As it entered the third week of one of the biggest and most contentious strikes of the last decade, Verizon reported a more than 100% increase in suspected vandalism of its network infrastructure. As of Wednesday, the total was 57 incidents across seven states, mostly in the Northeast. Verizon says the incidents have disrupted the services of thousands of Verizon customers, in one case including 911 emergency services.
Though Verizon (VZ) is making no direct accusations, the announcement is clearly intended to implicate the company’s own striking workers. The announcement tallies the number of incidents since April 13th, the day the strike began, and contrasts the surge in vandalism with the normal rate of about six incidents per year.
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The Communications Workers of America, the union representing the workers, are giving as good as they’re getting. In a statement released the same day as Verizon’s, the Union claims service failures are the result of Verizon’s inability to maintain its network during the strike. They further blame reports of lax safety and hazardous incidents on the replacement workers taking over union jobs.
The CWA has not squarely refuted Verizon’s implication that its members are responsible for sabotage, including when asked directly about it by Ars Technica.
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Public perception can be a major part of strike negotiations, so this sort of PR jiu-jitsu is par for the course when things get contentious. In cases where workers may be acting illegally, a careful non-denial from the union keeps a company under threat from further worker action, while hopefully redirecting customer frustrations towards the company. A very similar instance came during 2014’s LA-Long Beach port strike, when representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union neither acknowledged nor denied that workers were engaging in an illegal slowdown, instead blaming the port’s epic congestion on underlying management issues.