Wednesday April 13, 2016 – Nearly 40,000 Verizon Communications Inc workers walked off the job on Wednesday in one of the largest U.S. strikes in recent years after contract talks hit an impasse.
The strike was called by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that jointly represent employees in such jobs as customer services representatives and network technicians in Verizon’s traditional wireline phone operations.
The strike could affect service in Verizon’s Fios Internet, telephone and TV services businesses across several U.S. East Coast states, including New York, Massachusetts and Virginia. The walkout does not extend to the wireless operation.
Workers protested at various Verizon locations along the East Coast. Verizon said it had trained thousands of non-union employees over the past year to ensure no disruption in services.
“They have given people some training but they have no experience,” CWA representative Bob Master said. “There’s no way that these 10,000 people … can make up for 40,000 people who have decades of experience (in highly technical jobs).”
While the wireline unit represents Verizon’s legacy business, it generated about 29 percent of the company’s revenue in 2015 and less than 7 percent of operating income.
Verizon’s Fios TV and Internet service is no longer growing and the company has been scaling back its landline phone network. In recent years, Verizon, the No. 1 U.S. wireless company, has shifted focus from its legacy wireline business to the bread-and-butter wireless business and new efforts in mobile video and advertising.
To that end, Verizon bought AOL for $4.4 billion last year betting that a push into mobile video and targeted advertising can help it find new growth avenues. Verizon and the unions have been talking since last June over the company’s plans to cut healthcare and pension-related benefits over a three-year period. The workers have been without a contract since its agreement expired in August. Issues include healthcare, offshoring call center jobs, work rules and pensions.
“It’s regrettable that union leaders have called a strike, a move that hurts all of our employees,” Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement on Wednesday. The last contract negotiations in 2011 also led to a strike. A new contract was reached after two weeks.
On Tuesday, Verizon said it was approached by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. In the last round, the FMCS mediated their contract dispute. The question of federal mediation is “a diversionary tactic,” CWA’s Master said, adding it has not contacted the FMCS.
“We don’t want to go to Washington … what is needed is for the company to sit down and address our concerns.”