By BILL HUBER, President and Business Manager, IBEW Local 827
On Wednesday, December 5th I attended the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on the impact of Hurricane Sandy and how the state’s power, water and telecommunications utilities were progressing with restoration efforts.
Each power and telecom utility offered virtually the same message: Hurricane Sandy was devastating; recovery efforts are proceeding rapidly and successfully; yes, we have a problem communicating with our customers during a crisis, but we are working on it; and, send more federal and state funding so we can do our job even better. It sounded like a broken record.
Through the efforts of Senate President Steve Sweeney, I was afforded the opportunity to offer testimony on our union’s perspective of the recovery process in the telecom field. My comments did not mirror the feel good testimony of the utilities.
In my testimony I pointed out that this storm’s damage was greatly aggravated by the historic and continuing actions of power and communications utilities to ignore the importance of “building smart” and then properly maintaining the power and communications grid in this region.
I also testified that the cumulative result of this business philosophy was revealed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy by the long time periods involved in restoring service due to the lack of adequate manpower resulting from consistent downsizing, causing the need to import service techs from other states.
Our union, IBEW Local 827 which represents 5,000 Verizon technical professionals as well as units working for Comcast, AT&T and Avaya, has been critical of Verizon’s efforts to move away from being the company that provides a reliable telephone dial tone service in favor of a wireless services provider.
We believe that Verizon needs to be forced by the Legislature to live up to its obligation as the last provider of dial tone service, to spend what is necessary to provide alternatives for senior citizens who do not want to migrate to Fiber or provide a reliable back-up power source that will keep dial tone working in power failures.
Verizon has technology available that would allow them to take care of seniors and rural customers but they haven’t built out this valuable technological backup system simply because they don’t want to absorb the cost and also because they don’t have enough trained outside techs to do the work in a timely fashion.
In fact, in an effort to improve their quarterly reports to stockholders, Verizon is still proceeding with plans to lay off over 200 more of our service tech members (after laying off 336 last March), the very skilled workers needed to meet the challenges of the future.
In spite of these challenges, and the contentious relations we have had over the last year with Verizon as we hammered out a contract settlement, I testified that our union was willing to partner with the company to use some of the billions in federal aid coming into the region to rebuild New Jersey’s telecom infrastructure in a way that would make it state of the art and able to withstand future natural disasters like Sandy.
I believe the New Jersey State Legislature, as well as the Federal government, should take a closer look at how Verizon is performing during this recovery process and force this company to do right by consumers and taxpayers.
The recovery from Hurricane Sandy is going to be difficult enough. We don’t need to have a major corporation like Verizon further exacerbating the situation by putting the need for quarterly profits ahead of the needs of consumers and missing the opportunity to build a smarter telecom grid for New Jersey’s future.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 represents 5,000 technical professionals in the telecommunications field, including linemen and installers, working for Verizon in New Jersey as well as Comcast, AT&T and Avaya.
Copyright © by In The Lobby All Right Reserved.