Thousands of telecommunications workers from Massachusetts to Virginia went on strike Wednesday at Verizon, saying they could not accept the company’s plans to transfer and outsource their jobs.
Almost 40,000 Verizon employees who work in the oldest parts of the company, installing and supporting wired telephone service, as well as the newer Fios offering walked off the job after 10 months of negotiations failed to find a compromise both sides could live with. They plan to picket outside Verizon locations across the region, including at many of the company’s popular wireless retail stores.
Although Verizon has faced several labor actions in the past, the current strike is almost as large as all of the work stoppages in the entire country last year and more than all strikes in 2014. Some 47,000 workers participated in labor stoppages in 2015 and 34,000 the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The largest single strike at a private company last year involved 6,600 workers at Royal Dutch Shell Oil.
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The strike involves the most workers of any work stoppage tracked by the bureau since 45,000 Verizon workers walked out for 10 days in 2011.
Verizon has been seeking a new contract that would allow it to reassign workers to a new city in another state for up to two months, increase the number of call center jobs outsourced to countries like the Philippines and Mexico, and hire more nonunion contractors. The union rejected Verizon’s offer to bring in a federal mediator.
“Union leaders have their own agenda rooted in the past and are ignoring today’s digital realities,” Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement. “Calling a strike benefits no one, and brings us no closer to resolution.”
The company says it has taken steps to minimize service disruptions during the walkout, including training thousands of nonunion workers to fill in.
The employees, represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been working without a contract since the beginning of August.
The unions said Verizon had already laid off too many workers and blasted the company for failing to meet build-out commitments in New York City and Philadelphia. “Verizon’s corporate greed isn’t just harming workers’ families, it’s hurting customers as well,” the CWA said in a statement noting inquiries by regulators in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Verizon’s (VZ) stock has been among the best performers in the entire market so far this year, up 12%, though it has dropped almost 4% over the past week, in part due to concerns about the strike.