April 27, 2016 / 8:52 PM / in a year

Verizon, striking unions at impasse as health benefits to expire

Members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) picket in front of Verizon Communications Inc. corporate offices during a strike in New York City, April 13, 2016.Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A strike by nearly 40,000 Verizon Communications Inc workers is in its third week with unions and the company still far apart on contract talks, even as employee healthcare benefits are set to expire on Saturday.

Workers, from network technicians to customer service representatives, in Verizon's Fios Internet, telephone and TV services walked off the job on April 13 in one of the largest U.S. strikes in recent years after contract talks hit an impasse.

A resolution on various issues, including temporary job relocations, pensions and moving call center jobs offshore, has yet to be reached, representatives of Verizon and the Communications Workers of America union said on Wednesday.

Verizon, which said last week that a long-drawn labor dispute would pressure its earnings, remains committed to reaching a fair deal, spokesman Rich Young said in a phone interview.

A meeting between Verizon and union representatives is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, he said.

HEALTHCARE OPTIONS

Verizon has notified striking workers that under federal law their health care coverage was set to expire on April 30, Young said.

Verizon has said it spent over $3.2 billion on healthcare for employees last year. The company offers insurance coverage to those employees who are actively working, Young said.

Striking employees have the option of seeking coverage under the U.S government's Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) health insurance plan to get temporary healthcare coverage.

"They think that this is going to be used as a wedge to break this strike. I assure you it will not," said Ed Mooney, vice president of CWA District 2-13, said in a phone interview.

The CWA also has funds, collected through contributions from affiliated union members and other donors, to help cover healthcare costs of members when needed, Mooney said.

"It's horrible. Most of us are parents, I have a daughter and the prospect of losing our children's healthcare is actually quite disturbing," Fitz Boyce, 45, a field technician at Verizon for over two decades, said in an interview at the picket line in front of the company's Times Square store in New York.

The strike affects Fios Internet, telephone and TV services across several U.S. East Coast states, including New York and Virginia.

Verizon has trained thousands of non-union employees over the past year to ensure no service disruption. The company has fielded over 60,000 requests since the strike began, Young said.

The unions have said that replacement workers do not have the necessary expertise, especially in highly technical jobs such as equipment installations.

Reporting by Malathi Nayak,; additional reporting by Mir Ubaid in New York; Editing by Richard Chang

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