About 45,000 unionized workers from Verizon Communication Inc.’s wire lines division went on strike shortly after midnight on Saturday, claiming that contract talks with the telecommunications company were not progressing.
The striking workers install, maintain and repair land line phones and Verizon’s FiOS television and Internet service from Virginia to Massachusetts. They belong to two unions, the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The strike does not involve Verizon Wireless, Verizon’s joint venture for cellphone service.
“Since bargaining began on June 22, Verizon has refused to move from a long list of concession demands,” the union said in its post-midnight statement. “Even at the 11th hour, as contracts were set to expire, Verizon continued to seek to strip away 50 years of collective bargaining gains for middle class workers and their families.”
Among the changes Verizon wants: worker contributions to health care premiums; pensions frozen for current workers and eliminated for future employees; sick days limited to five days a year; performance-based raises; and more latitude to fire workers without having to buy them out.
"Verizon is not General Motors or Ford," CWA spokesman Bob Master told CNN. "This is a company that has made billions upon billions of dollars. Because of the recession and anti-union climate, they have decided to try and drive down the middle-class standards of our members."
Verizon earned $6.9 billion in net income for the first six months of this year, amid strong growth in its majority-owned Verizon Wireless cellphone operation, the New York Times reports. But the company has claimed it needs to cut costs with non-unionized competitors like Skype, Comcast and Time Warner fighting for market share.
Verizon said its benefits would remain "near the top of those offered by comparable companies" even with the concessions demanded, CNN reports. The company said that its unionized employees are well paid, with many field technicians earning more than $100,000 a year, including overtime, with an additional $50,000 in benefits, the New York Times reports. But union officials counter that the field technicians and call center workers generally earn $60,000 to $77,000 before overtime and that benefits come to well under $50,000 a year.
One striking worker in Philadelphia, Cliff Beckham, 55, told the Associated Press that the work stoppage will be a hardship. “I've got a mortgage to pay,” he said. “Luckily, I have a night job” – a part-time position with UPS. "I'm glad I kept it."
Repairs and installation will likely take longer while the workers are on strike, but Verizon officials said customers won’t be stranded because the company had rounded up “tens of thousands” of managers and retirees to fill in for the union workers on the picket line.