This past weekend Verizon's 45,000 union workers (out of 196,000 total workers) voted to go on strike against Verizon rather than concede to what they call "Wisconsin-style" union busting tactics at the negotiating table that would "gut the health care" benefits of union workers among other labor issues.
I got my start in the business phone service industry working for "the phone company" in the early 90's and had the opportunity to work side by side, as a manager, with many union members. I know from personal experience that they're hard working and very dedicated to their craft.
Now as an independent business phone bill auditor as well as a voice and data network services consultant, I work with
Two Bad Things Verizon Business Customers Should Expect During the Strike
1. New Orders, Changes, Repairs and Installs Will Grind to a Halt
Find a way to be happy with the way your Verizon business phone and data service works right now (and pray it does not break) because it will be a long time before you get a new order, change, repair or install through the system.
In the 20 years I've been placing orders through Verizon and the other "Ma Bell" carriers, nothing much has changed except how orders and inquiries are lost, forgotten or done incorrectly. It used to be that live customer service people answered the phone and then messed up the order, transferred you to a busy signal or just plain hung up on you on what seemed like every other call.
Now that process is initiated by the Verizon Enterprise Center ("VEC") online customer portal. It's actually a marvelous Internet web portal for customers (and their agents) to initiate orders as everything gets very well documented. Unfortunately, getting the order done correctly, the first time and on time depends on which Verizon human gets assigned to work on your VEC portal initiated order.
With non-union managers trying to fill in for the union workers that normally process orders, you can expect the 50% error rate to go to 90% and order completion intervals to go from 5 days to 5 weeks.
2. You'll Have a Hard Time Finding Anyone That Understand What You're Talking About
With the big phone companies you have have a pretty serious division between the non-union sales managers that sell you the business voice and data solutions you need and the union people that process the orders that get those services provisioned and installed.
The main problems with this big division is that the sales managers only have an "ivory tower" idea about how the installed services actually work "under the hood". In all my recent contact with Verizon sales managers, few if any had ever been trained on or had even experienced the VEC customer portal itself not to mention the more advance serives.
When a customer has a problem with a specific service feature the customer needs to speak with a service person who understand how the service works and was provisioned in order to have any expectation that the problem will ever get properly fixed. Sales managers know how to price a voice and data service out - but trouble shoot a feature problem? As they say in New Jersey, "Fugitaboutit!"
The Good and Bad That Will Happen For Customers After The Strike
1. Prices For Verizon Solutions Will Slowly Drop
Just as American car companies have somewhat turned themselves around after being able to pretty much gut their union contracts to better compete with non-union overseas car companies, Verizon will experience overhead cost relief after achieving the union concessions that will no doubt eventually come to pass due to economic realities that a strike can not change.
This will be good news for die hard Verizon customers and bad news for Verizon competitors - the "competitive local exchange companies" or CLECs that have long held a cost advantage over Verizon. The long term Verizon customers who always wished they could save money without switching to a CLEC will finally get their wish.
2. Quality Will Drop and the 130 Year Old "Public Phone System" Will Disappear
The union workers on strike are right when they say, "You can't buy the sort of quality that experienced union workers deliver everyday if you start paying them minimum wage and no reasonable benfits like they were workers at a WalMart."
But it's not Verizon shareholders that are making the decision to no longer invest in a middle-class way of life that the "Public Phone System" delivered to phone company workers for over a hundred years, but the consumers and business owners that make calls using Skype, Magic Jack and every other "save money calling device" since the Carterfone started upsetting the Bell apple cart 50 years ago.
When the phone customers vote with their dollars that they won't pay the high price of quality then the quality and ultimately the copper wired, plain old public phone system we've know since birth (and another supporting pillar of the middle-class) will have disappeared in favor of cell phones and VoIP (voice over the Internet) and other private networks like Verizon's FiOS fiber network.
What will be left? Verizon will compete on a more toe-to-toe level with their more lightweight CLEC competitors. Verizon will be at a great advantage however with a reasonably decent reputation and tons of cash from it's wireless divisions. But they'll no longer have the great "quality edge" that they've always held over their CLEC competitors. And their more nimble competitors will rightly claim the advantage in better ideas and more modern business phone "applications"
What Should Verizon Business Customers Do - If Anything?
That's kind of like asking, "What can I do about the famine in Africa?" Watching middle-class America slip into non-existance is as hard to watch on the news as starving babies. For Africa you can donate money to Unicef but you can't change the weather conditions that cause drought.
The same kind of goes with the Verizon union strike. You can feel bad for people that are ill prepared to pay a couple hundred dollars more every month for their health insurance but I'm not personally going to send them money when I'm paying over $1,300 a month for the health insurance for my own family.
The only thing to be done is to let the free market run free. Buy Verizon business voice and data services when Verizon offers the best deal. Nothing else can be supported in the long run.
Or just call us.
We know Verizon as well as anyone and we'll let you know when you should be leaning towards a Verizon solution and when you need to be leaning towards one of Verizon's CLEC competitors.
Want to Do Something More? Watch These Videos...
We can't resurrect the "old phone company" of the last 130 years out of the grave but we can watch these videos to remind us what we loved and hated about it...
Lily Tomlin's "Ernestine" reminds us that, "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company!" (Aired September 18, 1976 on SNL)
Here's a very groovy comercial about a swinging fellow dialing his "buddy" long distance in LA.
This last video gives a taste for what the Bell System companies were for 100 years.
Here's an ad from a may 12, 1972 Life magazine that gave a feel for how great it was to get a job at the phone company.
(Author's note: I would not be a successful independent telecom agent and consultant today without the training and experience I received from working for Pacific Bell as an "account executive" from 1990 - 1994.)
This BPN022 blog post is copyright protected by Telecom Association.