BUSINESS

45K Verizon workers strike over new labor contract

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NEW YORK (AP) - Thousands of unionized Verizon Communications Inc. workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., went on strike Sunday after negotiations with the telecommunications company over a new labor contract for 45,000 employees expired at midnight Saturday.

(Photo: TBD Staff)

Workers are waiting now to see what, if anything, comes from negotiations scheduled for later this morning, Communications Workers of America Director Candice Johnson stated in a news release.

Workers showed up Monday at Verizon's headquarters in Manhattan, holding up signs that read "On Strike Against Verizon Corporate Greed" and "On Strike for Middle Class Jobs at Verizon," said Robert Master, a Communications Workers of American spokesman. Picket lines also were going up in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., Master said.

The CWA said negotiations in Philadelphia and New York stalled after Verizon continued to demand more than 100 concessions from workers regarding health care, pensions and work rules.

The striking workers are responsible for maintaining and repairing traditional landlines, as well as installing the company's fiber-optic FiOS service, Master said.

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 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. Contract negotiations began June 22.

"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.

New York-based Verizon, the nation's largest wireless carrier, has 196,000 workers; 135,000 are non-union.

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.

"We've been preparing for a strike or other adverse job action for many months. We always knew a strike was a possibility," Young said. "We're 100 percent prepared. We're confident in our ability to continue to provide the best possible customer service."

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.

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