Verizon Communications Inc. has told its striking employees that it will suspend their health benefits at the end of August if they have not reached an agreement on their contract and come back to work.
It’s the latest volley in a contract negotiation that’s turned nastier since 45,000 workers in the company’s wire lines division walked off the job on Aug. 7.
(More from GlobalPost: 45,000 Verizon workers go on strike)
While talks have continued between the company and the workers’ two unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, no side has reported progress.
The rules of how benefits can be suspended during a strike are laid out in the workers’ contract, Verizon representative Robert Varettoni told CNET. "This is not a surprise to the unions," he said.
Verizon stopped funding the workers’ pensions when their former contract expired on Aug. 6, Verizon spokesman Richard Young told Bloomberg News. “If they’re not employed and not working for the company, we’re not going to fund their pensions,” Young said.
Striking workers are covered by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and therefore can continue their health plans for up to 18 months if they pay for their coverage themselves, according to CNET.
Emotions have been running high since the strike began, with workers setting up noisy picket lines near Verizon offices and stores and heckling managers and replacement workers entering the buildings. Verizon claimed on Monday that there had been 143 acts of sabotage to telephone facilities since the strike began, the New York Times reports. Without offering proof, the company said it was unusual that there had been three times the number of incidents in the last eight days as in the previous six months.
“It just isn’t feasible that there is not a connection because there’s been such an uptick since the calling of the strike,” Mike Mason, Verizon’s chief security officer, told the New York Times. “Whoever is doing it, I consider it un-American and unpatriotic to attack critical infrastructure.”
Union officials said they opposed all illegal behavior. They also complained that several strikers have been hit by Verizon managers’ cars.
The strike is the largest since about 73,000 General Motors Co. employees stayed away from work for two days in 2007, Jeffrey Keefe, professor of labor and employment relations at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., told Bloomberg News.