March 5, 2021

Customers Feel Some Ripples From the Verizon Strike

Verizon acknowledges “minor” disruptions since the strike began on Aug. 7. But some customers of its landline telephone, Internet and cable television service are reporting significant delays getting current lines repaired and new ones installed.

Craig Schiffer, chief executive of a boutique investment bank in Midtown Manhattan, said his firm’s telephone service had been down for nine days, and he could not get an estimate from Verizon for when the phones would be working again — a big problem for a business that relies heavily on phone calls with clients.

Joey Kreger, a recent college graduate moving from Illinois to Morristown, N.J., said he was stunned when he ordered Verizon’s FiOS television and Internet service for his new apartment — and the company wrote back that it could install the service on Dec. 30, more than four months from now.

Competitors like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have mobilized to take advantage of Verizon’s problems.

Time Warner, which operates in some of the East Coast markets affected by the Verizon strike, is running ads promising speedy service, and it has increased the number of field technicians so that it can do cable installations within 48 hours.

“When folks are in a time when they might not be able to get service, we are emphasizing not just the price but our high level of service,” said Todd Townsend, chief marketing officer for Time Warner’s eastern region.

Officials at the two unions on strike — the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — say they are certain that the walkout is causing delays in repairs and installations, but they acknowledge they do not know by how much.

“Historically we know that you can’t pull out of any system 45,000 people who are the hands and minds of the company’s product and expect to provide the same level of service as before,” said George Kohl, special assistant to the president of the C.W.A. “The managers who are replacing them don’t perform these functions nearly as efficiently.”

Verizon said that problems for existing customers had been minimal.

“We’re seeing some minor delays on a few repairs and installations,” said Christopher M. Creager, Verizon’s senior vice president for consumer and mass business markets. “The vast majority of our customers are not seeing any impact.”

Verizon officials acknowledge, however, that they decided not to take any new orders for the first two weeks of the strike so they could focus on serving their current customers.

“We are seeing some delays on the installation side if it’s a brand-new installation that requires technicians to come out,” Mr. Creager said. He explained that it was a mistake to tell Mr. Kreger that his installation date would be Dec. 30, saying the date would be well before that.

That has upset potential customers like Dylan Marsh, who are complaining about delays in obtaining FiOS service, which offers Internet, cable TV and phone service over high-speed fiber optic lines and competes with the services sold by cable companies like Time Warner and Comcast.

Mr. Marsh, who just graduated from Buffalo State College with a degree in urban planning, wanted to order Verizon’s FiOS Internet and television services for his new apartment on West 49th Street in Manhattan.

“They let me go through the whole signup and then at the end they said, ‘There are no installation dates available. Someone will contact you,’ ” Mr. Marsh said. “That was probably a week ago. They were trying to make it seem like everything is O.K., like the service is there but it’s not. I thought it would be a couple of weeks, but it might end up being a couple of months. I decided to go with Time Warner instead.”

Verizon said the company’s efforts to keep up had also been set back by numerous incidents of sabotage and by the huge rainstorm that struck the East Coast last weekend.

Verizon is pushing the unions to accept far-reaching concessions, including a pension freeze and fewer sick days, and asking that workers contribute far more toward their health coverage.

Negotiations between the two sides are continuing, but at the same time, both are preparing for a protracted strike.

In a recent move, Verizon has sought to step up pressure on the strikers by informing them that the company will cut off their medical, dental and optical benefits on Aug. 31.

Since the strike began, union officials have been eager to make the case that the company’s operations were being badly hurt. Meanwhile, the company has sought to bolster its position by asserting that the strike is having little impact on service.

“We have been preparing for this for months, and when the strike took place, we deployed thousands of managers from across the country to be able to handle customer service requests,” Mr. Creager said. “We made a commitment to take care of the customers we have.”

Mr. Schiffer, the boutique bank’s chief executive, said most phones at his nine-person firm, Sevara Capital Markets, had not been working since Aug. 9.

“This is really affecting our business,” he said. “Clients have been telling us they can’t get through.”

Asked about the repair delays faced by Sevara, Mr. Creager of Verizon said, “That is not typical of the vast majority of our customers.”

Richard Young, a Verizon spokesman, said the company had received hundreds of supportive e-mails from customers.

In one e-mail shared by the company, John Ness, a councilman in Townsend, Del., wrote last Sunday to thank two field technicians who repaired his phone, Internet and cable service several days before a scheduled appointment.

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