About 5,400 Verizon wireline employees are among the 45,000 workers on strike after contract talks broke off after midnight Saturday, when a three-year pact expired for wireline employees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, Verizon and a union leader said Sunday morning.
Verizon's 5,400 wireline employees were on the picket line at multiple locations in New Jersey, although not near the Basking Ridge Verizon Center, , according to Bill Huber, president and business manager for the New Jersey-based IBEW Local 827.
Huber said workers could return again at some point to the Basking Ridge location, although that was not chosen on Sunday because it is a corporate center, and not a work location for the wireline employees.
"Verizon has forced us to do this," Huber said of the work stoppage, adding that the profitable company has asked for about 100 givebacks from the union employees.
In a statement released Sunday morning, Verizon said, "Verizon’s attempts to reach a constructive new contract with two unions representing the company’s wireline employees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states were unsuccessful, and union leaders announced a decision to call a strike" by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and CWA (Communications Workers of America) unions.
In anticipation of this development, Verizon has activated a contingency to limit the disruption of service during the union's work stoppage, the statement said.
"Verizon has trained tens of thousands of management employees, retirees and others to fill the roles and responsibilities of its union-represented wireline workers," the statement said.
"As part of the company’s business continuity plan, these individuals will be reporting to their emergency work assignments, as scheduled, and will continue to provide customers with high-quality support and assistance throughout the duration of the union strike."
Verizon Wireless customers and services remain unaffected by this job action, the company's statement said. Customers with billing, service or other questions can find assistance at www.verizon.com. The company's bargaining positions are also is available online.
With the potential strike looming on Friday, Huber at that time, and again on Sunday, disputed the notion that training for management employees to fill in on the wire lines, particularly for FiOS, would be adequate.
"You can't train someone a few weeks to do the job, particularly FiOS," a fiber-optic network, Huber said on Friday. Other wired services also require more skilled labor as well, he added.
"They don't have the experience, and they don't have the manpower," Huber said on Sunday of Verizon's fill-in employees. "The customers are going to leave in droves, and they are not going to get those customers back."
"It's a major blunder for them, to get their employees on the street," Huber said after the strike was called. Previously, he said the union wants the company to remain profitable, and that the wireline employees had built the basis for Verizon's current wireless profitability.
Huber said Verizon just announced record profits at the same time the company is trying to take away union workers' health benefits and other wage-related agreements from previous contracts.
Huber said the unions and the Verizon management were in disagreement on nearly all major issues, including working conditions. He accused the company's top management, including new CEO Lowell McAdam, of trying to break the unions following almost six decades of collective bargaining.
"The issues are very clear," Huber said. "This is an attack on middle-class America."
Verizon's statement included a comment from Marc C. Reed, the company's executive vice-president of human resources.
“We are confident that we have the talent and resources in place to meet the needs and demands of our customers,” Reed said. “It’s regrettable for our employees and our customers that the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have decided to walk away from the table instead of continuing to work through the issues.
"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. It’s also our intent that under a new contract, Verizon employees will continue to receive competitive pay and benefit programs,” Reed said.