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40,000 Verizon workers – 725 here – go on strike

About 40,000 Verizon Communications workers represented by two unions walked off the job Wednesday morning after a union-imposed 6 a.m. deadline for new labor agreement passed. Workers in Buffalo picketed around the Verizon building at the foot of Franklin Street.

The strike affects 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.

Walking the picket line in Buffalo, James Wagner, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1122, said Verizon is going after the union’s “no layoff” clause and wants to outsource work.

“They believe they have the right to dictate terms and conditions of our members’ labor, rather than negotiate them,” he said. He also said Verizon wants employees to pay more for health insurance and to freeze their pensions.

“This is the last thing we want to do, but it’s necessary at this point in time,” said John Mudie, executive vice president of CWA Local 1122. “We’ve been at the table for 10 months, we can’t come to a deal. The company’s very profitable and asking us to give things back. We just don’t think we have to give anything back at this point in time.”

Mudie noted a number of other unions’ members had come out Wednesday to show support for the pickets. “I think the message resonates. These are good middle-class jobs and this company is trying to destroy them, good careers.”

Wendy Persichini of West Seneca, a 26-year company employee and member of IBEW, was among roughly 200 workers who were walking the sidewalks around the building. She said she was concerned about her job security, health care and pension. Persichini works in Verizon’s business office. “My job would be one of the ones they want to send away,” she said.

Mario Cilento, president of New York State AFL-CIO, Wednesday pledged “full resources” for the striking workers. “The CWA and IBEW’s fight is labor’s fight from this point forward,” he said.

The company said it was prepared for the strike, having trained workers to fill the affected jobs, and no services will be interrupted.

The workers are from Verizon’s “wireline” business, which includes the land-line phone and Internet workers. They staff a range of facilities from Massachusetts to Virginia, including call center staff, technicians, installers and other jobs.

The most recent contract expired Aug. 1. The unions threatened a walkout at that time, but instead continued to negotiate.

Verizon on Wednesday it was receptive to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service’s offer to mediate if the unions would extend their strike deadline, but didn’t know if the union would go along with the idea.

The unions claim Verizon wants to “gut job security protections,” send more work to contractors elsewhere in the country, outsource jobs to other countries and deploy technicians away from home for possibly as long as two months.

Verizon contends it needs to change its contract with those workers in a portion of the business that accounts for less than 7 percent of the company’s operating income.

A 2011 strike at Verizon by the two unions lasted about two weeks.

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