March 2, 2021

Citing Stalemate, Verizon Workers Strike

The strike involves Verizon telephone field technicians, call center workers and cable installers from Massachusetts to Virginia and is expected to cause some delays in repairing and installing land line phones and Verizon’s FiOS television and Internet service.

Officials with the two unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said Verizon was demanding far too many concessions — on health coverage, pensions and other matters — and was not backing off many of them.

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 strike involves Verizon’s wire lines division, which include its traditional land lines to homes and business as well as FiOS. Unlike Verizon Wireless, a joint venture in which Verizon is the majority owner, the wire lines division is heavily unionized, with the Communications Workers representing 35,000 employees and the Electrical Workers 10,000.

In announcing the strike at 12:20 a.m., the communications workers complained that almost 100 of Verizon’s demands for concessions remained on the negotiating table.

“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.”

Early Sunday morning, Verizon issued a statement saying its attempts to reach a construct with the two unions were unsuccessful. The company said, “In anticipation of this development, Verizon has activated a contingency plan to ensure customers experience limited disruption in service during this time.”

Mark C. Reed, Verizon’s executive vice president of human resources, said, “It’s regrettable for our employees and our customers” that the two unions “have decided to walk away from the table instead of continuing to work through the issues.”

But Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the communications workers, said at 12:30 a.m. that the talks were continuing, emphatically denying that the unions had broken off talks.

In its statement, Verizon said it had “trained tens of thousands of management employees, retirees and others to fill the roles and responsibilities of its union-represented wireline workers.”

Mr. Reed said, “We are confident that we have the talent and resources in place to meet the needs and demands of our customers.”

In the talks that have been held in recent weeks 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 called its unionized employees well paid, saying that many field technicians earn more than $100,000 a year, including overtime, with an additional $50,000 in benefits. But union officials say 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.

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, is thriving.

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. And its hefty investment in FiOS is starting to pay off.

But the company has repeatedly said it needs to rein in costs in its wire lines division because it has lost business to wireless companies, to Internet companies like Vonage and Skype and to cable television companies, many of them nonunion, like Comcast and Time Warner.

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