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Capital Region Verizon union workers go on strike

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Capital Region Verizon union workers go on strike

On the union picket line outside Verizon’s State Street office building, the strike that started Wed
Capital Region Verizon union workers go on strike
Verizon Wireless employees are on strike and picketing Verizon Wireless building located at 158 State St. in Albany on Wednesday April 13,2016.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

On the union picket line outside Verizon’s State Street office building, the strike that started Wednesday is about workers holding on to what they have and not being forced to spend more time away from families.

“I work 60 hours a week. They force us to work overtime,” said Bill Stewart of Altamont, a construction lineman at Verizon’s Schenectady maintenance garage.

About 39,000 East Coast employees of communications company Verizon went out on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday over proposed health care and pension cuts, off shoring of jobs, and other issues.

Unionized workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Worker went off the job in nine states, including New York, after being without a contract since last August, and less than 48 hours after announcing a plan to strike if no agreement was reached with Verizon.

“It’s a major statement,” said Gil Carey of Colonie, president of CWA Local 1118, which represents more than 6,000 workers in a region between Albany and the Canadian border.

“It tells the company we don’t like what they’re doing to us,” he said.

The strike affects about 900 workers in the Capital Region, where Verizon has a corporate office in Albany and regional maintenance garages in Albany, Schenectady, and Saratoga Springs.

“Given Verizon’s enormous profitability there is no justification for the company’s continuing demands to destroy good middle-class jobs and offshore work,” the CWA said in a statement announcing the strike.

Stewart, a 20-year employee, said that in 2000, there were 85,000 Verizon workers in the area now served by 39,000 workers, “yet we still have the same footprint.”

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, IBEW President Lonnie Stevenson said that Verizon is demanding “massive cuts” in health care and retirement benefits, despite making billions of dollars in profits, and seeking to move call center jobs overseas.

Verizon officials said they will keep serving customers with other employees despite the strike.

The company said it has activated business continuity plans, saying customer service remains the company’s top priority. It said trained non-union employees will cover for striking workers.

“Unfortunately, union leaders have their own agenda rooted in the past and are ignoring today’s digital realities. Calling a strike benefits no one, and brings us no closer to resolution,” said Verizon Chief Administrative Officer Marc Reed.

East Coast Verizon workers struck most recently in 2011, in a walkout that lasted two weeks.

Some union members on the picket line Wednesday said they fear the new strike could last for months.

Jeff Herbst of Niskayuna, an administrative assistant in the Albany corporate office and 22-year employee of Verizon, said job security, rules that would allow employees to be assigned farther from home for weeks at a time and shipping of call center jobs overseas are all issues for employees.

“[Verizon] makes lots of money and we are just asking for the status quo, nothing greedy,” Herbst said.

Verizon provides phone, Internet and television service, including its rapidly expanding FIOS fiber-optic business.

The New York State AFL-CIO said it will be supporting the Verizon strikers.

“This is a statewide priority of the labor movement from Buffalo to Long Island,” said state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “We will mobilize our 2.5 million members and 3,000 local unions all across New York to join them in this battle for as long as it takes. CWA and IBEW’s fight is labor’s fight from this point forward.”

Picketing is expected to expand today to Verizon work sites throughout the region.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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