The unions representing 39,000 Verizon employees said they would continue working even though their contract expired midnight yesterday, but decided to end round-the-clock bargaining that began late in June.
Leaders of the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said, however, that they are prepared to schedule regular bargaining sessions.
In statements, union officials said the telecommunications giant is insisting on eliminating job security and driving down the standard of living for its members, as well as increasing healthcare costs by thousands of dollars per person.
“Despite our best efforts, Verizon refuses to engage in serious bargaining towards a fair contract,’’ said Dennis Trainor, vice president for CWA District 1, which represents Verizon workers in New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. “We’re not going to take it, and we’re going to keep the fight going while we’re on the job .’’
Verizon said it was disappointed the unions walked away from the talks. “After six weeks of intense and good-faith negotiations, the union decided to walk away rather than try to work out an agreement that would be fair to all sides,’’ said Rich Young, a spokesman for the company.
“Considering they walked away, we have to question how committed they are to the process,’’ Young said. He disputed the union’s arguments that the company is slashing benefits, saying technicians in New Jersey and other parts of the metropolitan area earn in excess of $150,000 annually.
But union officials said little movement has been made in the talks.
“The company has barely moved off its initial June 22 proposal that made outrageous demands of Verizon workers,’’ said Ed Mooney, vice president for Districts 2-13. “If this company is serious about reaching an agreement, it needs to start bargaining constructively and now.’’
Among the other issues the union cites is Verizon’s alleged failure to build out its fiber-optic network to many undeserved communities up and down the East Coast, as well as abandoning upkeep of its traditional landline network, leading to extensive service problems for consumers.
Both issues have attracted criticism in New Jersey, particularly the inability of rural communities in South Jersey to get high-speed Internet. In some other parts of the state devastated by Hurricane Sandy, the company is replacing its traditional copper network with a new wireless system.