Workers picket Verizon in Tampa
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04/16/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

For the second time in as many weeks, this morning about a dozen Verizon workers picketed in front of their office building in downtown Tampa.

These workers aren’t asking for higher wages, or better health care benefits. But they are unhappy. They say management is not allowing them to do their jobs. But management says selling is part of their jobs.

Bobby Jones is an equipment technician for Verizon. Jones says Verizon has applied some pressure to customer service representatives to push other products on customers, but never to the extent that its happening now.

In 2005, Verizon was awarded a franchise for cable television service in Tampa as well as in Hillsborough, Pinellas and other counties in the bay area, making it at the time one of the few areas in the country where there was active competition for cable services.

Bright House, which previously held the monopoly in the region, has also expanded its services to provide internet and telephone coverage.

According to U.S. Telecom, telephone companies now have more than 5 million TV subscribers, with Verizon the leader with 1 million subscribers in 13 states.

Doug Sellars is the business manager for IBEW Local 824. He says pressure to sell by Verizon management is having a negative affect on the workers being able to do their work they’re primarily paid to do – and its creating a morale problem.

The street protests by Verizon workers comes week after the Tampa Tribune reported about customer frustration with billing problems and sales techniques. Some customers complained about Verizon’s advertised $99 per month deal for bundled services that ended up costing some people more than $130 per month with the addition of equipment rentals and fees.

Bob Elek, a spokesman for Verizon in Tampa, says the "informational picket" by Verizon employees is simply a typical labor-management dispute. And, Elek says, in the competitive marketplace that Verizon finds itself, selling and service need to go hand in hand. But he rejects the notion that customer complaints are higher because Verizon is emphasizing sales over service.

Union head Doug Sellers acknowledges that selling is part of the customer service rep’s job, but he says those jobs have become harder because of the pressure to sell.

Members of the union says that management has not spoken to them since their intial protest last week, and Elek says there are no plans to do so in the immediate future.

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