Updated 08/07/2011 03:06 PM
Verizon Workers Strike Over Labor Contract
Tens of thousands of unionized Verizon workers across the East Coast went on strike Sunday after failing to agree on a new labor contract with company representatives. NY1’s Tara Lynn Wagner filed the following report.
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For Verizon workers on the picket line in front of Verizon headquarters in Lower Manhattan Sunday, the issue was simple.
“We're just asking to keep what we have. That's all we're asking, nothing more than that,” said Liam McLaughlin, union steward.
Talks between Verizon and the Communication Workers of America broke down after they failed to agree on a new contract. Representatives from Verizon said the company’s landline business is declining and that they're asking workers to make concessions on things like healthcare, pensions and raises.
They also said that union employees contribute nothing to their healthcare premiums.
“If you look at the other 135,000 employees at Verizon, they pay a portion of their monthly healthcare premiums. So this is an effort to bring these employees in line with what the rest employees at Verizon already do,” said John Bonomo, a Verizon spokesman.
Nevertheless, union workers said the concessions are unjustified because the company's revenue grew nearly three percent in the second quarter.
They argued that the company is not only looking to take back their benefits but also to erase decades of previous negotiations.
“We gave up raises and everything else all along the way to get the medical, and now they just want it back,” said Maureen Schibby, a central office technician.
“We're lucky. We have good benefits. That's why we're here — to try to keep them. They're not something they gave us, it’s something that we won through many years of walking these lines,” said Greg Albi, a field technician.
Union members grew rowdier when managers and replacement workers showed up at headquarters. They said the fact that Verizon called in those workers shows it's not interested in negotiating.
Representatives from Verizon said the company wants to make sure its landline customers continue to have service.
Contract negotiations had been underway for weeks before the strike began Sunday. Both sides dug in, each blaming the other for the stalled talks.
“We told them we wouldn't go back to the table until they're ready to get serious, until they pull some of their more retrogressive demands,” said Angel Feliciano of CWA Local 1101.
“We are ready and willing and eager to continue to negotiate at virtually any time, whenever they feel it’s appropriate to return,” said Bonomo.
There’s still no word on when that may be.