- Associated Press - Monday, August 8, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Thousands of Verizon landline workers took to picket lines Monday from Massachusetts to Virginia, fighting management demands for contract givebacks and disputing that their work is unprofitable.

Verizon Communication Inc. countered that its 45,000 unionized workers in the East should not expect the kind of compensation they were paid when the phone company was a monopoly _ and when no one questioned whether a household needed a land line.

Analysts said the strike came at a key point in the evolution of telecommunications: the beginning of the demise of the ordinary wired home phone.

“Fewer and fewer people are using their traditional land lines,” said Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics in Boston.

The company used managers to replace workers Monday, but said demonstrators at some offices had caused some service disruptions by keeping the managers from getting in; it did not provide details.

Verizon also said it was investigating several instances of possible sabotage by employees, including fiber-optic lines being cut. It said the damage affected phone, Internet and TV service in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Union spokeswoman Candice Johnson said it was “a management tactic, rolling out the idea of sabotage.” She said the union “does not condone illegal action of any kind.”

Strikers claimed two demonstrators were hit by a replacement worker’s car near Buffalo.

Johnson and company spokesman Richard Young said management and labor _ the workers are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers _ met face-to-face on Monday in New York. They had no word on progress.

The contract expired at midnight Saturday.

Verizon Wireless, the non-union and much more profitable division of which Verizon owns 55 percent, was not affected by the strike. But the wireless operation was a focus of contention anyway.

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.”

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