Verizon's CWA, IBEW wireline workers may strike on Wednesday

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) wireline workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have threatened to go on strike Wednesday if the two sides can't come to an agreement.

Verizon CWA union members walk a picket line during a 2011 strike. (Photo courtesy of CWA)

According to the two unions, Verizon wants to cut job security protections, contract out more work, offshore jobs to Mexico, the Philippines and other locations, and require technicians to work away from home for as long as two months without seeing their families.

"Unless this company reconsiders its shameful, and I do mean shameful, demands our members will be on strike as of 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, April 13," said Chris Shelton, president of CWA, during a call with the press. "We have been bargaining with Verizon for almost a year and we have tried everything to get a path to a contract, and a strike is a last resort but Verizon has forced us there and there's no place for us to go."

Lonnie Stephenson, president of the IBEW, issued a similar statement.

"I stand in full solidarity with the nearly 40,000 Verizon workers on the East Coast who will go on strike this Wednesday, April 13," Stephenson said. "No worker ever wants to go on strike, but Verizon's failure to negotiate fairly with the employees has given us no option."

Additionally, the unions say that Verizon is also refusing to negotiate any improvements in wages, benefits or working conditions for Verizon Wireless retail workers, who formed a union in 2014.

Verizon's current contract covers nearly 40,000 workers, who staff Verizon facilities from Massachusetts to Virginia.

A number of Verizon technicians and call center employees weighed in on how Verizon's outsourcing and efforts to relocate facilities will create hardships for the workers and their families.

One of those workers is 16-year company veteran Betsy Derr, a customer service representative and CWA member in Bloomsburg, Pa.

"Verizon wants to force through changes that would make it easier to uproot workers and hurt our communities," Derr said. "My job could be relocated about 70 miles away.  With three more hours of time commuting every day, I'll be gone before my stepsons get up and maybe home for an hour before they go to bed."

With the two sides not being able to reach an agreement, a group of 20 U.S. senators joined hands in March to ask Verizon's CEO Lowell McAdam to resolve its dispute with wireline union workers.

At that time, the senators asked to get a resolution to the labor dispute so Verizon can "move forward in investing in state-of-the-art broadband buildout for communities around our states, including currently underserved areas."

CWA, IBEW and Verizon began negotiations in June 2015 and have been working without a contract since it expired on August 1, 2015.

Throughout the negotiation process, the workers' negotiating teams said they have offered key compromises, including hundreds of millions of dollars in health care cost savings, but Verizon keeps pressing for additional cuts.

Verizon dismissed the union's claims, saying that it remains committed to its negotiation objectives and seeks to come to an agreement.

"We've tried to work with union leaders to reach a deal," said Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer. "Verizon has been moving the bargaining process forward, but now union leaders would rather make strike threats than constructively engage at the bargaining table."

If a strike does occur, Verizon said that it has plenty of backup workers to address customer issues.

"We do not take strike threats lightly," said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon's wireline network operations. "For more than a year, we've been preparing in the event union leaders order our employees to walk off the job. If a strike takes place, whether it's one day, two weeks or longer, we are ready."

Mudge added that the telco has "trained thousands of non-union Verizon employees to carry out virtually every job function handled by our represented workforce -- from making repairs on poles to responding to inquiries in our call centers." 

For more:
- see this CWA release
- here's Verizon's release

Special Report: Verizon-CWA 2016 strike full coverage

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