What I learned about Tom Perez after sitting at the table with him during the Verizon strike:
By Sharon Block, former Senior Counselor to the Secretary and head of Office of Policy at the Department of Labor
I had the privilege of working for Tom Perez for more than three years. We took on many tough challenges together. I learned that the criteria for whether Tom would take on a challenge was not how hard it was, but how much was at stake. No experience that I had with him exemplified that trait more than his decision to help settle the Verizon strike last spring.
When he invited the Verizon CEO and the presidents of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for an under-the-radar meeting in his office on a Sunday afternoon, what he saw was a very hard challenge. The workers had been on strike for almost four weeks. He saw leaders who were backed into corners that paralyzed negotiations and created obstacles to making any progress. We had no idea if we could be successful in helping them get over those obstacles. But Tom also saw how much was at stake. It was clear that without some outside intervention, the strike threatened the well-being of the families of the 40,000 strikers and the future of the labor movement for a long time to come. So, at the end of that secret Sunday meeting, Tom invited the bargaining teams to come to the Department of Labor so he could help them find their way to deal.
The bargaining teams literally moved into the Department of Labor for almost three weeks. We sat together at the bargaining table. We ate three meals a day together. One night, Tom’s assistant even made tacos and guacamole for all the bargaining teams — anything to keep people talking at the table.
Tom was there at every stage of those negotiations — caucusing with each side, getting the CEO and union presidents on the phone to give updates, and listening to the stories of workers who had dedicated their lives to working for “the phone company.” The breakthrough bargaining session where the contours of the ultimate deal finally came to light actually occurred in Tom’s office. At about 3:00am, I swear I saw Frances Perkins in the portrait that hung behind Tom’s desk smile down on us as the pieces of the agreement started to fall into place.
As a result of Tom’s relentless spirit, a labor dispute that was headed toward symbolizing the worst stereotypes of each side ended up being a reflection of the best of collective bargaining — a joint effort to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. The contract they shook hands on in Tom’s office sent a crucial message to corporate America and the public — that even technology-driven companies can innovate and find efficiencies that will grow their businesses, with unions as partners and without shipping jobs overseas.
For weeks after the strike ended, Tom got letters and emails from Verizon strikers thanking him for getting involved. Many expressed surprise that he was willing to put himself on the line to help them. I wasn’t surprised — I knew that with the fortunes of 40,000 union members, their families and communities at stake there was nowhere else in the world that Tom Perez would want to be.
Tom Perez is a leader who listens and has a track record for bringing differing groups together. This is why Tom Perez is the right person to unite the Democratic Party and turnaround the DNC. Join me on Team Tom: tomperez.org/Join.