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Verizon Battles Network Sabotage as Workers Strike Using Extreme Tactics

Verizon Strike Intensifies: Company Battles Network Sabotage and Aggressive Picketing Tactics

In the IT Security space we’re constantly reminded of the dangers from the “insider threat”, but this week Verizon is battling somewhat of a different attack from within.

In an intensifying standoff between Verizon and approximately 45,000 of its union employees, mostly across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, Verizon is battling criminal acts of sabotage against network facilities and union picketers intimidating non-union replacement workers and illegally blocking garage and work center entrances.

One union picketer went as far as to instruct his young daughter to stand in front of a Verizon truck to illegally block it from coming back to a Verizon work center in New Jersey. While his daughter stood as a human shield, the union picketer used extremely profane language in an attempt intimidate the replacement workers while his daughter watched. (Warning: Explicit Language in Video)

Since August 6th, Verizon has encountered more than 110 acts of sabotage against its network facilities, in some spots temporarily affecting service to thousands of customers across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including police stations and other emergency responders. In most of these cases, service was restored within 24 hours, Verizon said. “Many incidents have been cutting through traditional copper lines or fiber cables, with most incidents affecting 100-300 customers at a time. In one incident, lines were cut at a State Troopers’ Barack yesterday,” a Verizon spokesperson told SecurityWeek.

The acts of sabotage have affected phone, Internet and TV service in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York and include, but are not limited to:

• Ten incidents of fiber-optic lines being deliberately cut in the Bronx, Pomona, Farmingdale and Guilderland in New York; two separate incidents in Tewksbury in Massachusetts; incidents in Bel Air in Maryland, and East Dover, Oakland and Plainfield in New Jersey.

• An outage due to stolen electronic equipment in Cedar Grove, N.J., affecting a local police department, among other customers.

• An incident due to tampering with a heating system at a central office in Manhattan.

Despite the extreme acts by picketers, Verizon says its operations are “performing solidly”.

In an effort to crack down on acts of sabotage, vandalism, and intimidation, Verizon is working with the FBI, and is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of individuals who intentionally damage Verizon cables or facilities or cause or attempt to cause physical injury to any Verizon employee or contractor.

According to a company statement, Verizon has obtained injunctions that prevent intimidation and illegal blocking of facilities in Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania, and will continue efforts to obtain injunctions in Massachusetts and New Jersey. According to a statement from Verizon, six picketers were arrested by Baltimore County police earlier this week for illegally blocking an entrance at a Verizon facility in Randallstown, Md.

The workers on strike work for Verizon’s wireline business, a business that has shrunk by more than half over the past ten years as customers move to wireless lines and VOIP lines. The majority of company profits that union employees are up in arms about, comes from the company's wireless business.

The two unions that represent the majority of workers on strike, the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, are working to negotiate a new contract with the telecommunications giant. While there are a number of sticking points preventing both sides from coming to an agreement, one of the biggest issues at stake is around health care.

135,000 of 196,000 Verizon Employees Pay Toward Healthcare Premiums. Union Employees Pay Nothing.

While the cost of healthcare continues to increase at rate of 8-10% per year, Verizon’s union employees pay nothing toward their healthcare premiums. “Verizon pays more than $4 billion annually on healthcare,” a Verizon spokesperson told SecurityWeek. “Verizon has 196,000 employees, and 135,000 of those contribute to healthcare, except for our union represented employees who pay nothing toward healthcare premiums,” the spokesperson added.  

According to a memo from William Huber, president of IBEW, Local 827, Verizon wants to tie pay increases to performance and require union workers to contribute to company health plan premiums, something the majority of American workers do. It is also reported that Verizon is looking to freeze pensions at the end of the year, and eliminate sickness and death benefit programs, and cut the sickness disability benefits in half from 52 weeks to 26 weeks as well as reduce sick time.

On Wednesday, a video (below) was posted to YouTube, apparently showing a non-union employee driving past harassing picketers and hitting one, though the video doesn’t actually show the man being hit, and the picketer didn’t appear to be seriously hurt, despite calling an ambulance. The question that remains in this situation, is how would the union employee that put his daughter in front of a truck feel if she was the one hit? (Warning: Explicit Language in Video)

"Verizon urges strikers to express their views in peaceful fashion and in accordance with the law," said Verizon's Chief Security Officer Mike Mason. "Some are engaging in criminal intimidation of Verizon employees, and we will not tolerate that. It's a federal offense to damage or destroy critical communications equipment.

During the strike, Verizon has tens of thousands of management employees, retirees and others trained to fill the roles and responsibilities of its union-represented wireline workers.

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For more than 10 years, Mike Lennon has been closely monitoring the threat landscape and analyzing trends in the National Security and enterprise cybersecurity space. In his role at SecurityWeek, he oversees the editorial direction of the publication and is the Director of several leading security industry conferences around the world.