From Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of Verizon Communications workers went on strike early today, after unions for phone repair technicians, customer service representatives and cable installers failed to agree on a new contract with the telecommunications company.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) along with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the unions that represent the 45,000 workers, said negotiations, which include health care coverage, pensions and work rules, were stalled with Verizon demanding more than 100 concessions from workers.
"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," the union statement said.
Strikers picketed the company's New York City offices this morning, after the strike was announced at midnight.
"Why do the people at the bottom always have to give back concessions?" said Anita Long, who has been with Verizon for 32 years. "Why is it not the top management giving back, when my CEO brings home $23 million in one year, I have a problem with that, but you want to take away my pensions, my medical benefits?"
Verizon said the strike will not affect Verizon Wireless customers, but because it involves field technicians and call center workers it could cause problems for customers with land line phones, Internet service, and Verizon's FiOS television.
The strike could cause some delays in repairs and installation, Verizon said, although it has management and retirees to cover for the striking workers as a contingency plan.
"Tens of thousands of Verizon managers and other personnel have been trained to perform emergency work assignments," Verizon spokesman Richard Young said. "They are trained in various functions including making network repairs, customer service, billing, back office support and other duties."
Verizon says its wireline business has been declining for the past decade, and as a result it is asking employees to contribute to their health plans among other concessions. The company says it is willing to work with the unions to to come up with an agreement that meets the needs of all parties. "We've put important issues on the table and we're willing to negotiate," Young said. "However, the unions were unwilling to negotiate on anything that's critical."
Verizon's land-line business may be struggling but overall the company has made billions of dollars in recent years, CWA political director Bob Master said.
"A company with those kinds of profits, where the CEO Ivan Seidenberg makes 300 times the salary of the average worker -- he made $18 million just last year -- to demand the sweeping cuts that they have put on the table is outrageous and unacceptable," Master said.
In a statement on their websites, the unions said that Verizon has already earned $6 billion in net profits this year.
"We're saying to them, it's time to get serious about bargaining; bargain in a constructive way and back off from these attacks on middle class jobs," Master said.
Some Verizon workers on the picket line in Manhattan said the strike was a last resort.
"Listen, nobody ever wants to go on strike," Verizon worker Al Russo said. "But unfortunately when you got to make your point you have to do what you have to do."