Unions striking against Verizon Communications Inc. said the company’s threat to terminate workers’ health care coverage at the end of this month is nothing but a “scare tactic.”
Verizon said it's sending out letters to 45,000 striking employees informing them that if they don’t return to work, their health care benefits will expire on Aug. 31. Most of the employees are represented by Communication Workers of America, while the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents the remaining 12,000 workers.
"Verizon is trying to scare workers," said Candice Johnson, communications director of CWA, which represents 33,000 of the striking workers.
Johnson added that in previous strikes, Verizon didn't threaten to cut off health care for workers -- "at least not at this point in negotiations."
However, Rich Young, a spokesman for Verizon, said the company sent out letters only "because we started getting questions from employees. This is standard procedure."
According to reports, under the federal COBRA regulations, employees may extend their health care coverage for between $4,800 to $10,000 annually for individual plans; or $10,000 to $20,000 for family plans.
"The unions have said they'll help cover those costs. We hope they do," Young said.
Young noted that according to 2008 labor contract, Verizon wouldn't be responsible for health care coverage after Aug. 30, 2011, in the event of a strike.
"It was clearly stated in the contract that the union bosses approved. The union bosses are well aware of this provision," Young said, according to media reports.
The strike is now in its eleventh day, although both sides are at the negotiating tables in Rye Brook, N.Y. and Philadelphia.