Verizon Wireline Workers' Strike to Start Wednesday -Unions

Verizon Communications' wireline employees will go on strike starting Wednesday after reaching an impasse in talks over a new labor contract, union officials said on Monday.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions say they jointly represent nearly 40,000 employees of the wireline business, which includes FiOS Internet, telephone and TV services.

Unless Verizon reconsiders its stance on unsettled issues, wireline workers will stage the walkout starting at 6 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, CWA President Chris Shelton said on a media call.

"Verizon has forced us there ... Nobody wants to go on strike," Shelton said. "It's a hardship for our members and our families, it's a hardship for customers."

Verizon and the unions, which represent Verizon workers from states such as Massachusetts, Virginia, New York and Rhode Island, have been in talks over the company's plans to cut healthcare and pension-related benefits over a three-year period since June. Wireline workers have been working out of contract since the last agreeement expired in August.

While a compromise on healthcare plans has been reached, dispute over offshoring call center jobs and pensions still remain, union representatives said.

"We've tried to work with union leaders to reach a deal," said Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer, said in a company statement

The company said it is fully prepared to serve its customers in the event of a strike.

The last round of contract negotiations in 2011 also led to a strike.

"We are available," said Verizon spokesman Rich Young, when asked about the outlook for negotiations. He said no further talks were currently scheduled with the unions, however.

Verizon said the wireline business generated about 29 percent of its revenue in 2015 but less than 7 percent of operating income. Wireline workers perform network maintenance, among other duties, and also provide customer service at call centers.

(Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)