The parallel to Wisconsin is apt for several reasons. First, like the Republican elected officials in their attacks on unionized schoolteachers and other public employees, Verizon is taking aim at one of the last bastions of the American middle class. As a main strategy in its public relations, the company is trying to stoke resentment about the fact that the CWA and IBEW workers actually have living-wage jobs. It is hoping that “I don’t have a pension, why should they” logic will carry the day.
Accordingly, on Wednesday Verizon took out a full-page ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggesting that a typical employee makes $80,600 in annual pay and $42,000 in benefits. The union disputes this claim, contending that salaries are generally in the $60,000 to $77,000 range, and that benefits are less costly than the company would suggest. But, regardless, the debate over numbers misses some critical questions: What’s wrong with workers sharing in the profits of a healthy corporation? Isn’t that the way our economy is supposed to work?
(On a side note, it’s always a treat when companies plead poverty at the negotiating table and then turn around and spend big bucks on media spots, anti-union consultants, and pricey PR firms—but that’s another story.)
The fate of 45,000 middle-class jobs is a big deal for all of America. Last month, the entire U.S. economy had a net gain of only 117,000 jobs. Not only is that for the whole country, it represents a pretty decent month given the numbers from the past year. Furthermore, almost all of the new jobs now being created are low-wage. Given these realities—and the fact that concentrating all wealth in the hands of the rich is a very bad strategy for creating the kind of demand the economy needs to rebound—what happens to the Verizon workers is a matter of broad public concern.
If the assault on the middle class isn’t halted here, there will be another battle and another and another until every right working people have gained over the past century is eliminated.