Striking Verizon workers to lose health benefits soon: Should they?

Striking Verizon workers / File photo

Striking Verizon workers will soon be without health insurance.

Verizon confirms to CNY Central that striking employees' medical benefits will be suspended on August 31st. The 45,000 striking Verizon workers received a letter confirming a provision in their 2008 contract that stated in the event of a strike, medical benefits would be suspended on that date. This should not be a surprise. It's part of the contract that they've agreed to.

Verizon tells CNY Central the union put members benefits at risk when they went on strike. It's not a threat, they say, but something included in their previous contract.

Union representative Chris Ryan says he's not sure how the potential loss of health benefits will affect negotiations.

"I don't know if it ups the ante. We would expect nothing less," Ryan says. "The reality is, it's unfortunate we're on strike to begin with. It's unfortunate that the company didn't sit down and talk with us about an amicable solution to the rising cost of healthcare. They could care less that our members are on chemotherapy. They could care less that we have single parents, single mothers. They don't care that people are pregnant. To them, they're billionaires, they could care less about the American worker. That's the way we view it."

The strike affects 1,000 local Verizon workers. They've been picketing outside the Verizon building on Thompson Road in DeWitt for more than a week since they were unable to reach a new contract with the company. The main sticking points include job security, health benefits and pensions.

Verizon maintains it has a fair offer on the table, a claim the union rejects.

The striking unions, the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, say Verizon is seeking $20,000 a year in givebacks per worker by calling for a pension freeze and contributions to health insurance premiums, among other demands. Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Lowell McAdam has denied the figure. But he said the company must react to "a 10-year decline in our customer base and in profitability" in landline divisions, which is where the strikers work. Wireless service and other devices have cut into the landline market.

The company has alleged 143 incidents of sabotage affecting service for thousands of people, said Verizon spokesman Richard Young. That includes a local case here in Central New York. State Police are investigating damage caused to Verizon equipment that has disrupted some service locally, including 911 emergency calls in two counties.

Troopers say Verizon reported a fiber optic circuit box damaged on Doyle Road in the Oneida County Town of Deerfield recently. It appears someone broke into the box and cut wires. Police say the damage knocked out Verizon's landline serve and cell service to the county's northern areas.

Meanwhile, Verizon tells us both sides are still talking, but so far no progress in negotiations.

Do you think the workers' health benefits should be suspended? Will this force workers to go back to work? Is this a good or bad tactic by Verizon to end the strike? Leave your thoughts below.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.