Verizon Injunctions Quiet Protests in Pennsylvania

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The battle between Verizon and its striking union members is heating up, with workers under orders to tone down their picketing as contract negotiations continued.
     Judge Nina Wright Padilla with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas issued the injunction Friday, granting Verizon’s request to have union members keep their often-fervent protests away from its stores while a new deal is reached.
     The ruling comes after the telecommunications giant filed two lawsuits against the Communications Workers of America AFL-CIO, local 13000 and local 13500.
     Filed Thursday and Friday, the complaints allege “violent, threatening and unlawful” picketing by the unions outside Verizon retail stores since the workers went on strike Wednesday in protest of the failure to negotiate a new contract since their last deal expired in August 2015.
     Verizon filed the first complaint in the name of its corporate retail stores and the second on behalf of its authorized cellphone retailer, Cellco, which it says lost business from the picketing outside its Philadelphia locations.
     Padilla’s injunction is valid for three months and limits workers’ proximity to Verizon property, stating that no demonstration can include more than six people and that all activity must take place a minimum of 15 yards away from store entrances.
     Verizon stores are quieter in the wake of the injunction, but the protest remained visible Monday, with a pair of picketing employees dressed in CWA union garb holding placards outside a prominent downtown Philadelphia Verizon store during Monday evening rush hour.
     Jeff Reamer, the executive vice president of CWA Local No. 13000, said in a phone interview Friday that he hoped for a resolution soon, but that his union was “not willing to settle” with what Verizon executives had offered thus far.
     “There have been talks back and forth,” Reamer said. “[We’re] willing and able to negotiate a fair contract, but the company’s going to have to come to table with negotiations, not ultimatums.”
     With the protests heating up and the litigation flying fast, the two sides first met on Friday in an attempt to begin the negotiation process for a new collective bargaining agreement.
     A spokesman for Verizon did not immediately return a Tuesday morning voicemail asking for updates on this process.
     Padilla’s injunction tries to hold the peace in the meantime, prohibiting employees from “interfering with [Verizon’s] business activities … by threatening, obstructing, intimidating or harassing.”
     At issue in the talks is the union’s concern about Verizon’s contracting of call-center work in the Mid-Atlantic region. In doing so, the CWA claims in a press release, the company is “hold[ing] hostage” their job security.
     “The company’s demand for flexibility has led to massive contracting of outside plant work throughout parts of our district,” the statement from United Communications Workers of America says.
     Describing their employer’s corporate stance as a “sweatshop mentality,” the union alleges, “There is no respect for workers or the quality of life of their families.”
     Verizon, meanwhile, contends in a press release that it has made several “good-faith efforts” to get a new labor deal for its workers, including asking union leaders to participate in a mediation before taking to the streets with protest signs.
     “It’s regrettable that union leaders have called [this] strike, a move that hurts all of our employees,” Verizon chief administrative officer Marc Reed said in a statement.
     “We’ve worked diligently to try and reach agreements that would be good for our employees, good for our customers and make the wireline business more successful now and in the future,” Reed continued. “Unfortunately, union leaders have their own agenda in the past and are ignoring today’s digital realities. Calling a strike benefits no one, and brings us no closer to resolution.”
     Verizon said last week’s protests had workers entering retail locations and telecommunications facilities, as well as forming a physical barrier meant to keep out employees and customers.
     Alleging that the protests were allegedly replete with hostility from the beginning, Verizon said striking workers frequently screamed obscenities and made threatening statements and gestures, including allegedly telling one employee, “I’m looking for a reason to go home,” which she said she interpreted as a threat.
     That employee was one of several who submitted a signed affidavit with the lawsuits stating that they were harassed when they tried to cross the picket lines to go to work. In at least one such case, the protestors decried them as “scabs,” rank-and-file slang for a union traitor.
     Police were “unable or unwilling” to stop the union’s antics, Verizon and Cellco claim.
     “We will not break the line,” they allegedly told an employee who asked them to escort her into the surrounded building in which she worked.
     Verizon is represented in its litigation by Philadelphia attorney Michael Jones of Reed Smith LLP.

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