Verizon seeks injunctions against strikers

WILMINGTON, Delaware Tue Aug 9, 2011 5:34pm EDT

Workers rally outside Verizon headquarters in New York August 8, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Workers rally outside Verizon headquarters in New York August 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Verizon Communications Inc has sought court injunctions to prevent striking workers from blocking access to the company's facilities, a spokesman said on the third day of a strike involving almost half of the company's wireline employees.

Two unions representing 45,000 workers called a strike on Sunday after a labor contract expired and several weeks of talks for a new contract failed.

Verizon has sought injunctions to prevent "illegal" and "reprehensible" strike activities such as keeping managers out of buildings, according to company spokesman Rich Young.

Verizon got an injunction in Pennsylvania and filed for one in Delaware, according to Young, who said the company would seek injunctions in any state where strikers block buildings.

While the company and the unions are still holding high-level talks, the injunctions are the latest sign of increasingly hostile relations outside the negotiating room. The Communications Workers of America has accused Verizon managers of injuring picketers.

A spokeswoman for the CWA, representing about 35,000 of the strikers, declined to comment on the injunctions on Tuesday and said there was no update from the talks. The union said on Monday that it did not condone illegal activity.

On a picket line in Brooklyn, New York, Hector Soto, 47, said union members picketing there were not blocking managers from entering the building to work.

"We're not stopping them physically, but we're letting them know they're scabs," said Soto, a shop steward and customer care representative for Verizon business clients.

"We're doing what we legally can do, which is protest," Soto said. Minutes later picketers could be heard yelling "scab."

The strikers are technical workers and customer service representatives for Verizon's U.S. northeast and mid-Atlantic wireline unit, which provides phone, high-speed Internet and television services.

Verizon is looking to cut costs in its wireline business, which has been declining for years as customers get rid of home phones in favor of cellphones and Internet services.

But the unions say the company is asking for too many concessions in areas such as healthcare contributions, pensions, sick days and other work rules.

Verizon said it sent an update on Tuesday to lawmakers in the nine states affected by the strike and to leadership in the House and Senate and to Labor committees.

The statement reiterates the company's stance on issues such the need to reduce benefits, which it says total about $50,000 on average per employee.

It also argued that the CWA had agreed to similar changes with other companies such as AT&T Inc. The company said it spends $4 billion a year on healthcare for its employees. It has 196,000 employees including its wireless venture.

The company argued that employees need to work with it to adjust rules and policies in order or it to remain competitive in its Internet business.

"This is hard, but it is doable," Verizon said.

While the strike does not involve employees in Verizon Wireless, Verizon's venture with Vodafone Group Plc, some workers were picketing outside Verizon Wireless stores in New York on Tuesday. The wireless business depends on wired connections between wireless cell towers.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents 10,000 of the striking workers.

Verizon shares finished up $1.17 at $34.29 on New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington and Sinead Carew in New York; Editing by Robert MacMillan and Richard Chang)

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