News : Union: Valley Jobs Could be Axed in Verizon Talks
Lehigh Valley, PA, USA, Aug 13, 2015 -- Job cuts could be coming to Lehigh Valley Verizon Communications Inc. workers, union officials said Thursday during an informational picket in Upper Macungie Township.
"They're looking to close most of the call centers [in Pennsylvania]," said Thomas Ballek Jr., executive vice president of Communications Workers of America Local 13500 in Emmaus. He said the move has been floated in ongoing contract talks.
Ballek, a 15-year Verizon employee, said Verizon at one time employed 100 people at the call center on Windsor Drive in Upper Macungie, but only 30 people work there now. The center handles residential customer requests for installation and service, and Ballek said those jobs could be in jeopardy.
Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski would not comment on Ballek's and other union officials' specific charges. He said Verizon is asking the unions to review existing contractual provisions that are "costly and inefficient" and hamstring its operations.
"Given the rapidly evolving business Verizon is in, we continually adjust our workforce to meet the ever-changing needs of our customers," Gierczynski said.
Contracts for Verizon employees, represented by the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, expired Aug. 1. The unions have taken a strike vote, but the two sides have been negotiating this week, Ballek said.
Issues include pay, health benefits and work rules. Workers earn between $33 and $35 an hour, Ballek said.
"This is not about greed; this is not about more money," said Brasten. "This is about keeping our existence."
The Verizon unionized workforce has fallen from 85,000 in 2000 to 45,000, including the 37,500 affected by the dispute, according to The Associated Press. The local union leaders said the cuts are due to company consolidations during that time.
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About two dozen current and retired workers picketed away from the call center at the corner of Windsor Drive and West Tilghman Street. Some wore placards that accused Verizon of failing to complete the build-out of FiOS, its Internet, phone and cable package.
Another union leader, Craig "Vinny" Brasten, with CWA Local 13000, which represents phone technicians based in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, said 14 employees left in the last year because they declined to commute at least 35 miles one-way to their jobs. The company and union have an agreement by which employees can be relocated to jobs in a 35-mile radius, he said.
"They have the ability to move people," Brasten said of the telecom provider, "but our focus is on bringing the work here."
Retirees also expressed concern that Verizon is proposing changes in their health benefits.
"They are trying to chip away at our health care," said retiree Tom Miller of Weisenberg Township. "We basically built this network ... and they want to take away our benefits."
About 500 Verizon union workers are in the Lehigh Valley and Berks County. The CWA and IBEW went on strike for two weeks in 2011.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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