $1 billion from its workers.

In an email, Verizon spokesperson Rich Young called the $1 billion figure “pure fabrication,” and defended Verizon’s treatment of its employees.

 “Verizon provides its employees with good jobs with competitive wages and benefits,” Young said in an email. “However, the company’s wireline business continues to shrink as consumers turn away from traditional landline voice telephony and dial-up internet access. That’s why we have to change our cost structure in order to compete effectively.”

According to Worthington, he decided to propose the resolution after picketing outside Verizon stores in San Francisco and Berkeley last month, where he spoke to union leaders who were soliciting support among local officials.

Verizon workers on the east coast went on strike for two weeks in early August after Verizon demanded what workers saw as unfair concessions, but reached an agreement Aug. 20 to go back to work. Union leaders and Verizon executives have not yet reached a final agreement.