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Verizon proposes mediation to avert strike

With a strike deadline looming, Verizon Communications said Tuesday that it was willing to meet with a federal mediator to head off a walkout.

The threatened strike would affect about 29,000 members of the Communications Workers of America and 10,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. About 725 of those workers are in Western New York.

The unions said they will go on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday if a new labor agreement isn’t reached.

The 40,000 workers cover a territory from Massachusetts to Virginia. They are in Verizon’s “wireline” operations, including its landline phone and Internet service workers.

Verizon said that it was approached by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which asked whether the company would be willing to mediate if the unions extended the strike deadline. Verizon said that it is willing to mediate, but had not heard if union leaders would go along with the idea and avert a strike. Representatives from both unions could not be reached to comment.

W. Robert Mudge, president of Verizon’s wireline network operations, said the company was “ready for a strike.”

Verizon said that those preparations include training thousands of non-union employees to fill in for those who walk out. Employees would be reassigned from all parts of the country and all parts of the business, including finance, marketing, real estate and engineering. The company said that those workers trained for the possibility of a strike last year.

James M. Wagner, president of Local 1122, CWA, said Verizon is looking to outsource some jobs or contract out work at a time when the company is thriving financially. “If there’s any corporation in America that can put people to work, it’s this employer,” he said.

CWA President Christopher M. Shelton said talks have been going on for 10 months, with no progress.

The two unions’ most recent contract with Verizon expired Aug. 1. The unions threatened a walkout at that time, but instead continued negotiations with the telecommunications giant. A 2011 strike lasted about two weeks.