Two unions representing 65,000 of the telecom company’s workers said extended negotiations have failed to produce significant progress on job protection issues and have set a deadline of Monday, August 11, for reaching a contract agreement with the company.
The Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had agreed to stop the clock on the August 2 expiration of the current contract, but with the bargaining process slowing down, the unions decided to establish a new deadline. A strike is possible if a deal can’t be reached by 12:01 a.m. Monday, August 11.
“The central issue is the issue of good jobs,” said Bob Master, political director of the CWA, which represents 15,000 Verizon workers in the New York City area. “That’s what we’ve been tangling over for much of the time over the last week.”
Negotiators had made progress on health care and wage issues before the initial deadline, but movement on outsourcing, subcontracting and union recognition issues has been slow, the unions said.
The bargaining unit has been shrinking as Verizon moves call centers abroad and shifts traditional union work to lower-wage, lower-benefit employees at Verizon Business and Verizon Wireless, the unions said. The percentage of Verizon’s revenue that comes from union operations has shrunk to 30 percent this year, compared with 70 percent in 2002, according to the CWA.
“With $5.5 billion in profits, Verizon can afford to stop outsourcing the high-quality, family-supporting jobs that our communities need,” said Chris Shelton, vice president of CWA District 1, which includes New York City.
A spokesman for Verizon said the company was surprised at the union’s characterization of the talks.
“We are making good progress in the bargaining,” he said. “A lot of issues have been resolved. There are other issues we’re close on.”
The threat of a strike comes as Verizon is in the midst of an aggressive push to roll out its high-tech fiber optic service known as FIOS. The company recently received permission in New York to compete with cable companies for television customers and is relying on FIOS to bolster its struggling landline business.
Workers will hold “Ready to Walk” rallies throughout the day at locations across the five boroughs, including Verizon’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. They last went on strike in 2000, staying out 18 days. In 2003, the union extended the deadline and reached an agreement, averting a work stoppage.