March 2, 2021

Citing Lack of Progress, Verizon Workers Threaten Strike

Officials with the union, the Communications Workers of America, said Verizon was demanding so many concessions — on health coverage, pensions and other matters — that it would set workers back 50 years.

Verizon executives say far-reaching concessions are needed because of a long-term drop in revenue and profit in its land line telephone business and because of intense competition in television and Internet services.

The Communications Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents another 10,000 workers at Verizon, have both threatened to strike at 12:01 a. m. Sunday, when their contracts expire, unless a settlement is reached by then. The strike would involve telephone repair technicians, customer service representatives and cable installers from Massachusetts to Virginia.

In a statement issued at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers, said negotiations “are not moving forward.”

“Over months of negotiations, there has been no real bargaining by Verizon management,” Ms. Johnson said. “In fact, every major concession demand — more than 100 in all — remains on the table. Even at the 11th hour, with contracts set to expire, Verizon continues to seek to strip away 50 years of contract gains.”

A Verizon spokesman, Peter Thonis, said Saturday evening that the company executives “continue to negotiate in good faith.”

In the talks being held in New York and Philadelphia, Verizon has asked its unionized workers to start contributing to their health care premiums, proposing that workers pay $1,300 to $3,000 for family coverage, depending on the plan. Verizon executives say the contributions would be similar to those already made by its 135,000 nonunion employees.

Verizon has also called for freezing pensions for current employees and eliminating traditional pensions for future workers, while making its 401(k) plans somewhat more generous for both. It would also like to limit sick days to five a year, as opposed to the current policy, which company executives say sets no limit.

In addition, Verizon wants to make it easier to lay off workers without having to buy them out and wants to tie raises more closely to job performance, denying annual raises to subpar performers.

Union officials say these proposals are the most aggressive Verizon has ever made.

Verizon said many field technicians earn more than $100,000 a year, including overtime, with an additional $50,000 in benefits. But union officials say the field technicians and call center workers generally earn $60,000 to $77,000 before overtime, saying that benefits come to well under $50,000 a year.

The crux of the clash is Verizon’s financial health. The company says its traditional wire line division is struggling, while the union says Verizon’s overall business, including Verizon Wireless, a joint venture in which Verizon is the majority owner, is thriving.

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