- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Union members are so mad at their employer, Verizon, that they’ve been on strike for nearly two weeks. Wireline division employees, who are paid up to $91,000 a year with overtime and $50,000 a year in benefits, are irate at being asked to contribute a nominal sum toward their own health insurance coverage.

The telecommunications giant spends $4 billion a year on these benefits, and the cost is rising rapidly. “The business model of free health care is just unsustainable,” company spokesman Ed McFadden told The Washington Times. “We’re asking union employees to do what every other Verizon employee in the business does - which is chip in toward their health care premiums.”

To that end, the company rolled out newspaper ads on Wednesday to educate the public who see the pickets at offices and work sites all over the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. One ad says: “They claim we’re asking union employees to contribute to their own health care premiums. They’re right. We think that’s fair.”

It’s not like the 45,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are deprived. Verizon wants them to pay $107 a month, or about $1,300 a year, toward their premiums.

The COBRA plans offered to employees cost $4,800 to $10,000 per year for individual plans or $10,000 to $20,000 for family plans - high rates that show the generous subsidy they’re getting. “If they had decided to work last week, that week’s paycheck alone would have covered their annual contribution toward the health care premium,” Mr. McFadden pointed out.

Desperate goons aren’t satisfied and are resorting to thuggery to get their way. The vice president of a CWA chapter in Brooklyn recorded a voice message instructing union members to face down “managers and scabs.” He said to “follow them safely, but when you get to a location, torture them. Torture them with chants and noise. Be so loud that they can’t concentrate and wish they never got out of bed.” The union’s political director had the message taken down.

The days of Ma Bell and her government-sanctioned monopoly status are long gone. Verizon now faces competition from cable companies providing telephone service and Internet services like Skype that let people communicate anywhere in the world at little or no cost. The country is moving away from wireline and toward more innovative wireless options. The unions aren’t paying attention to these competitive pressures. They won’t give an inch.

Fortunately, Verizon isn’t backing down. In a letter Tuesday, the company notified strikers that their current health insurance would be cut off at the end of August without a deal. The unions knew their contract only let the gravy train go so long, but they are banking on the company backing down before they have to pay market rates for coverage.

If organized labor leaders weren’t so spoiled, they’d recognize how good they have it. Millions of Americans waiting in unemployment lines right now would love to have a fraction of what these union employees are getting. They ought to pay the hundred bucks toward their Cadillac health plans and get back to work.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.