Local union members concerned as Verizon contract deadline looms

(WRIC) — Thousands of Verizon workers across nine states – including right here in Virginia – could walk off the job tonight.

That’s if union negotiators don’t reach an agreement over benefits with the company’s landline division by midnight. And negotiations are likely to last until the last minute.

8News reporter Claudia Rupcich spoke with local works, who voiced their concerns.

“Really scary because we don’t really know what that proposal will be,” said union member Roger Wood.

A new contract between the Communications Workers of America Union and Verizon that covers union members like Martin Grubb.

“The company is making proposals that are outrageous, if you want to know the truth,” said Grubb.

Verizon is asking workers to pay more for healthcare costs, saying the company has been facing challenges with its landlines because more people are giving up home phones.

“The healthcare costs at this point, for what the company is asking, could increase significantly,” Grubb added. “They’re wanting to freeze the pension and offer a either or – keep your pension or keep your 401K. Right now we have both, so it can impact people that are close to retirement.”

Those already retired could also see cuts to benefits.

“”They were banking on the count of dollars that they anticipated getting from retirement,” said retired Verizon employee Roger Wood. “Banking on the health care. Any cut to any of that would cut into the way they plan their future.”

Especially for those who have been retired for 20 or 30 years.

“Can’t just go back tomorrow and get some additional dollars to get by on,” Wood added.

Union members say preserving jobs is the main priority and are asking Verizon to build new fiber-optic networks in areas that lack service.

The company has seven locations in Virginia it wants to close. We want those to stay open,” Grubb said. “We want them to increase the distribution of FIOS throughout the state, which will increase jobs and make a better broadband community.”

Harry Mitchell with Verizon Communications reached out to 8News to share a few facts about the negotiations:

  • On the first day of bargaining, June 22, Verizon presented union leaders with a comprehensive offer, which included salary increases over the next two years, and a bonus should we achieve new contracts before the current ones expired.  Consistent with practices at other companies, pension-eligible associates would be given a choice of continuing to earn pension benefits under the defined benefit plan or opting for the enhanced 401(k) plan currently offered to management employees, with a larger company match and a profit-sharing contribution.  It’s important to note that, under this latter option, a participating associate’s defined pension plan would remain intact.  They would not lose the pension they have accumulated.
  • The rising cost of health care is a national challenge, for individuals and for employers of all sizes.  To help address this, we asked union leadership to share our commitment to achieving meaningful cost management in health care, while continuing to provide employees and their families with access to outstanding health care. Currently, health plans for union employees and their families can cost as much as $23,000 a year and up to a staggering $37,881 for retirees. The average American worker’s annual family health care plan costs about $16,800.  In addition, the health care plans that cover Verizon active and retired employees are high-cost plans that qualify as “Cadillac plans” under the Affordable Care Act.  In 2018, during the term of the next contract, some of these high-cost plans are projected to trigger a 40 percent excise tax provided for by this law.  This is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars.  Our proposal to union leaders would ensure our employees continue to receive quality healthcare coverage, while asking them to chip in nominal amounts for individual healthcare premiums.
  • Calls for expanded FiOS deployment and other network-related issues are not part of these negotiations.  They are diversions that union leadership is hoping will give it an advantage at the bargaining table.  The facts are that Verizon has invested $23 billion and deployed our all-fiber network to more than 20 million households across our service area, which includes Virginia.

Union members had decided earlier in the week that if no deal was reached, they would most likely start picketing Monday morning.

Verizon officials say they are prepared for the strikes – saying they’ve been training thousands of employees just in case.

We’ll keep you updated on any new developments.

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