Verizon employees protest in Tampa

The union workers complain about overwork and "unrealistic performance goals."

By NINA KIM, Times staff writer
Published July 21, 2007

Three people stood outside the Verizon customer sales and service center in downtown Tampa at 7 a.m. Friday, holding signs that read, "Verizon unfair to employees" and "Employees demand respect."

By 7:30 a.m., nearly 70 union workers paced up and down the sidewalk with bright pink, orange and white posters.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 824 members protested about 30 work centers in Verizon Communications Inc.'s seven-county area. The union has about 4,000 members, and grievances ranged from insufficient training and overwork to arbitrary relocation and unjust termination.

"There's no one, big, hot button issue," said Norwood Orrick, 42, a customer zone technician at Verizon's Bay East technician center. "It's a lot of little grievances that are adding up."

Doug Sellars, the business manager of IBEW Local 824, says some of the major issues are Verizon's "unrealistic performance goals for employees."

"The company spends more time trying to discipline members rather than helping them achieve their goals," he said.

But Bob Elek, a Verizon spokesman, says they're not "performance goals," but "requirements of the markets."

"Market demand is being driven by products, like FiOS and DSL," he said, referring to Verizon's cable TV and high-speed Internet products. "We're the only carrier in the country providing fiber service to the site of the customer's house, so this is a major transition for the company."

Verizon has about 1.6-million customer lines in Florida and employs about 11,000 people.

Zaida Menendez, 41, a customer contact associate and the union chief steward at the downtown center, says the FiOS ambitions are "taking a toll" on the workers and can't recall working so much overtime during her 9 1/2 years at Verizon.

"The employees here have to work overtime every day," she said. "They're working 10 hours a day and leave here crying, feeling like they've been held hostage."

Call centers have been called the "modern day sweatshop," but Verizon's contract allows them to require up to two hours of overtime from its employees.

"I'm certain we've done nothing outside the bounds of that contract," Elek said.

Dawn Livingston, 54, a customer contact associate, says they're reprimanded when they stray from the "cookie cutter" list of questions to ask customers, and they "don't have enough people answering the phones."

Elek says Verizon is hiring to alleviate the pressure on current employees, but first has to train the new hires for eight weeks.

"It takes a lot of time to learn the in's and out's of the system," Livingston said. "At this rate, it's going to take at least a year to be able to have a call volume that's more manageable."

Overall, IBEW Local 824 members say they want to be treated with respect and taken seriously in efforts to resolve these issues.

"The union's not trying to bash Verizon," Livingston said. "We just want them to work with us more like we're partners instead of trying to control us."

Nina Kim can be reached at nkim@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8913.