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NEW YORK — Thousands of Verizon landline workers took to picket lines Monday from Massachusetts to Virginia, fighting management demands for contract givebacks and disputing that their work is unprofitable.

Verizon Communication Inc. countered that its 45,000 unionized workers in the East should not expect the kind of compensation they were paid when the phone company was a monopoly – and when no one questioned whether a household needed a land line.

Analysts said the strike came at a key point in the evolution of telecommunications: the beginning of the demise of the ordinary wired home phone.

“Fewer and fewer people are using their traditional land lines,” said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics in Boston.

The company used managers to replace workers Monday, but said demonstrators at some offices had caused some service disruptions by keeping the managers from getting in; it did not provide details.

Verizon also said it was investigating several instances of possible sabotage by employees, including the cutting of a fiber-optic cable in Bel Air, Md., that resulted in 100 customers losing service. Labor said it was unaware of any “untoward behavior.”

Strikers claimed two demonstrators were hit by a replacement worker’s car near Buffalo.

Both sides – the workers are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – said they were willing to continue bargaining. The contract expired at midnight Saturday.

Verizon Wireless, the non-union and much more profitable division of which Verizon owns 55 percent, was not affected by the strike. But the wireless operation was a focus of contention anyway.

The company said its “wireline” business, as opposed to wireless, had declined over the last decade both in customer base and profits.

Company spokesman Richard Young said the company wants to freeze the workers’ pensions but is willing to enhance their 401k accounts. He said management is also demanding that workers contribute to their health insurance premiums.

Young said the workers’ benefits “no longer reflect today’s marketplace.’

“The phone company is not a monopoly anymore,” he said. “There are dozens of competitors.”

CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said its best-paid workers get about $77,000 a year in New York. The company puts the figure at $91,000 and said benefits average $50,000.

Johnson said Verizon is asking $20,000 per worker in annual concessions.

Strikers said it was wrong to separate them from the company’s overall profitability – Young said it made $3 billion in the first half of this year – because they are the underpinnings of the profitable wireless sector.

Paula Lopez, 60, a customer service representative on a picket line in New York, acknowledged that fewer people used land line phones but said land lines were “the stepping stones and building blocks for wireless. … That’s where they got the money to start up the wireless.”

“We built this company and we gave them the ability to have wireless,” said Lori Speciale, vice president of IBEW 2214, on a picket line in Buffalo.

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Article Courtesy of The Huffington Post

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