Verizon's 40,000-member wireline workforce goes on strike

Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) 40,000 wireline workers represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have gone on strike after not being able reach an agreement on a new labor contract.

Wireline workers from Massachusetts to Virginia started walking off their jobs at 6:00 a.m. ET Wednesday morning.

The two sides have been trying to negotiate a contract for over ten months, but could not come to terms on various issues related to health care, pension and job security.

Verizon workers represented by the CWA and the IBEW have been working without a contract since Aug. 1, 2015, when their old contract expired.

Among the key concerns of the CWA and IBEW members are Verizon's move to offshore 5,000 jobs to the Philippines, Mexico and other locations, outsource work to low-wage contractors, and transfer workers to other states, which keeps workers away from their families for months at a time.

Isaac Collazo, a technician and CWA member from Brooklyn, N.Y., who has worked at Verizon for 19 years, said during a press conference on Monday that transferring workers to other locations would create a hardship for his family and others.

"If Verizon sent me out of town for two months only come back to the fear that they might transfer me somewhere else, I don't know how I would take care of my youngest boy who is 12 years old," Collazo said. "There's a good chance I'd have to quit the job."

Collazo said that another repercussion is that Verizon could drive out experienced wireline workers.

"There's a lot of other workers that have to make the decision, which I truly believe this is what Verizon wants: they want to force us to make this impossible choice and it is one more way to get rid of experienced workers and outsource our good union jobs to low wage contractors," Collazo said.

Additionally, Verizon wireline workers expressed frustration with the telco's delay in extending FiOS to more customers in its wireline footprint. What's more, the unions say that Verizon has continued to reduce wireline staff that could roll out FiOS.

The unions have accused Verizon of failing to meet FiOS buildout goals New York City and Philadelphia. CWA and IBEW also charge that Verizon has not built FiOS in other key areas such as Baltimore, western Massachusetts, upstate New York cities and many towns in Pennsylvania.

Verizon has flatly denied the unions' allegations. The service provider said that it has actually surpassed its initial goal of passing 18 million homes with FiOS.

For its part, Verizon said that it has trained "thousands" of non-union employees to ensure that service and network repairs on the wireline network were not disrupted.

In anticipation of a strike, Verizon spent time training non-union Verizon employees and business partners in various network and customer service functions, including FiOS and copper repair and network maintenance and general customer service functions.

"Millions of Americans rely on Verizon for the ability to communicate, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said Bob Mudge, president of Verizon's wireline network operations, in a release. "We remain fully prepared to handle any work stoppage so that our products and services will be available where and when our customers need them."

Verizon maintains that it has offered a generous set of benefits, including proposed wage increases, retirement benefits, and health care benefits.

Specifically, Verizon proposed three main tenets in its new contract proposal: a 6.5 percent wage increase over the term of the contract; affordable health care benefits; and what it says are competitive retirement benefits including a company match.

On Monday night, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) asked Verizon if they would be willing to participate in mediation if the unions extended their previously announced strike deadline. The company indicated that it was willing to mediate.

However, union leaders said they would not participate in FMCS mediation.

This is the second largest strike that has taken place at Verizon in recent years.

In August 2011, 45,000 union wireline workers went on strike after the two sides failed to reach an agreement for a labor contract that had expired.  

Two weeks later, the two unions said they decided to end the strike because it appeared that Verizon wanted to "bargain seriously."

Verizon and the unions established a new contract agreement in 2012 through mediation conducted under the auspices of FMCS.

However, the repercussions of that strike were felt throughout the wireline business, particularly with FiOS service.

Following the strike, Verizon technicians and customer care representatives had to work through a backlog of 100,000 orders for its FiOS TV and FiOS Internet services.  

For more:
- see this CWA/IBEW release
- and Verizon's release
- Reuters has this article

Special Report: Verizon-CWA 2016 strike full coverage

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