By Cristian Salazar
NEW YORK -- Forty-five thousand
Verizon Communications Inc.
(VZ) workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., went on strike Sunday after negotiations fizzled over a new labor contract for more than one-fifth of the company's work force.
Verizon is the nation's largest wireless carrier, but the contract that expired at midnight Saturday covers workers in the company's wireline division, which includes local-phone operations, services for businesses and governments and long-haul wholesale traffic.
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Talks in Philadelphia and New York stalled Saturday night after Verizon continued to demand more than 100 concessions from workers regarding health care, pensions and work rules, said the Communications Workers of America.
CWA workers picketed at Verizon headquarters in New York City on Sunday morning, wearing red and holding signs with messages including "CWA on strike for middle-class jobs."
|Workers picket Sunday in front of Verizon's New York headquarters.
Mark C. Reed, Verizon's executive vice president of human resources, called the outcome of the unions' actions "regrettable" for customers and employees.
"We will continue to do our part to reach a new contract that reflects today's economic realities in our wireline business and addresses the needs of all parties," he said in a statement.
Workers covered by the expired contract include 10,000 represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who serve as telephone and repair technicians, customer service representatives, operators and more. Contract negotiations began June 22.
"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," CWA said in a statement Sunday.
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New York-based Verizon has 196,000 workers; 135,000 are non-union.
The CWA said the concessions are unjustified and harsh, given that Verizon is highly profitable -- the company's revenue rose 2.8% to $27.5 billion in the second quarter. Its growth was largely attributed to its wireless business.
But Verizon said its wireline business has been in decline for more than a decade, and that it is asking for changes in the contract to strengthen the unit. The company said union employees contribute nothing to their health care premiums.