Aug
08
2011

Covering the Verizon Strike: Are the Bosses Telling the Truth?

Labor disputes are often about compensation– salary and/or benefits. Management claims its employees are actually doing just fine, workers say otherwise. 45,000 Verizon workers are on strike on the East Coast over salary, pension and health benefits and collective bargaining rights.

One would hope that reporters would try to referee such disputes over compensation. In the New York Times, Steven Greenhouse prints the claims side by side.

Yesterday:

Verizon called its unionized employees well paid, saying that many field technicians earn more than $100,000 a year, including overtime, with an additional $50,000 in benefits. But union officials say that the field technicians and call center workers generally earn $60,000 to $77,000 before overtime and that benefits come to well under $50,000 a year.


Today:

Verizon says its unionized employees are well paid, with many field technicians earning more than $90,000 a year, including overtime, with an additional $50,000 in benefits. Union officials say the field technicians and call center workers generally earn $60,000 to $77,000 a year before overtime and that benefits come to far less than $50,000 a year.

Now a careful reader might figure out the difference between Verizon saying that "many" tech workers earn more than $90,000, and the union saying the same workers "generally" earn about 1/3 less. It's the same as saying "many" Americans are millionaires; generally Americans are not.

If the company is wildly overstating what its employees are making, news accounts should get to the bottom of it.

UPDATE: Greenhouse digs into these compensation figures a bit more today, and it's hard not to conclude that Verizon's doing some funny math:

The financials of Verizonâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s landline business are not the only set of numbers that company and union are fighting over. Union officials dispute the companyâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s estimate that each employee receives $50,000 worth of benefits each year. In that number, the company includes $14,700 for medical and dental insurance, $10,900 for retiree health care and life insurance, $10,800 for pension and $7,500 for time off.

Union officials say total benefits average $25,000 a year. Mr. Kohl, the union official, disputed the $10,800 yearly figure for pensions, noting that Verizonâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s annual report said the companyâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s 2010 contributions to the unionâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s defined benefit plans 'were not significant.â┚¬Ã‚ Verizon officials said the $10,800 was an average annual amount.

Mr. Kohl also said the $10,900 retiree health care figure was greatly exaggerated, asserting that many retirees had worked years to pay for that care so the cost should not be attributed to current employees.

Mr. Kohl also quarreled with Verizon saying the value of time off â┚¬” vacation, sick days and personal days â┚¬” was $7,500. He dismissed that as double-counting because that number was already counted in wages.

So the company's counting sick days and vacation as paid compensation? We've seen companies claim retiree healthcare as part of current workers benefits before. In any case, Greenhouse is doing today what reporters should be doing when covering this kind of dispute.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.