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The company said its “wireline” business, as opposed to wireless, had declined over the last decade both in customer base and profits.

Company spokesman Richard Young said the company wants to freeze the workers’ pensions but is willing to enhance their 401k accounts. He said management is also demanding that workers contribute to their health insurance premiums.

Young said the workers’ benefits “no longer reflect today’s marketplace.’

“The phone company is not a monopoly anymore,” he said. “There are dozens of competitors.”

CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said its best-paid workers get about $77,000 a year in New York. The company puts the figure at $91,000 and said benefits average $50,000.

Johnson said Verizon is asking $20,000 per worker in annual concessions.

Strikers said it was wrong to separate them from the company’s overall profitability _ Young said it made $3 billion in the first half of this year _ because they are the underpinnings of the profitable wireless sector.

Paula Lopez, 60, a customer service representative on a picket line in New York, acknowledged that fewer people used land line phones but said land lines were “the stepping stones and building blocks for wireless. … That’s where they got the money to start up the wireless.”

“We built this company and we gave them the ability to have wireless,” said Lori Speciale, vice president of IBEW 2214, on a picket line in Buffalo.

The company acknowledged that wireless is not totally independent of the landline workers and that FiOS cable TV, Internet and phone packages, which the strikers install and maintain, are profitable. But Young said the company could not ignore that the divisions the strikers work for were unprofitable overall.

Demonstrators also complained that the company was squeezing them when high-level executives were making millions.

Mark Maurer, a customer representative, said as he demonstrated in Garden City, N.Y., “What I find hard to understand is how the executive compensation could be so obscene in this day and age.”

Young said executive pay was based on performance and had been approved by stockholders.

Analyst Entner said the problem is, “The company is half in trouble.”

He said the loss of land lines is accelerating “and only with the introduction of FiOS has that been stemmed. The workers know that, but they also know their checks come from a big, profitable company.

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