Verizon is target of union protest
Aug 10, 2012 (The Buffalo News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Members of the union that represents local Verizon employees rallied Thursday outside the company's offices in downtown Buffalo against a proposed deal between Verizon and cable providers that they say would hurt workers and the public by limiting competition.
Members of the Communications Workers of America and their allies urged the Federal Communications Commission to block a proposed agreement in which Verizon would form business deals with, and buy wireless spectrum from, some cable companies.
They said the Verizon-cable agreement raises antitrust concerns and, by eliminating any incentive for Verizon to expand its FiOS network, would lead to layoffs and hurt Buffalo and other cities that still lack FiOS.
"It's an end run around antitrust laws by calling it a marketing agreement, not a merger. But it's a monopoly in all but name," Pete Sikora, legislative and political director for CWA District 1, said in an interview. He spoke just before the noontime rally near Verizon's Franklin Street offices that drew about 60 union members, community organizers and political representatives.
A Verizon spokesman noted the company is engaged in contract talks with the CWA and said any comments made by the union about the proposed Verizon-cable deal must be evaluated in this context.
He added that the Verizon-cable deal, if approved, would be a boon for consumers. "Verizon believes consumers will benefit with a variety of new packages and services," spokesman John J. Bonomo said in an email.
Under the proposed deal, Verizon would pay $3.6 billion to cable companies for additional wireless spectrum and would enter into cross-marketing agreements with some cable providers.
Those agreements would allow the providers, including Time Warner Cable here, to offer wireless phone service as part of their bundled packages of landline phone, TV and Internet service.
The FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice are reviewing the deal, and speakers at Thursday's CWA rally urged attendees to contact the FCC, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to urge them to stop the agreement.
"This is a deal that will threaten our existence," Jim Wagner, president of CWA Local 1122, said at the rally.
The union is in tough negotiations over a new contract with Verizon, talks that come as the company has invested in its wireless division at the expense of its less-profitable landline division, according to Wagner.
Speakers said they are fighting to protect good-paying jobs and linked the Verizon-CWA battle to the state of the national economy.
"We have a war on the middle class," said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo.
The deal between Verizon and the cable companies would limit competition and cause Verizon to scale back expansion of its FiOS fiber-optic network, the CWA contends.
Verizon has extended FiOS to wealthier suburban communities but not into Buffalo and other poorer cities, according to the union. The company has said it is focusing on boosting its subscriber base in communities where FiOS already is offered and is not planning in the near future to expand to new areas such as Buffalo.
Mayor Byron W. Brown was among nine mayors to sign a letter to the FCC and the Justice Department raising concerns about the Verizon-cable deal because of this issue, Sikora said. T-Mobile has objected to the deal on antitrust grounds.
Verizon argues that the company needs to acquire additional spectrum to avoid running out of capacity on its wireless network.
And the marketing agreements would help Verizon compete with other wireless providers and help its cable partners compete with other cable providers by offering better services to their subscribers.
"Verizon Wireless has made a persuasive case that the marketing agreements with the cable companies are strongly in the public interest," Bonomo wrote.
Members of CWA Local 1122 were joined at Thursday's rally by members of Local 1133, which represents nurses and health care workers; members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; representatives of PUSH Buffalo; State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who also spoke; Mike Amodeo, a candidate for State Senate; and Christopher Fahey, senior policy adviser for Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.
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