Striking union workers protest at Verizon shareholder meeting
By Malathi Nayak NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dozens of Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N> landline workers, on strike since mid-April after contract talks hit an impasse, marched on the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Thursday.
The unions said about 15 protesters blocked traffic after they laid down atop a large banner on the street. The Albuquerque Police Department said no arrests were made but 15 people were cited. More than 250 protesters, including workers and supporters, demonstrated at the meeting, where the agenda included an election for 13 directors and a vote on executive compensation. The unions for the strikers said they also planned hundreds of protests across the United States against Verizon, the No. 1 U.S. wireless service provider. Nearly 40,000 network technicians and customer service representatives of the company’s Fios Internet, telephone and television services units walked off the job on April 13. The action was called by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The strike is in its fourth week. Sticking points include offshore call-center jobs, job relocations and healthcare coverage. The striking workers have about $1.3 billion in Verizon stock holdings, according to the unions. They voted on proposals including one brought by the Association of BellTel Retirees that seeks the company to require shareholder approval for any executive severance agreement offering a payout of more than triple the base salary. Verizon shareholders rejected this proposal on Thursday, according to Don Dunn,a union representative and Long Island, New York-based Fios field technician, who attended the meeting. Verizon said last week it had presented an updated and “final” offer to the unions, including a wage increase of 7.5 percent. The company, which has been scaling back its Fios and legacy landline business, wants workers to shoulder more healthcare costs and be open to relocating to new job locations. The union rejected the new proposal and the parties remain far apart. “CWA is the one of the biggest unions out there and if we lose this fight, all other unions…they are going to lose. There’s a lot at stake here,” said Shon Scents, a Verizon cable splicer, at the protest in New York’s Financial District on Thursday. The work stoppage at Verizon stretched across several U.S. East Coast states, including New York, Massachusetts and Virginia. Verizon has said it has brought in thousands of temporary workers to avoid service disruptions. The workers have been without a contract since August. (Reporting by Malathi Nayak; additional reporting by Mir Ubaid in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and David Gregorio)