Strike-hit Verizon makes 'final' contract proposal to unions

(Reuters) - Verizon Communications Inc said it had presented a revised and “final” contract proposal to unions representing nearly 40,000 striking workers, who walked off their jobs in mid-April after talks over a new labor agreement hit an impasse.

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) picket in front of Verizon Communications Inc. corporate offices during a strike in New York City, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The company on Thursday said it was now offering a wage increase of 7.5 percent over the term of a new contract, up from its previous offer of a 6.5 percent raise.

“We are putting our last, best final offer on the table,” Verizon’s Chief Administrative Officer Marc Reed said in a statement.

“The ball is now in the unions’ court to do what’s right for our employees.”

Verizon ‘s proposal comes ahead of the expiration on Saturday of healthcare coverage for striking employees.

Workers from network technicians to customer service representatives in Verizon’s Fios Internet, telephone and TV services across several U.S. Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, including New York and Virginia, walked off the job on April 13 in one of the largest U.S. strikes in recent years.

The strike was called by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Sticking points in contract negotiations include job relocations, pensions, healthcare coverage and the offshoring of call center jobs.

In its proposal, Verizon said it will continue to match retirement saving contributions and offer pensions with increases over three years. It also laid out job security and buyout terms and some healthcare costs it wants employees to bear beyond the company’s coverage.

At meetings on Thursday, “executives refused to back off of callous proposals that would hurt working families and destroy middle class jobs,” the CWA said in a statement. “The company also failed to budge on the issues facing Verizon Wireless workers.”

The union said it was considering how to move forward.

Verizon, the No. 1 U.S. wireless company, has shifted its focus in recent years to new efforts in mobile video and advertising, while scaling back its Fios TV and Internet service.

It has stopped expanding its old landline phone network and the wireline unit generated about 29 percent of company revenue in 2015, down about 60 percent since 2000.

The company has said it has trained thousands of non-union employees over the past year to ensure no service disruption. If the strike continues for an extended period, it could impact 2016 earnings, Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo has said.

More than a thousand union workers have returned to work since the strike began and more are expected to follow, the company said in a statement.

The strike “has had minimal impact to its operations,” it said.

Reporting by Malathi Nayak and Narottam Medhora in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey, Alan Crosby and Tom Brown