On the fifth day of an increasingly acrimonious strike by 45,000 union workers, Verizon Communications claimed it was providing "solid service" even while repairing more than 90 acts of vandalism that disrupted service to thousands of customers in Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states this week.
The walkout by workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers began at midnight Saturday, Aug. 6.
Since then, Verizon alleged, its replacement crews have encountered more than 90 acts of sabotage against network facilities, most of which were fixed within 24 hours.
The telco also repeated its claim that union picketers have been intimidating Verizon's drivers and illegally blocking garage and work center entrances. The company has obtained injunctions barring illegal picketing in Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania, and has filed for injunctions in Massachusetts and New Jersey.
In a joint statement Wednesday, CWA and IBEW said: "We fully expect that union members will respect and follow the law. Our unions do not condone violence in any form."
The discussions between Verizon and the CWA and IBEW continued on Thursday, with negotiating teams meeting in Rye Brook, N.Y., and Philadelphia.
Verizon is seeking changes to the previous contract that include requiring union workers to pay health-care premiums. The telco also wants to freeze existing pension plans, claiming it will increase 401(k) contributions, and to be able to implement more flexible work rules.
The unions have pointed out that Verizon's 2011 annualized revenue is approximately $108 billion and annualized net profit is $6 billion.
In their statement Wednesday the unions said, "The issues at stake in this strike are critical, for our 45,000 members and their families who are fighting for the American Dream and for the millions of American families who are being pushed out of the middle class. They are looking to CWA and IBEW members to lead the way.... We want a fair contract that enables Verizon workers to keep their middle-class standard of living."
According to Verizon, the company's call centers answered 91% of incoming calls on Wednesday. The company said it has trained more than 40,000 managers, retirees and contractors to assume the duties of the striking workers
"Our management team is doing an outstanding job of serving customers despite some strikers' attempts to obstruct our efforts," Verizon president of consumer and mass markets Bob Mudge said in a statement.
In a press release Thursday, Verizon cited an example of what it said was illegal picketing in which a union striker placed his daughter in front of a truck to block replacement workers from returning to a telco work center in New Jersey. The union member "used extremely profane language to intimidate the employees while his daughter looked on and other picketers encouraged him," the telco said in the release.
"That's who you're hurting, scumbag!" the union member says, pointing to the girl, according to a copy of the video posted on NJ.com. "Look at her face, scab!... Go home, you bunch of scabs!"
Verizon also said six picketers were arrested by Baltimore County police earlier this week for blocking an entrance at a telco facility in Randallstown, Md. "Verizon urge[s] strikers to express their views in peaceful fashion and in accordance with the law," Verizon chief security officer Mike Mason said in a statement.
The unions, meanwhile, have alleged several instances of Verizon replacement workers' vehicles injuring members.
"Safety is paramount, and that's why we're also calling on Verizon to make sure that our members on the picket lines aren't hurt by replacement workers and management while the strike continues," the unions said in their statement Wednesday.
Verizon said it has enlisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the incidents of damage to its network facilities. The company is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of individuals who intentionally damage Verizon cables or facilities.
Of the 45,000 Verizon wireline employees on strike, the CWA represents about 33,000 and the IBEW represents about 12,000.
The strike involves union-represented Verizon wireline employees in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. Also on strike are about 70 employees of Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon and Vodafone.