About 45,000 workers from Verizon Communication’s landline telephone, Internet and television divisions walked out on Sunday after labor talks failed to produce a contract upon which both sides could agree. The worker strike is one of the largest labor actions in the United States in recent years.
The workers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communications Workers of America labor unions, reside entirely on the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Virginia.
Verizon Wireless customers will reportedly not experience service disruptions due to the stirke. And Verizon spokesman Peter Thonis told CNN that, as of Sunday, all landline operations were still up and running, with managers taking over for their striking employees.
Another Verizon spokesman, Phil Santrolo, told the Boston Globe that the company was prepared for the strike, and had already trained tens of thousands of other employees to perform customer service, service installations, repairs and other duties performed by union workers.
“We are confident that we can continue to run this business,” Santoro said.
According to CWA spokesman Bob Masters, the negotiations were “the worst we’ve ever seen in 50 years.” Masters says Verizon demands rollbacks of wages, benefits and union rules.
“Verizon is not General Motors or Ford,” said Masters in an interview with CNN. “This is a company that has made billions upon billions of dollars. Because of the recession and anti-union climate, they have decided to try and drive down the middle-class standards of our members.”
Verizon says it needs union workers to help foot the $4 billion annual expenses of providing health care benefits to the company’s 800,000 workers.
The telecommunications giant, which has seen a significant drop in landline telephone business over the past 10 years, added that it must cut costs “in an area that is no longer growing for us.”
Last year, Verizon Wireless customers skyrocketed by 94.1 million; the landline division, by contrast, has fallen from 63 million customers in 2000 to 26 million last year.
Verizon is currently the largest wireless provider in the US.