45,000 Verizon workers go on strike over contract

NEW YORK (AP) — Tens of thousands of unionized Verizon Communications Inc. workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., voted to go on strike early Sunday after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on a new labor contract.

The Communications Workers of America said negotiations in Philadelphia and New York stalled Saturday night after Verizon continued to demand more than 100 concessions from workers and the unions refused to budge.

Mark C. Reed, Verizon’s executive vice president of human resources, called the outcome of the unions’ actions “regrettable” for customers and employees.

“We will continue to do our part to reach a new contract that reflects today’s economic realities in our wireline business and addresses the needs of all parties,” he said in a statement.

The contract that expired at midnight Saturday covers 45,000 workers, including 10,000 represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who serve as telephone and repair technicians, customer service representatives, operators and more.

“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,” CWA said in a statement Sunday.

Verizon, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, has 196,000 workers; 135,000 are non-union.

At the center of the contract dispute are the costs of health care, pensions and work rules.

The CWA said the concessions are unjustified and harsh, given that Verizon is highly profitable — the company’s revenue rose 2.8 percent to $27.5 billion in the second quarter. Its growth was largely attributed to its wireless business.

But Verizon said its wireline business has been in decline for more than a decade, and that it is asking for changes in the contract to strengthen the unit. The company said union employees contribute nothing to their health care premiums.

Verizon activated a contingency plan to ensure customers experienced “limited disruption in service” for the length of the strike.

“Tens of thousands of Verizon managers and other personnel have been trained to step in and perform emergency work assignments,” Verizon spokesman Rich Young said.

A customer satisfaction survey released in May showed Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. ranked highest among the Big 4 wireless carriers. The survey polled 8,000 households in the first quarter of this year.

Verizon added 1.26 million wireless subscribers under contract in the April to June period this year, a result that flies in the face of the slowdown in new subscribers across the industry in the last two years. A year ago, Verizon added just 665,000 subscribers under contract.

Verizon ended the last quarter with 106.3 million devices connected to its wireless network, making it the largest carrier in the country. No. 2 and chief rival AT&T is trying to leapfrog Verizon in size by buying No. 4 T-Mobile USA for $39 billion.

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