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July 20, 2011

Verizon Communications Inc., with roots in the old Bell monopoly and one of the largest employers in the U.S., is taking one of the most aggressive moves in decades with its labor unions. As it starts talks to replace three-year union contracts set to expire Aug. 6, Verizon wants to tie pay increases more closely to job performance, make it easier to fire workers for cause, halt pension accruals this year and require union workers to contribute to health-plan premiums.

 About 30% of Verizon’s nearly 200,000 employees are unionized. The vast majority of those workers serve as field technicians or in call centers in the so-called wireline side of the business, which has struggled as consumers have switched to cellphones and cable providers have encroached on phone-company turf by offering voice and Internet services along with television. Verizon says that the average union technician makes $75,000 a year, plus $50,000 in benefits.

 In addition, Verizon executives say they are calling for job-security measures to be lifted because they need more flexibility to manage the work force, not because they are planning major layoffs in the near future. But the wireline business is still struggling. Verizon’s wired access points fell to 26 million last year from 31 million at the end of 2008.

 The company’s push for concessions follows rollbacks of union benefits in the airline, auto and municipal work forces. Some union locals are gearing up for a contentious round of talks and holding strike-authorization votes this month, saying Verizon, which reported $10.2 billion in profit last year, isn’t under financial stress. 07-13-2011. Wall Street Journal.