New York City – Nearly 40,000 Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) workers on the East Coast walked off their job on Wednesday, marking one of the biggest U.S. strikes in years. The union hopes the strike will put pressure on the company to settle issues during a contentious contract negotiation which expired in August last year.

Since last June, Verizon and the unions have been talking about the company’s plans to cut healthcare and pension-related benefits over a three-year period. The unions say Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers. On the other hand, Verizon says that because medical expenses have grown, there are health care issues that need to be addressed for both retirees and workers.

On Wednesday, 40,000 Verizon workers walked off their jobs. Credit: KLCC

“It’s regrettable that union leaders have called a strike, a move that hurts all of our employees. Since last June, we’ve worked diligently to try and reach agreements that would be good for our employees, good for our customers and make the wireline business more successful now and in the future,” Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement.

The strike, which was called by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, could affect service in Verizon’s Fios Internet, telephone and TV services businesses across several U.S. East Coast states.

Workers take the streets

Different Verizon workers, including customer services representatives and network technicians in Verizon’s traditional wireline phone operations, protested at various Verizon locations along the East Coast.

About a hundred Verizon workers took the streets near the company’s offices in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, between 300 and 400 union members walked a picket line outside the company’s office in downtown Albany and about a dozen employees began to picket outside Verizon’s building in downtown Baltimore.
Others planned protests in Woodlawn, Randallstown, Cockeysville and Nottingham.

Verizon accused the unions of not doing enough to avoid the strike

Verizon executives said the unions did not do everything they could to avert the strike. According to Verizon’s chief administrative officer, the union rejected to meet with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a move that could have worked out a solution.

Reed said in a statement that is lamentable that union leaders have called a strike, a move that hurts all of our employees. He added that even though the company has tried to reach agreements that benefit them all, union leaders have their own agenda. Reed closed his statement saying that calling a strike benefits no one.

In 2011, Verizon went through a similar situation. Workers went on a strike due to contract conflicts but that strike ended after just two weeks. Verizon said on Wednesday that those talks were successful because they were before the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a move that was denied by the union in this opportunity.

Now, Spokesman Rich Young says Verizon has trained thousands of non-union workers to fill in for the striking workers.

Source: ABC News