Verizon Calls In Reinforcements On Day 10 Of Strike

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Verizon Communications has called in hundreds of additional management and non-union employees to handle customer service and network operations duties, as the strike by 45,000 workers wore into its tenth day.

The union-represented Verizon employees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have been on strike since Aug. 7. The Communications Workers of America represents about 33,000 Verizon workers, while the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents some 12,000.

"We've called up hundreds of additional employees in the last few days," Verizon spokesman Rich Young said. "Our plan is to do what we have to do to keep our networks running. By and large, 10 days into the strike, our networks are performing solidly."

Previously Verizon had said it trained 40,000 management employees, retirees and contractors to fill in for the strikers.

Verizon and the unions have been meeting in Rye Brook, N.Y., and Philadelphia. Last week, each side accused the other of not bargaining in good faith.

Verizon is seeking a number of concessions from the CWA and IBEW, including requiring workers to pay health-care premiums, having more flexible work rules, reducing sick days, eliminating job-security provisions and freezing pensions (while the company would match up to 9% of salary toward workers' 401(k) plans).

The unions claim that Verizon's demands, taken together, would cost union members $20,000 annually. Verizon is on track to generate a net profit of $6 billion in 2011 on revenue of $108 billion, the CWA has noted.

"This is an extremely contentious and bitter dispute," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University's Graduate School of Management. "It not only involves a huge number of workers, but because the company is asking for a large number of major concessions -- including first-time employee payments to their health care benefits and weakened pension plans -- the parties have dug in."

The CWA said Tuesday that more than 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling on Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam to "get serious about bargaining."

"We will never have an economic recovery if profitable companies like Verizon can demand huge concessions from workers," CWA communications director Candice Johnson said. "You don't build a middle class by cutting workers' wages, benefits and standard of living. That's just one reason why Verizon is becoming synonymous with 'VeryGreedy.'"

According to Chaison, Verizon lacks credibility "by demanding concessions simply because it would like them despite being profitable, and their no guarantees that the striking workers will be able to keep their jobs even if they agree to cost-cutting concessions."

Since the strike began, Verizon claims it has identified at least 143 acts of sabotage against its network facilities. The telco is working with the FBI to investigate the incidents and is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the damage.

"It's reckless behavior," Young said. "We'll take appropriate action when the individuals have been apprehended."

The unions last week issued a joint statement that they "do not condone violence in any form" and that they expect members to fully comply with the law. Meanwhile, CWA and IBEW officials have alleged some of their workers have been injured by vehicles driven by Verizon replacement workers.

"It started as a big strike aimed at repelling concession bargaining by the company, but it's turning very bitter, with charges being traded and much talk but little bargaining," Chaison said.