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Verizon Workers Go On Strike Amid Contract Dispute

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Tens of thousands of Verizon landline and cable workers on the East Coast walked off the job Wednesday after working without a contract since August.

The strike involves about 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The workers represent installers, customer service employees, repairmen and other service workers in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for Verizon's wireline business, which provides fixed-line phone services and FiOS Internet service.

"We're on strike to maintain good jobs and maintain our standard of living,'' said Keith Purce, president of CWA Local 1101 which represents about 3,500 workers in Manhattan and the Bronx.  

Standing on a picket line in Manhattan with hundreds of union workers, Purce said they were prepared to stay out "as long as it takes.'' He said talks broke off last week and no new talks were scheduled.

Verizon spokesman Rich Young said the company was very disappointed that union leadership has called a strike. He said it has trained thousands of non-union workers to fill in for striking workers and "we will be there for our customers.''

"This is about the union unwilling to work with us to make these old legacy contracts reflect today's modern digital age," Young said.

In Brooklyn, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined striking workers on a picket line outside a Verizon office. He said the workers were displaying courage for standing up against the telecommunications giant.

"I know your families are going to pay a price,'' he bellowed into a microphone at a raucous gathering. "You have chosen to stand up for dignity, for justice and to take on an enormously powerful special interest."

Deep in competition with Sanders for support from labor, Hillary Clinton is also siding with the employees and slamming Verizon for trying to "outsource more and more jobs.''

That, she said in a statement, would mean "walking away from--- the workers who install and repair our phone and cable service, and who respond to customer needs day and night.'' She added that Verizon should return to negotiations.

Clinton also met striking workers outside a Verizon store in Midtown on Wednesday.

The workers' latest contract expired in August.

The unions say Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers. The telecom giant has said there are health care issues that need to be addressed for retirees and current workers because medical costs have grown and the company also wants "greater flexibility'' to manage its workers.

"I'm upset," switch department worker Rose Stone told CBS2's Andrea Grymes. "It's corporate greed on their part."

"Main purpose is fighting corporate greed," said field technician Tim Stimus. "This company makes $1.8 billion a month profit. That's profit and they won't trickle it down to the working people who built this company."

"We don't want to strike, we want to be out there maintain the plant, working for the customers, but obviously the company isn't interested in that right now, they're only interested in money," Javier, who has been with the company for 19 years, told 1010 WINS' Glenn Schuck.

Verizon also is pushing to eliminate a rule that would prevent employees from working away from home for extended periods of time. In a television ad, the unions said the company was trying to "force employees to accept a contract sending their jobs to other parts of the country and even oversees.''

"They want to be able to outsource jobs, American jobs to other countries and they want to be able to move me away from my family at a moment's notice," field technician David Doran said. "They want to be able to tell me one night that the next morning I have to report somewhere in Virginia or somewhere in Main."

"I've been here 27 years and when I signed up at age 19 they told me, 'work here 30 years, we'll give you a pension when you retire.' I said ' when do I start?'" Rob, a splicer, told WCBS 880's Sean Adams. "I was a kid, I gave them my whole life here -- now I'm 48 years old."

Workers picketing outside a Verizon office on West 36th Street in Manhattan told Schuck they're ready to stay off the job weeks or months.

But Young said the unions' talk about offshoring jobs and cutting jobs is "absolute nonsense.''

"These contracts have provisions that were put in place decades ago," he said. "They need to take a look at where the business stands in 2016.''

Verizon Executive Vice President of Network Operations Bob Mudge said the financial package they offered is actually greater than what they negotiated three years ago.

"I think this issue of greed is a good tag line, but I think we need to negotiate with reality and try to keep our entire employee base well compensated and well rewarded-and that is what we are trying to do," he said.

Verizon said in a statement Wednesday that it "has activated its business continuity plans as customer service remains the company's top priority.''

Employees from other departments across the U.S. also will be sent to replace the striking workers, the company said.

In August 2011, about 45,000 Verizon workers went on strike for about two weeks.

Verizon Communications Inc., which has a total workforce of more than 177,000 employees, said in a statement Tuesday that the company was contacted by federal mediators and is willing to sit down and continue negotiation talks, if the unions agree to hold off on their strike. A spokeswoman for CWA said the union did not authorize the mediators to offer to extend the strike date.

Both management and the unions say Verizon smart-phone customers should not be affected.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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