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Striking Verizon workers begin drawing benefits

Striking workers at Verizon Communications are drawing benefits from a union strike fund, as the walkout nears the one-month mark.

The Communications Workers of America said its members receive $200 per week after two weeks on strike, a figure that increases to $300 per week after three weeks on strike, said Candice Johnson, a CWA spokeswoman. The amount increases to $400 per week after the eighth week, and remains at that level until the strike ends.

The payments come from a $441 million strike fund built with contributions from strike-eligible workers, Johnson said.

About 39,000 workers, represented by the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, went on strike in several states on April 13. About 725 workers in Western New York are part of the walkout, and belong to Verizon’s “wireline” work force.

The striking workers’ health care benefits were cut off Sunday, but James Wagner, president of CWA Local 1122, said the union will ensure workers’ health care needs are still met.

The Coalition for Economic Justice, faith leaders and labor leaders held a prayer vigil on Wednesday in support of the striking workers, outside a Verizon Wireless store in Cheektowaga. The CWA has called for a national “day of action” on Thursday related to the strike.

Verizon and union leaders held talks in New York City earlier this week but did not reach a resolution.

“I think the move is clearly in the company’s park,” Wagner said. “They know exactly what they need to do and who they need to talk to and who they need to negotiate and bargain with in order to settle this work stoppage.”

Verizon officials say the company is getting by in the striking workers’ absence with replacement workers, including non-union employees who were trained for their assignments.

Several days ago, Verizon said it was deploying “thousands” of additional employees and contractors to serve customers. Ray McConville, a Verizon spokesman, said the company was prepared all along to deploy another wave of workers depending on how long the strike continued.

As for the prospect of new talks, McConville said: “The ball is in the union’s court. They need to get serious about this and come back with something meaningful.”

McConville said about 1,300 striking workers have returned to their jobs since the walkout began.

CWA officials claim that number was exaggerated. Wagner said he was aware of only a handful of workers who had returned to their jobs, and that none of them were in Western New York. “Our spirit is alive and well. Our members’ solidarity is second to none and right now it’s impenetrable.”

The striking workers’ contract with Verizon expired in August 2015.