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Verizon facing strike by unions

More than a thousand unionized Verizon Communications workers in Western New York could end up on strike if a contract with the telecommunications corporation is not signed this weekend.

Unionized workers have been in contract talks with Verizon since June 22 but have been unable to come to an agreement over issues of outsourcing, job security, pensions and health care.

The contract covers 45,000 employees who work in Verizon's landline and wire division throughout the East Coast.

Workers here are represented by Communications Workers of America Locals 1122, 1115 and 1117, as well as International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2213.

Wireless workers are not involved.

"Verizon wants to strip away 50 years of collective-bargaining progress," said James Wagner, president of CWA Local 1122. "Why? They are making record profits. They should be about providing jobs in every community they do business in."

Verizon wants to freeze pension benefits, have employees pay a portion of monthly health care premiums and wants the ability to outsource work overseas.

"Verizon provides real, solid, middle-class jobs. When the contract is signed, we will continue to provide real, solid middle-class jobs that support families and communities," said John J. Bonomo, a Verizon spokesman.

The workers' contract expires late Saturday night. Union members voted last week to authorize a strike if an accord is not reached by then. The CWA went on strike in 2000, but work stoppage authorizations in 2003 and 2008 did not result in strikes.

"We are prepared to walk off the job at 12 midnight if the contract is not signed," said Wagner.

Roughly 1,050 local workers are affected here. They include field technicians, central office technicians, dispatchers and facility assistants.

Verizon said it has "contingency plans" in place to minimize any disruption to customers if a strike does occur.

"We don't anticipate [interruptions]. We will keep the business running as close to normal as possible," said Bonomo.

Union reps said a smooth-running operation is impossible without the men and women trained to keep it working.

"The systems aren't automated, they are worked on every day by our members. When problems occur there will be tremendous delays addressing them," said Wagner. "When you take highly skilled workers off the job, there will be an effect, and customers will see that immediately."

More than 200 non-unionized workers in North Carolina are on standby, ready to be deployed to striking states Sunday -- some under the threat of termination, reports the News & Observer of Charlotte.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com