Verizon workers hit picket lines from Mass. to Va.

NEW YORK (AP) ? Thousands of striking workers in Verizon Communication Inc.’s landline division joined picket lines and rallies Monday at company offices from Massachusetts to Virginia, a union official said.

The contract for 45,000 employees expired at midnight Saturday after the company and the workers were unable to come to terms on issues including health care costs and pensions. The dispute does not affect the wireless division at Verizon, the nation’s largest wireless carrier.

Several hundred striking workers demonstrated outside the company’s headquarters in lower Manhattan, most wearing red shirts and chanting, “Union busting, it’s disgusting!”

“We are out here fighting for our bargaining rights,” said Sharon Bleach, 52, who has worked at Verizon for 25 years. “They want to take away our pensions, our medical; they want to cut our pay.”

About 60 workers picketed in Brooklyn.

In Amherst, N.Y., outside Buffalo, two demonstrators said they were hit by a vehicle turning into a Verizon garage Monday morning.

“There was an individual who drove through the line and struck two of our members,” said James Wagner, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1122.

He said they weren’t seriously hurt. Police said details were sketchy.

In Garden City, N.Y., where about 200 people were demonstrating, striker Annmarie Dereta said, “Like many other women here, I’m a hard working mom and it’s not my choice to be on the picket line. … They want us to pay for our own medical, they want us to take salary cuts in this economy and I can’t survive.”

Robert Master, a Communications Workers of America spokesman, said picket lines also were going up in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

The striking workers are responsible for maintaining and repairing traditional landlines, as well as installing the company’s fiber-optic FiOS service, Master said.

Verizon spokesman Richard Young said thousands of managers have been sent to help work in the affected states.

“We’ve been preparing for a strike or other adverse job action for many months. We always knew a strike was a possibility,” Young said. “We’re 100 percent prepared. We’re confident in our ability to continue to provide the best possible customer service.”

He said Verizon has trained tens of thousands of managers for the past several months.

Workers covered by the expired contract also include 10,000 represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who serve as telephone and repair technicians, customer service representatives, operators and more.

New York-based Verizon has 196,000 workers; 135,000 are non-union.

Verizon said it was asking for changes in the contract because its wireline business has been in decline for more than a decade as more people switch to using cell phones exclusively. It had 25 million landlines at the end of the second quarter, down from 26 million at the end of 2010. It has been selling off some of its landlines to other phone companies.

Master said Verizon wanted worker concessions at a time when it’s making billions in profits and top executives were making millions in salary.

Contract negotiations began June 22.


Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, Frank Eltman in Garden City and Ula Ilnytzky in New York contributed to this report.