Verizon Crushed With Repair Requests

As a strike of 87,000 Verizon Communications telephone workers entered its 14th day, union negotiators said they planned to press ahead with contract talks into the weekend.

Meanwhile, the telecommunications giant struggled to fulfill growing numbers of repair requests, saying that perhaps as many as 50,000 customers had no phone service at all.

Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said Friday that company managers and retirees, working to take the place of thousands of striking technicians, were tackling a backlog of about 100,000 repair requests. He said the replacement workers were clearing about 25,000 requests daily but struggled with weather-related outages throughout the East Coast.

‘More Substantive Bargaining’

Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, said the unions were “beginning to see more substantive bargaining” on key union concerns, including mandatory overtime and the movement of work to lower-wage areas.

CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said later Friday that the progress continued.

“We still need to work on some important issues, but we are moving forward,” she said. CWA is the larger of two unions negotiating to replace contracts that expired Aug. 6.

Officials of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 14,700 workers, said they were reviewing Verizon’s latest offer.

Progress made early Friday persuaded union representatives to stay at the bargaining table despite earlier threats to abandon the talks at 12:01 a.m. EDT Friday.

The unions fear that Verizon, the product of a summer merger between Bell Atlantic and GTE, will shift work within its expanded region to areas where labor is cheaper.

The strike has affected about 25 million customers in a dozen Eastern states and the District of Columbia, slowing repairs, installations and directory assistance.

Problems in New Jersey

The new round of talks came just as Verizon customers in northern New Jersey experienced the system’s first failure since Aug. 6.

Verizon blamed a malfunctioning telephone switcher for an overnight outage knocking out long-distance service to hundreds of thousands of customers in and around Bergen County, N.J., from midnight to 8 a.m. Friday.

Ronald Piana of Huntington Station, N.Y., said he and his neighbors had been without telephone service in their homes for nine days because of a line break that hasn’t been repaired.

“This puts an unfair burden on the population,” he said. “It could be dangerous if you can’t dial 911 and you’re having a coronary or if there’s an accident.”

The strike affects Verizon customers in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.