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Verizon goes to court over landline workers' strike in East, seeks to limit picketing
NEW YORK (AP) ' Striking Verizon landline workers have harassed and even fired a BB gun at those still on the job, blocked trucks from getting to Verizon facilities and kept work from being completed, the telecommunications company said Wednesday as it pursued legal action in five states to limit picketing and stop what it claims is demonstrating gone too far.
The company filed papers Wednesday in New York and got a court order Monday in Pennsylvania. The company got a similar order Wednesday in Delaware and has legal action going in New Jersey and Massachusetts, spokesman Richard Young said.
A Communications Workers of America spokeswoman didn't immediately return a phone call Wednesday. The union has said it doesn't condone any illegal activity.
Some 45,000 Verizon landline workers went on strike Sunday from Massachusetts to Virginia, fighting management demands for contract givebacks. The strike comes amid tension over the role of the company's traditional but declining landline business in an age of mobile phones.
The union says New York-based Verizon Communication Inc. is seeking $20,000 per worker in annual concessions, and workers bristle that their jobs are being characterized as unprofitable when, they say, their work help build the company's lucrative, non-union wireless business.
Verizon acknowledges that wireless isn't totally independent of the landline workers, but it says it wants to change benefits that date from a time when the telecommunications marketplace was less competitive and landlines were ubiquitous. Verizon wants workers to pay more for their health insurance and wants to freeze their pensions but is willing to enhance their 401(k) accounts, according to Young.
Talks continued Wednesday as management staffers kept filling in for the striking workers, Young said.
Over the past few days, strikers have fired a BB gun at a non-striking worker in the Bronx, pushed another into a scaffolding and injured his arm in Albany, crowded around a Manhattan manhole where workers were sent to splice a cable and refused to leave when police were called, according to the company's legal filing in New York. It says pickets also blocked postal trucks from getting into a Verizon billing center in the Long Island community of Massapequa and gathered by the dozens to harangue people going into and leaving various Verizon locations.
"We have no issue with striking workers picketing and protesting outside our facilities, but it's irresponsible and dangerous when they take the extra step of blocking our employees from entering or exiting," Young said. "Our phones are lifelines for people who may need to make emergency communications."
There have been more than 70 incidents of sabotage to Verizon's facilities and equipment in the region since the strike began, temporarily knocking out service to thousands of customers in all, though it's unclear who's responsible, Young said. New York state police said Wednesday they were investigating damage to Verizon equipment that disrupted service in parts of central New York, including 911 emergency calls in two counties.
A union spokeswoman has called the mention of sabotage "a management tactic." And strikers have said two demonstrators were hit by a replacement worker's car near Buffalo.
A judge in Montgomery County, Pa., limited pickets to six at a time and barred them from blocking Verizon entrances, among other instructions in Monday's ruling. The Delaware court papers weren't immediately available.
The workers are represented by the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
AT&T Inc., the only U.S. phone company larger than Verizon, wrung some concessions from unions in 2009, when contracts covering about 90,000 workers expired. The negotiations ended without a strike and with workers shouldering some premiums and co-payments for their health insurance.
Jennifer Peltz can be reached at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz