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August 10, 2011

 

Union pickets Verizon store

Workers stand along Route 281 protesting proposed wage, benefit cuts

UnionJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Verizon information technology employee Jim Vineyard pickets the Verizon Wireless store on Route 281 in Cortlandville. About 40 striking Verizon telephone technicians and customer service representatives stood outside the store Tuesday, protesting wage and benefit cuts the company wants in a new union contract.

By MATTHEW NOJIRI
Staff Reporter
mnojiri@cortlandstandardnews.net

CORTLANDVILLE — Locke resident and Verizon technician Katrena Hopkins said she is worried about her health insurance, after Verizon and union officials failed to reach a deal on a new contract by Saturday night’s deadline.
A breast and thyroid cancer survivor, Hopkins said she needs her job and the healthcare coverage that comes with it.
“We built this telephone network that they are so proud of,” said Hopkins, who installs and repairs telephone lines. “And for them to treat us so unfairly is just terrible.”
Hopkins was one of about 40 striking Verizon telephone technicians and customer service representatives who held signs and picketed in front of the company’s store on Route 281 in Cortlandville on Tuesday. More picketers stood this morning in front of a Verizon center on Groton Avenue.
There are about 200 technicians in the Communications Workers of America 1111 unit, which covers Cortland and Tompkins counties and other regions in the Finger Lakes. The strike involves nearly 45,000 Verizon employees from 10 states in the Northeast.
The main bargaining issues pertain to changes in healthcare, pension freezes and reductions in overtime, sick pay, disability benefits and other areas.
Verizon officials say they need to cut costs, asking employees to contribute to their healthcare premiums and change the pension system. The company also wants to change the way it handles its call center, hoping to send customers to fewer representatives for assistance. The company’s wire line business has had a 10-year decline, said Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam in a letter to employees Sunday. More and more customers are deciding to give up their landlines in exchange for cell phones,
“It is clear that some of the existing contract provisions, negotiated initially when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today,” McAdam said.
John Bonomo, a Verizon spokesman, said the two sides have resumed talks. He said the company needs to reduce costs, particularly in healthcare. The strike does not affect Verizon Wireless, which has a nonunion workforce.
Hopkins stood with her 6-year-old daughter Ileanna and 14 year-old son Jeb on the picket line. She said the strike is not just about her job but other union jobs across the country.
The CWA 1111 unit has been protesting at Verizon stores since Monday, said Terry Glover, a field technician. He said he is determined to wait as long as it takes for the employees to protect benefits.
“We’re fighting for the middle class, not just Verizon workers,” said Glover, who lives in Homer.
The employees, mostly telephone technicians, customer service reps and dispatchers, say Verizon is trying to “gut” their wages, healthcare and pension packages. They worry about what will happen to Verizon’s telephone lines and customer service as they are on strike.
For the last month, Verizon has been training managers, retirees and others to fill the void. The company says the transition has been smooth, but the striking employees doubt the temporary workers will be able to do their jobs.
“It’ll be a tough road, but we have to last at least one day longer than they do,” said Don Muncy, a field technician from Freeville.
He said it could be months before he is back to work again.
“It doesn’t look good,” he said.

 

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