Union Mulling 'Options' After Verizon Stops Strikers' Benefits

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By Tyrone Richardson

May 5 — The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers confirmed May 5 that it is still reviewing “options” after Verizon Communications Inc. recently canceled health-care benefits for an estimated 39,000 striking workers, including about 10,000 represented by the IBEW.

“We are looking at options for how best to assist our striking members, but have made no decisions at this time,” spokesman Mark Brueggenjohann said in an e-mail to Bloomberg BNA.

The issue of benefits for striking Verizon workers comes after the IBEW did not have a strike fund to assist striking members during the four-month work stoppage at FairPoint Communications Inc. in 2014 (211 DLR A-15, 10/31/14).

As for Verizon, the company May 1 stopped health insurance coverage for strikers, who have been off the job at call centers and installation facilities in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions since April 13 (84 DLR A-8, 5/2/16).

Some industry observers have told Bloomberg BNA that the strike could continue for weeks to come as the company and unions are expected to hold the line on contract demands (83 DLR CC-1, 4/29/16).

Union Steps to Help

The Communications Workers of America, which represents about 29,000 of the strikers, is using a $400 million Members' Relief Fund to supply some wages and health-care benefits for its members, officials have said.

A document obtained by Bloomberg BNA May 5 says the CWA will pay for “necessary” health and dental procedures for the striking Verizon employees and dependents, in addition to providing a portion of weekly wages, payments that rise as the strike continues.

For example, a weekly strike benefit is $200 per week beginning April 27, $300 per week beginning May 11 and $400 per week beginning June 8.

Verizon has said its union-represented employees have a wage and benefit package that averages more than $130,000 a year (141 DLR A-13, 7/23/15).

IBEW Strike Fund?

It wasn't immediately known May 5 if the IBEW is offering similar support for its members. Brueggenjohann May 5 said the union “will not negotiate or discuss strategies in the press.”

Some IBEW locals, however, are urging members to seek health insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), state programs or a spouse's employer-provided insurance, according to websites.

Benefits for strikers have been an issue in some recent work stoppages, including the FairPoint strike that involved 1,500 workers represented by IBEW and another 215 represented by the CWA.

The CWA-represented strikers were covered by the union's Members' Relief Fund. In a Dec. 4, 2014, post on CWA's website, then-CWA District 1 Vice President Chris Shelton urged union members to help the IBEW.

“The IBEW has no strike fund so it is imperative that we approach our members to try and help support both CWA and IBEW members who had the courage to strike,” Shelton said then. “We must ensure that these valiant union members cannot be starved or frozen back to work.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the CWA strike document is available at http://src.bna.com/eJM.