Two unions representing 45,000 Verizon workers went on strike Sunday over stalled contract negotiations.

The Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents service techs, customer service reps and operators at the New York-based phone company. The unions plan to hold more than 100 rallies from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. on Monday.

“They are trying to get rid of the working class,” Bill Gebhart, a lineman who has worked for Verizon for 15 years, told The Star-Ledger. “They are totally annihilating it.”

The highly profitable telecom giant said the striking employees work for its traditional landline business, which is losing customers to wireless services. Some of the concessions Verizon wants from the union members include:

  • ending pensions for new workers
  • freezing current pensions at the end of the year
  • outsourcing some work to other countries
  • tying pay increases to performance reviews
  • requiring workers to pay monthly premiums for health insurance
  • eliminating the sickness and death benefit program

“It is clear that some of the existing contract provisions, negotiated initially when Verizon was under far less competitive pressure, are not in line with the economic realities of business today,” Verizon’s chief executive, Lowell C. McAdam said. “As the US automobile industry found out a few years ago, failure to make needed adjustments — when the need for change is obvious — can be catastrophic.”

To avoid service interruptions, Verizon has activated more than 10,000 retired employees and managers to fill in for the striking workers.

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