ORLANDO— Verizon will face heat from workers and two major unions—the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA)—at its annual shareholder meeting Thursday with hard questions about the telecom giant’s business practices and whether it is being a responsible steward of its supply chain.
At the meeting, CWA will present a shareholder proposal on behalf of the AFL-CIO calling for an independent board chair, following a letter sent to shareholders this month. The proposal highlights the need for oversight and accountability as the company undertakes risky new business strategies and internal restructuring. The IBT has urged shareholders to “Vote No” on approving the executive compensation package.
The unions’ proxy voting recommendations come as workers from across Verizon’s retail stores, call centers and warehouses plan to confront the Verizon board of directors inside the annual meeting over issues of abuse, union-busting and divestment from its workforce.
“At the shareholder meeting last year, Verizon leaders promised to get involved and investigate the discrimination and sexual harassment women face everyday at the Memphis warehouse,” said Tasha Murrell, a former worker at the Verizon-contracted XPO Logistics warehouse facility. Murrell is returning to engage the Verizon board and executives after the company walked away from the facility in spite of it featuring in a front-page New York Times investigation last year. Murrell met with Verizon’s then-CEO at its annual meeting in 2018, prompting the company to promise to investigate and address workers’ claims.
“Now here we are again because Verizon did not keep its promise. Instead of helping change the culture inside the warehouse and provide relief for workers, they cut and ran by deciding to leave Memphis,” said Murrell. “What’s worse, they are still doing business with XPO.”
“My question for Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg is, why is Verizon Wireless trying to stop me and my co-workers from organizing?” said Jennifer Womack, a Verizon call center worker who is standing up against the company’s aggressive anti-union campaign at her center in Irving, Texas. “If you deny that is what’s going on, I would like to ask for your commitment to allow workers to make up their own minds free from management interference. Would you be willing to make that commitment to me?”
Murrell and Womack will speak out on behalf of Verizon co-workers taking a stand against the company’s bad behavior in nearly every area of its business. Verizon is notorious in the wireless sector for union-busting tactics and efforts to divest from its workforce—cutting jobs, closing call centers and offshoring work. Verizon retail workers in Brooklyn were able to successfully overcome the company’s attempts to break their union, but Verizon continues to wage similar efforts to prevent workers from organizing elsewhere in the country. And despite pressure from senators, members of the House and women’s and civil rights organizations to correct issues of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment in one of its Memphis warehouse facilities and Verizon’s promises to investigate, Verizon announced in February it would move its Memphis business elsewhere while continuing its partnership with embattled logistics provider XPO.
At the shareholder meeting, CWA Assistant Director of Research Nell Geiser will present the joint CWA-AFL proposal highlighting the urgent need for an independent board chair at Verizon given business challenges that demand the CEO’s full attention, including the underperformance of Verizon’s recent acquisitions, workforce restructuring and call center closures:
“To maintain Verizon’s position as a leader in the rapidly evolving telecommunications industry, we believe that Verizon must invest in a robust and ubiquitous fiber network, densify its 4G wireless service offering, and intelligently test and deploy 5G wireless technology.”
It continues: “ Verizon also faces significant business challenges as it moves into the digital media business. Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo! In 2017 and AOL in 2015 “has achieved lower than expected benefits,” resulting in a $4.5 billion write-down at the end of 2018.
Finally, Verizon is undertaking a restructuring of its workforce. In 2018, Verizon offered a voluntary severance package to a quarter of its workforce as it seeks to cut $10 billion in costs. Verizon also closed call centers and transitioned customer service agents to home based locations.
In our opinion, these business challenges require the full and undivided attention of Verizon’s CEO without the distraction of serving as Board Chair.”
And in a letter sent to Verizon investors and shareholders last month, the IBT urged a “Vote No” on approving executive compensation, citing concern about Verizon fully vesting sustainability-related pay incentives despite abuse in the supply chain.
“In a year in which Verizon’s domestic warehousing operations were the subject of a front-page New York Times investigation into the role harsh working conditions played in a spate of miscarriages among workers at a third-party operated Verizon distribution facility, and subsequent Congressional inquiries, the decision to reward executives for the Company’s sustainability performance sends the wrong message about the company’s values and risks undermining corporate culture.”
“Retaliation, hollow promises and threats of job loss are unacceptable union-busting tactics that have no place in America’s workplaces,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “Verizon Wireless workers across America should be admired for their determination to win higher workplace standards with their colleagues, and not punished by executives focusing on their bottom line. It’s time for Verizon to respect its workers, no matter their job title or role in the company.”
“It’s shameful to see Verizon’s executives neglect to investigate serious allegations from workers, and play the blame game with its vendor rather than clean up its supply chain,” said James P. Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Verizon needs to take responsibility for claims of sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, keep a close eye on XPO as a partner in other warehouses around the country, and address workers’ claims where they arise.”
“The best way for Verizon to thrive is to see its employees and those in its supply chain as valued partners, not line items in a budget,” said Anastasia Christman, Worker Power Program Director at NELP. “When workers’ legal right to organize and collectively bargain is respected, companies can benefit from their expertise and maintain the kind of committed employees businesses need to succeed. It’s time for Verizon to shift from high executive pay and worker layoffs to a business model that works for everyone.”