Nearly 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike on Wednesday morning, by far the biggest strike in the United States in recent years.
Among other grievances, workers are striking to try to keep Verizon from offshoring more jobs, a corporate practice that’s become a major focal point of the 2016 presidential race. Verizon has sent more than 5,000 jobs overseas to the Philippines, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, and is pushing to send more, according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the union representing Verizon workers.
Despite a profit of $39 billion in the last three years, Verizon is insisting on outsourcing more work to low-wage contractors, seeking to freeze worker pensions, and instituting policies that force employees to commute hours a day or spend months away from their families, according to a CWA press release.
The workers, represented by the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), have been attempting to reach a contract with Verizon executives for 10 months. They also say that despite promising to bring FiOS, fiber-optic cable providing high-speed internet, phone and video service, to millions of customers, Verizon has actually been cutting the skilled staff needed to install it.
In a press release, Verizon Chief Administrative Officer Marc Reed called the the decision to strike “regrettable.”
“Since last June, we’ve worked diligently to try and reach agreements that would be good for our employees, good for our customers and make the wireline business more successful now and in the future,” he said.
Keeping jobs in the United States — and bringing back jobs by punishing companies that shift their jobs overseas — has been a major tenet of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign. However, the candidate has given no indications he intends to stand in solidarity with the striking workers — and has put up every obstacle to stop the unionization of his own hotel workers.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stopped by the picket line in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Bernie Sanders joins the striking Verizon workers pic.twitter.com/RRy13RjgHm
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) April 13, 2016
Sanders, whose campaign has been endorsed by the CWA, last week stood with representatives from both CWA and IBEW and called out Verizon for attempting to shift American jobs overseas, “where people will be paid pennies an hour.”
On Tuesday, he spoke to striking workers in upstate New York before the scheduled walkout. “I know that going on strike is not something that’s easily done,” he said. “I know there’s going to be a lot of pain involved. I want to thank you for standing up to the outrageous greed of Verizon and corporate America.” The candidate also picketed with striking Verizon workers last year.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also issued a statement in support of the workers.
“Verizon should come back to the bargaining table with a fair offer for their workers. To preserve and grow America’s middle class, we need to protect good wages and benefits, including retirement security. And we should be doing all we can to keep good-paying jobs with real job security in New York.” she said.
Today’s strike is the largest since 2011, when 45,000 Verizon workers walked out. In 2015, the largest strike in the U.S. was 6,600 workers from the United Steelworkers Union. Strikes in the U.S. have been on a decline for decades — before the 1980s, there were hundreds of work stoppages involving over 1,000 workers every year, according to data from the bureau of Labor Statistics. In the past 10 years, the number of strikes meeting that criteria in the U.S. has ranged from five to 21.
Union membership itself is also on a steady decline. In 1983, 20.1 percent of workers belonged to a union, but by 2014, that number had fallen to 11.1 percent. Lower rates of workers belonging to unions is strongly associated with a widening income gap.