Verizon and Strikers Facing Off in Court as Walkout Drags on
As the strike by about 40,000 workers at Verizon Communications enters its seventh week, the two sides are increasingly facing off in court over alleged misbehavior by picketers.
Verizon backed efforts to have restraining orders issued against picketing workers in Massachusetts and Delaware this week. That follows earlier court orders issued in New York and Pennsylvania imposing restrictions on striking workers.
Verizon has complained to the courts about strikers harassing and threatening its replacement workers, blocking access to its work locations, and picketing hotels where the replacement workers are housed. The two unions involved, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have denied they are encouraging bad behavior and maintain strikers have a right to picket widely.
Fortune asked both sides for comment and this story will be updated with their responses.
The legal sparring comes as the two sides continue to negotiate under the auspices of a federal mediator. Verizon and the unions returned to the bargaining table on May 17, under pressure from Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, after a month of sporadic, unproductive talks and escalating confrontations. Both sides have agreed not to comment on the ongoing negotiations as Perez’s request.
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But even as the talk proceed, the strikers have continued to try to put pressure on the company, picketing Verizon Wireless stores, holding rallies, and seeking resolutions of support from cities and towns in the region.
Verizon (VZ) maintains that some of the efforts have crossed legal lines.
In Delaware on Thursday, a state judge warned the CWA, which represents a majority of the strikers, to keep its members from harassing replacement workers, though he declined to issue a contempt order.
To learn more about the strike’s impact, watch:
Verizon attorneys told the court of several incidents, including a three-car accident on I-95 in Wilmington that occurred as strikers were following a replacement worker’s car. In court on Thursday, a lawyer for the union said strikers had ceased so-called “ambulatory picketing” since the May 10 incident.
In Massachusetts, the National Labor Relations Board is seeking a restraining order in federal court to bar strikers from picketing at hotels where replacement workers are staying. No decision has been issued yet.
A federal court in New York issued a similar order two weeks ago. In April, a New York state judge ordered strikers to cease “violence, sabotage or vandalism” and imposed other limits on picketing. A Pennsylvania court also imposed picketing limits on strikers in Philadelphia in the early days of the strike.
The strike started April 13, when workers who mainly service and install Verizon’s traditional telephone and newer FiOS cable TV and Internet service walked off the job. The conflict was escalating quickly, leading up to an armed confrontation in the Philippines in which U.S. strikers had gone to meet with call center workers, before Perez stepped in.
Striking workers say they say they cannot accept Verizon proposals that would allow additional outsourcing of call center workers to the Philippines and Mexico, greater use of nonunion contract installers, and the assignment of employees to other cities for up to two months at a time.
Verizon says is offering a 7.5% wage hike for the new contract over the next few years but also needs new work rules to gain greater flexibility and lower costs as its telephone business shrinks and its wireless business becomes ever more important.