About 100 Verizon workers in Pittsfield join national strike for new contract
Photo Gallery | Verizon Strike in Pittsfield
PITTSFIELD — Some 100 unionized Verizon employees in Pittsfield joined nearly 40,000 of their counterparts on the East Coast by walking off the job on Wednesday in reaction to stalled contract talks with management.
Members of two unions — the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — were involved in the walkout, which took place in nine states, including Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.
The majority of the Pittsfield workers involved in the walkout belong to IBEW Local 2324, according to Christine Casino, one of the local's shop stewards. IBEW 2324 is based in Springfield, but has an office in Pittsfield. Union members in North Adams also walked off the job on Wednesday.
The Pittsfield employees consist of directory assistance operators, central office technicians and linemen, Casino said. Employees picketed Wednesday in front of Verizon's main office at the corner of Federal Street and Wendell Avenue Extension and at a company garage on East Street, Casino said.
Roughly 20 employees could be seen walking in front of the main office early Wednesday afternoon. Workers were expected to picket for 12 hours on Wednesday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Casino said.
The two unions' previous three-year contract with Verizon expired in August, and Casino said there has been little progress on a new collective bargaining agreement since then.
"There's been some movement, but the company hasn't come close to what we want," Casino said. "We're not fighting for any more than what we've had."
The unions and management have been negotiating on a new contract since last June, according to both Verizon and IBEW Local 2324 Business Manager John Rowley Sr.
According to Rowley, as of last week the unions made some major moves and returned with a proposal that the company rejected. He said Verizon then began talking about issuing a "final offer," which Rowley said "was a clear signal that they were getting ready to impose terms.
"We could not see our way through to a contract at that point," he said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Verizon said the unions' unwillingness to submit to mediation led to Wednesday's action.
"Despite Verizon's good-faith efforts to get to new labor contracts, CWA and IBEW leaders, unwilling to make an agreement or even seek the assistance of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, have called a strike as of 6 a.m. (Wednesday)," the statement read.
According to Verizon, FMCS asked if the company would be willing to participate in mediation if the unions extended their previously announced strike deadline. FMCS had helped resolve previous contract negotiations with the unions in 2012, according to Verizon.
Verizon said it was willing to participate in mediation with FMCS, but that the unions were not.
"The CWA president, Chris Shelton, claims they have tried 'everything' to get a contract, but their failure to agree to FCMS mediation suggests otherwise," said Verizon Chief Administrative Officer Marc Reed.
According to Rowley, Verizon was interested in having some, but not all, of the sticking points between the two parties be discussed in mediation with the FMCS.
"That has what's led us to where we are today," Rowley said.
Verizon said it has "activated" its business continuity plans as "customer service" remains the company's "top priority."
As part of those plans, trained nonunion workers will cover for striking workers and provide customers with "the support and assistance they need and expect," Verizon said.
In Pittsfield, picketers received support from passersby who honked horns and waved, and from local businesses that supplied beverages and other amenities.
"Otto's brought us coffee," said Verizon employee Kim Surbaugh.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.
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