July 31, 2008 / 9:24 PM / 11 years ago

Verizon workers picket as union talks near deadline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) employees picketed at its offices around New York on Thursday, threatening to strike if the phone company and union fail to agree on a new contract by a weekend deadline.

Traffic passes Verizon Communications Inc. headquarters in New York, February 14, 2005. REUTERS/Peter Morgan

The Communications Workers of America, which has 65,000 members, said talks were progressing slowly despite the current contract’s expiration on August 2, after which union workers could go on strike.

“We’re unhappy with the pace of negotiations,” CWA representative Bob Master said outside Verizon’s downtown headquarters as his union colleagues chanted union slogans.

A strike by employees, including engineers and customer service workers, could delay Verizon’s plans to expand its FiOS high-speed Internet and video service. The company said its home phone and wireless services will not be affected.

FiOS is a key part of Verizon’s strategy to bolster its landline business and compete with cable companies’ all-in-one packages of phone, video and Internet services.

This week it launched FiOS TV in New York City, where it will compete with cable service providers such as Time Warner Cable Inc TWC.N and Cablevision Systems Corp CVC.N. A strike could delay how soon the city’s residents receive the FiOS service.

“We want FiOS to succeed. But we’re going to do what we have to do to protect our jobs and our healthcare,” Master said.

Disagreements include a potential increase in worker payments for healthcare coverage, a proposal that workers retiring from 2009 onward pay for their own healthcare, and the elimination of retiree health care coverage for new hires, according to the CWA.

“We can’t let corporate greed interfere with getting a fair contract,” said Denise Hawley, a customer representative who has been with Verizon for 37 years.

Verizon has so far said it was optimistic about resolving the dispute, although spokesman Alberto Canal said it also had contingency plans in place to prevent any disruptions to service.

Bank of America analyst David Barden said the Saturday deadline could come and go without a new contract, but that any fall in the shares as a result could pose a buying opportunity for investors.

“The potential for very short term volatility around specific announcements in the process is predictable, but we would be looking to buy Verizon on dips rather than attempting to call each up and down tick over the month or so it may take to finally resolve the labor relationship for another period of years,” he said.

Verizon shares fell 30 cents to $34.04 on Thursday.

Reporting by Ritsuko Ando, editing by Phil Berlowitz

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