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Verizon Claims At Least 12 Acts Of Network Sabotage Committed As Unions Strike

Verizon Communications said Monday it had repaired at least 12 acts of sabotage to its communications facilities in four states as a strike by 45,000 of the telco's union employees appeared headed into a third day.

The company implied that union workers -- represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers -- were responsible for the vandalism, although the telco did not say so explicitly. Verizon said the deliberate damage to its networks began Saturday (Aug. 6) and continued after the strike began on Sunday (Aug. 7).

"These acts of sabotage are reprehensible," Verizon chief security officer Mike Mason said in a statement. "In addition to inconveniencing our customers, these deliberate disruptions of our network have affected hospitals, paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders."

Verizon also alleged that some picketing employees have "unlawfully blocked Verizon managers' access to numerous company work centers and garages."

A CWA spokeswoman said the union "does not condone illegal action of any kind," and IBEW said members "are expected to obey the law," Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, IBEW Local 827 in East Windsor, N.J., alleged that two of its members were injured "by Verizon vehicles driven by management" on Sunday, including one whose foot was run over and another who was struck in the head by a vehicle's side mirror. "The member was rushed to Jersey Shore Medical Center with a concussion," the union local said on its website. "The police would not charge [the Verizon manager] with hitting our member but we will be taking the member to the Police Station to file charges."

Talks between Verizon and the unions resumed Monday in New York. According to the CWA, Verizon canceled scheduled bargaining sessions on Saturday night as well as Sunday morning and afternoon.

Verizon, among other things, is seeking to have union workers contribute toward their health-care plans, and the company wants to freeze pension plans and have more flexible work rules.

"The changes we are requesting are similar to what the CWA has already agreed to with other companies in our industry," Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam wrote in a letter to colleagues the telco posted online Sunday. "Furthermore, our cable competitors do not have these types of contract constraints, enabling them to be more nimble and flexible meeting customer needs."

Continued McAdam, "As the U.S. automobile industry found out a few years ago, failure to make needed adjustments -- when the need for change is obvious -- can be catastrophic."

According to the unions, Verizon has refused to budge from "a long list of concession demands" with almost 100 concessionary company proposals still on the table as the contract expired Saturday.

As a result of the strike by wireline employees, the telco said, customers may encounter "slightly longer hold times when calling Verizon's sales and service centers and slightly longer waits for repair service during this time."

Verizon is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of anyone who intentionally damages its cables or facilities. The telco said anyone who witnesses sabotage of Verizon property or any suspicious activity to call 911 immediately, then call the Verizon Security Control Center at 1-800-997-3287.

"Verizon is working closely with local authorities to investigate these sabotage incidents, and identify and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law. And we will not hesitate to terminate any employee who may be involved in these acts," Verizon's Mason said. "In addition, there have been circumstances where union picketers are showing contempt for our customers by illegally preventing us from accessing the tools we need to serve them. We are taking legal action to end this unlawful activity."

According to Verizon, the incidents of sabotage have affected phone, Internet and TV service in Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

The acts of sabotage included 10 incidents of fiber-optic lines being deliberately cut in the Bronx, Pomona, Farmingdale and Guilderland in New York; two separate incidents in Tewksbury, Mass.; as well as incidents in Bel Air in Maryland, and East Dover, Oakland and Plainfield in New Jersey.

In addition, Verizon reported an outage due to stolen electronic equipment in Cedar Grove, N.J., affecting a local police department and other customers, as well as "an incident due to tampering with a heating system" at a central office in Manhattan.

The CWA characterized Verizon's allegations as aimed at calling negative attention to the union, the Wall Street Journal reported. "This is step one in the company handbook on how to handle a strike," a union spokeswoman said.

Verizon said it has obtained a statewide injunction against illegal picketing activities in Pennsylvania, and is pursuing similar action elsewhere.

The strike involves union-represented Verizon wireline employees in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

Verizon said it had trained 40,000 managers, retirees and contractors to assume the duties of the striking workers. According to the telco, the contingency workforce completed more than 75% of repair commitments on Sunday.

"Our contingency plan is in full effect, and our management employees are stepping in to cover our workload," Verizon president of consumer and mass markets Bob Mudge said in a statement. "We are committed to delivering excellent customer service, and that's exactly what we plan to do."