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Verizon workers authorize strike

Current 3-year pact ends Aug. 6

By Steven Greenhouse
New York Times / July 29, 2011

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The main union representing Verizon’s workers said yesterday that its 35,000 members at Verizon had voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike once their three-year contract expires Aug. 6.

Officials with the union, the Communications Workers of America, said the vote was no surprise because, in their view, Verizon is seeking the largest concessions ever from its unionized workers.

Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the union, said 91 percent of the workers who voted approved the strike authorization. Such a strike vote does not necessarily mean there will be a strike - negotiators usually settle the contract dispute before the contract expires.

The Verizon contracts that expire Aug. 6 cover nearly 45,000 workers stretching from Massachusetts to Virginia, including thousands of Verizon employees in another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. That union is holding a separate strike authorization vote.

Verizon officials say they need to have more flexibility and to hold down costs as customers move increasingly from landline to mobile phones. To achieve those goals, the company is proposing to make it easier to fire workers, tie raises more closely to job performance, and require workers to contribute to their health insurance premiums.

Union officials say Verizon has also demanded more freedom to contract out work, a pension freeze for current workers, and eliminating traditional pensions for future workers.

“Verizon has put on the table the most aggressive set of contract demands we’ve ever seen,’’ said Robert Master, legislative and political director for the communications workers in the Northeast. “From our perspective, this hugely profitable company that made $20 billion over the last four years, despite the worst economy in 75 years, seems determined to turn tens of thousands of secure, middle-class jobs into lower-wage, much-less-secure jobs.’’

Nearly one-third of Verizon’s 200,000 workers are unionized, and many are line workers, phone installers, and call center staff. Verizon officials say they need concessions because the industry is changing so rapidly and because they are competing against some nonunion rivals.

Verizon’s landline businesses had revenue of $41.2 billion last year, down 2.9 percent from the previous year. At Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Vodafone Group, a British company, revenue was $63.4 billion, a 5.1 increase over the previous year.