Striking Verizon workers: Leave our salaries, benefits alone

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Verizon employees picketing outside a Verizon Wireless store on Route 58 in Riverhead Tuesday, protesting with 45,000 employees across the East Coast cuts in salaries and benefits.

About two dozen Verizon employees lined a curve of the Route 58 traffic circle in Riverhead Tuesday, joining 45,000 workers across the East Coast who are on a strike spurred by a failure of their union and their company to agree on a new contract.

The employees, all wearing red T-shirts, accused Verizon Communications of seeking concessions that take employees back 50 years all while the corporation earned a net income of $6.9 billion for the first six months of this year.

The concessions sought include a freeze on pensions, altering 401Ks, changing pay based on performance and eliminating overtime, the workers said.

“We’re not fighting for anything new,” said Scott Faulkner, a lineman who lives in Shoreham. “We just want to keep what we have and they want to take everything away.”

Lindsey Wowak, a field technician who lives in Wading River, stood in between his sons, Nicholas, 9, and Logan, 7, who held up posters to vehicles and passers by while smiling when drivers honked their horns.

Mr. Wowak said his sons want to work at Verizon one day.

“They play phone man at home,” he said. “They want to be like Daddy.”

The strike is made up of employees in the wire lines division, which includes landlines to homes and businesses. Those workers officially went on strike Saturday, the day their contracts ended.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, one union representing Verizon’s employees, issued a statement on its website saying the giant communications company is asking to take far too much from its employees.

“Verizon has refused to bargain with the union in good faith and has left us no other choice,” the statement reads.

A Verizon spokesperson didn’t immediately return a phone call for comment, but according to a press release posted on Verizon’s website, the company trained tens of thousands of management employees, retirees and others to fill in for those who’ve left their job sites to picket.

Marc Reed, Verizon’s executive vice-president of human resources, said in the statement the company will continue to negotiate a contract with the employees who’ve walked away.

“It’s regrettable for our employees and our customers that the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have decided to walk away from the table instead of continuing to work through the issues,” he said. “We will continue to do our part to reach a new contract that reflects today’s economic realities in our wireline business and addresses the needs of all parties.

“It’s also our intent that under a new contract, Verizon employees will continue to receive competitive pay and benefit programs.”

As far as the local Verizon employees go, they plan to stay on the streets toting signs until a fair deal is reached.

Brian Faulkner, of Sound Beach, who has worked as a splicer for Verizon for 15 years said he, for one, will stay put “for as long as it takes.”

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