Verizon: Plenty Of Good Middle Class Jobs But Would You Want To Work There?
Verizon often ranks on the "Best Places to Work" and "most admired" company lists, thanks to its ample salaries, generous benefits, impressive diversity and well-regarded training program. Yet many of the company's employees, former and current, are on a tear about the phone carrier, accusing it of slipping off its moral perch, harassing employees who demand their rights, outsourcing and contracting good jobs, and punishing union members who dare to push back. But given the diminished supply of secure middle class jobs across the country, does Verizon still deserve its accolades? And why do so many workers there seem so miserable?
The company rose from the dust of AT&T's anti-trust breakup in 1984, when the Bell Atlantic and GTE corporations merged in 2000 -- one of the largest mergers in U.S. history. Rebranding itself as "Verizon," it's the 15th largest company in the country, with over $2.4 billion in profits, and almost 200,000 employees, according to Statistics Brain.
And those employees have a pretty sweet deal. Network engineers earn an average of $72,000 a year, according to Glassdoor.com. Software engineers take home $88,000. Customer service reps make an average of $36,000 -- 20 percent more than customer service reps on average. Training magazine ranked Verizon's training program the top in the country, and employees log more than 9 million training hours a year, according to Verizon spokesman Ray McConville.
The 45,000 unionized employees on the landline side of the business have benefits that hark to an earlier era: completely free health insurance, vision and dental; job security; profit-sharing; yearly wage increases; a pension like in the good old days; and while almost all Americans are entitled to three months of leave per year for the birth of a child or a health issue, for these employees, that leave is paid.
With the landline business shrinking, and non-union competition on the rise, Verizon has driven a hard bargain in the latest round of union contract negotiations. In fact, after over a year, the details of the new contract are yet to be resolved. And many on, or formerly on, the Verizon payroll say that the austerity that has kept Verizon and the unions in gridlock for 13 months has been pernicious for a long, long time.
Neal Dias, a black man who shot up the Verizon ranks for over a decade, claims that he witnessed verbal abuse and threats at all levels, and then was blackballed when he complained: his work sabotaged, his bonuses reduced, forced to sit in the back of the room, told by white managers that he was a product of affirmative action, and ultimately fired in 2008.
His petition, calling on Verizon to end its "relentless bullying tactics," has been signed by 1,024 people, and his blog has 16,000 followers. Just this month, he was granted a trial in his case against the telecom goliath. Verizon spokesman Ray McConville said that he couldn't comment on pending litigation.
"It used to be your parents would say go to the phone company. Get a good, solid union job -- you'll be set for life," says New York attorney Carol Ryder. "Not anymore."
Ryder says that she became accredited as a federal attorney just so she could battle Verizon on behalf of her husband, who she says was forced out of his job when Verizon suddenly -- and illegally -- took away the accommodation for his disabilities.
Her husband had a triple bypass and suffered several neurological diseases, she says, and so he did his engineering job at night, so that he could park close to the building and go on fewer long drives. When Verizon stopped offering those accommodations, her husband had to leave his job.
paid out $20 million to a group of employees -- the largest disability discrimination settlement in the history of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
While working on her husband's case, Ryder sent out a clarion call to other Verizon employees who believe that they've been wronged, and she says that she's received around 25 complaints so far. Mostly, she says, these employees claim they've been targeted for using their paid Family and Medical Leave Act time-off, as guaranteed in their union contracts. And a group of employees who charge Verizon with exactly this crime, were granted trial earlier this year.
When Verizon considers an employee too expensive, Ryder says, it will find any tiny excuse to fire the person. "You use too much toilet paper and you're out. I'm exaggerating, but not by much."
And according to Ryder, the company knows that with its superhero squad of lawyers, few employees have the resources or stamina to fight Verizon all the way to court. Ryder is currently searching for a law firm with another weight to throw around to take on Big Red. "Erin Brockovich couldn't even handle this case," she says.
But despite the droves of employees allegedly kicked to the curb by Verizon, many others defend the company, praising its benefits, salaries and stability, and complaining only about the conservative corporate culture, sometimes frustrating bureaucracy, and oppressive quotas for those who work in sales.
"golden handcuffs," because the compensation is so hard to beat. But for many Americans, anything gold would be nice right now. And military veterans will find a particularly welcoming home at Verizon, which made G.I. Jobs' Top 100 Military Friendly Employers.
For those interested in this making this bargain, Verizon is hiring everywhere from sales and engineering to IT and human resources. A person who applies online for a customer service job will have at least two interviews, one on the phone and one face-to-face. The questions focus on why you're applying ("Why Verizon? Why do you want to leave your job? Where do you want to be in five years?"), and past situations that have tested your mettle ("Give an example of when you had to settle a conflict?").
You may also have to take a personality test, which probes you on your typing and multitasking abilities, and on your likelihood to, say, have a violent meltdown or hide from human contact for days on end. A drug test and background check are also standard. And those applying for specialized jobs, like business consultant or software developer, should expect questions of the business and technical variety, respectively.
Despite accusations of foul play by some, Verizon remains a company that people stay at for decades. There's a reason why the unions are holding firm in negotiations, claiming that Verizon's demands and aggressive outsourcing threaten the American middle class. Unlike so many other companies, Verizon still offers true middle class jobs.
Looking for a job at Verizon? Start your search here.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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