Dan Musard has been president of IBEW Local 2323 since 2012. This spring’s successful strike was his first as president. He has worked at Verizon since 2000. While a tentative agreement was announced on May 27th by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, this interview with Musard, conducted two days earlier, provides insight into the massive strike that put nearly 40,000 workers on the picket line for 45 days. Labor leaders, rank and file union members, and the yet unorganized can all learn important lessons from this experience.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The union/not-yet-union breakdown at Verizon
Musard: The land line base is union. The technicians out in the Verizon trucks, like me, are union. The Verizon Wireless end of it is primarily non-union, although other locals in the CWA and IBEW are starting to get into some of the Verizon Wireless locations starting to make some crossroads into organizing Verizon wireless.
If the company locks you out, the RI DLT calls it a “lockout”
Verizon disabled our key pass to enter the building. Our (van) keys are locked in the building. They flipped the switch and moved the calls (from the Providence Fiber Solution Center) to another location. There are just five security guards there.
If I walked up to the side of the building and tried opening a door, they could have me arrested for trespassing. We are still fielding phone calls now (while the strike was going on). "I don't have my last pay stub, how do I get it?" You can't. You're locked out of the system. Everyone's Verizon Wireless cell phones, they're all shut off.
There was no advance information given. I have a very good rapport with my boss, he's great to work for. There was no dialog between us like "Here's a number you can call if you want to work."
Picketing at Verizon Wireless
We're down there (at Verizon Wireless) to support CWA members. We're out there to support them because we know that's Verizon's baby, and we want to get those people (working in Verizon Wireless) with us. We want to win this contract for us, for America, for middle-class working conditions and jobs. We want to incorporate Verizon Wireless into that. They're part of us. It all says Verizon on our paycheck at the end of the week, and we want them with us. We are out there. A lot of the support we've gotten from workers inside the stores has been eye-opening, to say the least. We're there to take the fight to where they don't want it to be.
From what we're being told, and it was verified back probably after about three weeks into the labor dispute, we were told their sales were down 82% because people are going out there and hearing the stories about how the CEO makes $9,000 an hour, that he makes our annual salaries in two days. People are tired of it, and I think they're looking up to us because we're taking this stand. We're going to fight. We say "One day longer; one day stronger." We're not going back until we get what is right for us.
Some of their busiest stores, from 11:00 in the morning when they open up until 8:00 at night when our last picketer leaves, don't have twenty people going in. That's a big hit to these stores where on a Saturday you'd see way over a hundred going in. They put these big banners in front of their stores, we call them disaster relief signs, that say "WE'RE OPEN" every day to try to drum up business. We know it is affecting them.
Picketing scab technicians
We wanted to drive home our message to these people that we're going to be with you all the time. If you're working, we're going to be with you. If you're sleeping, we're going to be out with you. You're going to a garage, you're eating your lunch, we're going to be with you. We are out here full time; we want to go back to work and do our jobs.
We were asking the hotels to get rid of these workers. They're people from out of state; they're busing them in. We're actually named in a labor case, so we will not be picketing at any more hotels. The hotel picket was considered a "mass picket." We weren't picketing, we didn't have signs, we were just there with noisemakers. They put in for an injunction against us, which was ironic, because we weren't doing it any more anyway. From my understanding, it was effective in getting them to leave the Biltmore and go somewhere else.
(We are tracking people working from) Verizon trucks and personal cars, going into people's homes every day and doing work. We're not able to get to every single contractor, but we are doing our best, we get them out of the garage. We have points throughout the state, so when one is seen, we get a call, that goes to people who disperse out, "Oh, we have two in Warwick, we got four here." That's what we do in the office. We're coordinating people like chess pieces all over the board, all over the map. That's where we are getting out to these locations. We were with one in Warwick until 5 o'clock at night.
We've been fortunate. Some of them like to instigate us. It is fine. We haven't had any legal issues, no arrests, vandalism, nothing like that. We preach to people, "Do the right thing." That one thing that you're doing right now is not going to make it or break it, it is a consolidated effort. It is everybody together.
We're not trying to intimidate these people, we're trying to educate everyone around them. When we're at 20 Mary Street, we're going to 22 and 24 and 27 and 29 and saying "This is what's going on out here. We're not here to disrupt anybody or cause anybody harm. This is just the scenario." We'll hand out some literature. The support has been unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.
Some people have said to me "We should try to get them to leave Verizon." I said "No. We don't want Verizon to be broke. We want Verizon to make $1.8 billion in profit. We do. Just pay us what we deserve, that's all." We had a phone call last week, there were two people working just up the street from here. We sent out about 15 people, they're out there picketing, and the customer came right out in front of the managers and said, "You don't know how to do this job, I know you don't know how to do it, I'm trying to open this business." He said to our union guys, "Do you want me to kick them out and wait for you?" They were perfect and they said "Absolutely not. Let them do the job, when it doesn't work, we'll come back and fix it when we get back to work." She was great with that, and she even called out and said to me, "Your guys were out there, and they couldn't have been better."
If all of a sudden we have no customers at Verizon, guess what happens to us. We've got no jobs to go back to.
Outsourcing customer support centers
When I first started at FIOS back in 2004, I was one of the first 10 individuals in Rhode Island to start with FIOS. We went to school, and I remember back then hearing that they're not going to contract out the (Fiber Solution) Centers. But, things happen, and we find out more and more that they are contracting out the centers. If you come home and your set top box isn't working, and you make a phone call to tech support, it is going a lot of times overseas. There are at least five or six contracted centers that are out of the country.
Work is going to the Philippines, where they're making a $1.78 an hour. We want it to be our people. It is a highly profitable company. They were profiting when the calls were coming here. The calls should stay in this country.
Someone in the Philippines at one of the call centers went on Facebook and got ahold of the CWA and said, "We'd love to join you; this is wrong." So four volunteers from the CWA flew down to the Philippines to meet these people. When they got there, they were confronted at this Verizon locations by people wearing masks with automatic weapons, chasing them, trying to stop them out of cars. It is all online, and if you watch it, it is like a movie. The SWAT team got involved, the police got involved. What are they trying to protect? The magnitude of jobs they are transferring out may be more than we imagined. We've got 450 jobs down in Providence, if we allow this to happen, it is going to be 450 good Rhode Island jobs that are going to be taken out of Rhode Island and out of the country.
(see it at https://vimeo.com/167176792)
Unfortunately in life you hear more of the bad than the good, but if brought 10 representatives in here who work on order issues or technical issues, every one of them would have stories about these "Z reps," that's how they identify if they're out of the country, by a "Z" in their employee code. The extra work that they create alone. Your telephone doesn't work, and they have you unplugging cable boxes.
Building solidarity across the labor movement When we took office four years ago, all of us have a good working relationship in this office, we sat down and said, "What do you do to revive the labor movement?" Tactics change, but what was the thing that used to get people together? We said, “We're going to start getting involved.” Every Thursday we wear our red. The reason we do it is that there was a member who was hurt on the picket line, a long time ago, and ever since then we've worn red. That's the way we became the red shirts.
As president I said, "Put a red shirt in your trunk, and when the word comes out that we're needed, that's what we do." It is not for three hours, not for ten hours, it may be for a half hour, hour, longest, two hours, and that's it. You do one of them a week, two a month, who knows.
So we got in contact with a group that was having issues that was going to be privatized in a school, basically take it or leave it, here's your job, you're getting this huge cut, take it or leave it. We got involved, we got down to the first school committee meeting, we had about 15 people, this was over the course of a few months. The next one we had about 30, the next one we had 45, the next one we had 65. We were all there in support of these people.
I gotta tell you, it was the best thing for this local, because grown men got to see other grown men and women bawling because we were there to support them and we gave them hope. And what ended up happening is that after they were privatized, a month or two later, they unionized, and they became union again. It was eye-opening for people to see that they could make a difference. Now that's why we're everywhere.
We were at the UFCW rally at Eastland Foods, where 328 just unionized the workers. We were at Bob's Tire up in New Bedford. We were with the Teamsters in Fall River. I was just at the Teamsters union meeting on Sunday morning over in East Providence. We had all the labor movement involved over on Route 2 (picketing Verizon Wireless). We're just showing people that when you push back and stand together, these are the things that you can accomplish. A lot of eyes are on us now. Which is good. We're ok with that. We don't mind being the leaders, but when you are a leader you need people to stand behind you. We have that. We're everywhere, and we'll continue to be everywhere.