Verizon has said that picketing workers will lose their benefits on Aug. 31 if the two sides do not reach an agreement on a new contract. The end date is part of the now-expired contract the union and the company signed in 2008.
Verizon said that it sent a letter outlining the provision to striking workers on Tuesday in response to questions about the benefits. Health care benefits are among issues at the heart of the strike, which began Aug. 7.
Since negotiations broke down, 45,000 members of the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have taken to the picket lines. The strike has turned ugly, with each side charging that the other is not negotiating in good faith. Verizon has said there’s been a spike in vandalism and damage to its systems since the strike began, while picketers say that Verizon management and replacement workers have hit striking workers with their vehicles.
Verizon spokeswoman Sandy Arnette said in a statement that sending the letter noting the benefits’ expiration date is standard procedure for the company. “We wanted to give striking employees as much time as possible, in case they want to make alternate arrangements.”
Should benefits expire, Arnette said, the workers will be eligible to pay for their own health care under the federal COBRA health care program.
“Verizon spends many millions of dollars each day providing health care for striking workers who chose to walk off the job,” the company said. “If the striking employees are not serving our customers, our investors should not be expected to pay their benefits.”
In response, CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said that the union is prepared to help striking workers meet their health care needs through its Member Relief Fund.
Verizon’s notice, Johnson said in a statement, is a “scare maneuver.”
“We've seen it before,” Johnson said.