Last updated: August 5, 2011 - 7:53am
As a contract with Verizon Communications's unionized workers is set to expire August 6, the two sides remain far apart, potentially setting the stage for the first strike in 11 years as Verizon seeks some of the biggest concessions in years from its unions.
The contracts cover 45,000 Verizon workers in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. The vast majority of them serve as field technicians or in call centers in the so-called wireline side of the business. The wireline business faces continuing revenue declines as cable companies poach landline customers and consumers switch to cellphones. A strike could hurt Verizon's business, delaying service work on its FiOS television unit, and Internet and phone lines. To deal with the wireline weakness, Verizon wants to tie pay increases more closely to job performance, make it easier to fire workers for cause, halt pension accruals this year, and require union workers to contribute to health-plan premiums.
The company's push for concessions follows rollbacks of union benefits in the airline, auto and municipal work forces. Officials of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, meanwhile, contend the proposed cuts are meant to lessen the unions' power and point out that the company remains profitable.