Over the course of a four-day visit to the Philippines this week, four representatives of Communications Workers of America who are on strike discovered that the extent to which Verizon is offshoring work is far beyond what has previously been reported and what the company publicly has claimed. Verizon is offshoring customer service calls to numerous call centers in the Philippines, where workers are paid just $1.78 an hour and forced to work overtime without compensation. Terrified that the public might find out about what has happened to the good middle-class jobs the company has shipped overseas, Verizon sent private armed security forces after peaceful CWA representatives and called in a SWAT team armed with automatic weapons.
“Executives repeatedly have claimed that Verizon offshores few jobs, and none that affect our members. Recently, our union was contacted by call center workers in the Philippines who revealed that Verizon was lying to our members and the public about the extent of the off-shoring of good American jobs, so we sent four CWA members to the Philippines to learn the truth,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “When our members uncovered how Verizon is padding its incredible profit margins by replacing good paying American jobs with poverty-wage jobs abroad, Verizon sent armed guards and a SWAT team after them.”
CWA President Shelton continued: “Worse, Verizon has doubled down on its deception, claiming workers were on a ‘vacation.’ Let’s be clear: being on strike, exposing Verizon’s lies about off-shoring and being harassed by Verizon armed security guards is no vacation. Striking men and women from Massachusetts to Virginia are standing up for their families, their customers and to save middle class jobs for all Americans.”
Appearing on a picket line in Syracuse on April 14th, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam claimed that only a small part of the business’ calls were sent to call centers in the Philippines. But CWA’s delegation this week uncovered call centers in the Philippines staffed with workers during US daytime hours taking every imaginable type of customer service call related to the company’s wireline services. At one call center, the depth of Verizon’s greed was exposed when the CWA delegation discovered that the offshore workers are paid just $1.78 an hour to answer calls from frustrated customers based in the US.
And despite Verizon’s protestation that the strike is not affecting service, it has forced call center workers in the Philippines to work overtime hours since 40,000 highly trained U.S. employees went on strike, including about 13,000 US call center workers. Call center workers said they were forced to commit to 1-2 hours of overtime 5 days a week, plus a full 8-hour 6th day of overtime. Verizon’s subcontractors do not pay workers additional overtime compensation for these hours.
“Verizon is terrified that the public might find out about what has happened to the good middle-class jobs the company has shipped to the Philippines. The truth is that Verizon is destroying middle-class American jobs so that it can pay workers $1.78 per hour and force them to work around the clock, rather than preserve good jobs in our communities. That’s what our strike is about. Instead of profiting off of poverty abroad, Verizon should come back to the table and negotiate a fair contract that protects middle-class jobs,” said Dennis Trainor, President of CWA District One.
One of Verizon’s key demands in the strike is the ability to close several call centers based on the East Coast, which are staffed by union members who earn a living wage with decent benefits. The company also wants to reduce the percentage of call center work that must be handled within the state that it originates from, another ploy that enables it to shift work to low-wage, non-union domestic contractors, or to Filipino or Mexican call centers.
“Talking about poverty pay does not warrant a response from armed guards, but it seems Verizon is going to great lengths to try to hide their strategy of outsourcing middle-class American jobs in favor of poverty wages abroad,” said CWA District 2-13 Vice President Edward Mooney.
When confronted about these issues at their corporate headquarters in the Philippines on Wednesday, May 11, Verizon officials refused to speak to the representatives. Presumably, it is difficult to justify paying workers $1.78 an hour when the company’s CEO made $18 million last year, and the company has piled up $1.5 billion a month in profits for the past 15 months. When the CWA delegation left peacefully, Verizon had their armed private security team pull over the departing van on a public street. The Verizon security team then called in a SWAT team, who surrounded the car, barring automatic weapons. One police officer with his face covered in a balaclava pounded on the van window with his automatic rifle, demanding that the labor representatives leave the vehicle.
The union representatives, including CWA staff, a representative of UNI (global labor federation) and representatives of KMU (a Filipino union), were allowed to leave without further issue, as they had done nothing illegal and the police had no cause to detain them.
Verizon Strike Escalates With Armed Confrontation in the Philippines (Fortune, May 12, 2016)