Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has warned 45,000 striking workers that their health insurance benefits will expire at the end of August if they do not return to work by then.
Strikers will also lose pension benefits, life insurance and other benefits.
The company said it send letters to the strikers, who walked off the jobs on August 7 after the two principal unions, The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), could not reach a new labor contract with management.
Health care contributions are a key element in the dispute that shows no signs of being resolved quickly, although talks are still reportedly ongoing.
A spokesman for the company, Rich Young, said the adversaries had "made some progress on certain issues and some issues are still up for discussion."
A spokeswoman for the CWA, Candice Johnson said the union will "set up a plan and make sure striking workers' healthcare needs are met" if workers are still on strike by the August 31 deadline.
Young of Verizon said if strikers remain off the job by then, they might have to pay for their current health care coverage. He explained that the costs would range between $4,800 to $10,000 per year for individual plans or $10,000 to $20,000 for family plans.
According to a report in Baltimore Brew, Bill Dulaney, president of CWA Local 2101, told a crowd of striking Maryland workers: “You will get letters today saying your health insurance ends at the end of the month.”
He later complained to the paper: “They didn’t cancel scabs’ health insurance. They’re trying to scare the hell out of everybody. We’re in the fight of our lives, here.”
However, he added that the union will not give up the fight.
“We’re fighting for jobs -- good middle class jobs,” he said. “The middle class is basically going away.”
However, a Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said the union’s generous health care plan no longer made sense relative to new economic realities.
“The union contracts that expired were the product of a bygone era when our name and our business were different,” she said, according to reports.
The company is demanding about $1-billion in concessions from workers, according to union estimates.
“They’re reducing sick time to no more than five days a year, they’re eliminating overtime caps, and they’re getting rid of pensions [for future employees],” Dulaney said.
“There used to be a requirement they couldn’t make you work more than 35 miles from where you work now. They’re taking that away. They’re taking away certain holidays [Martin Luther King Day and Memorial Day.] I can go on and on.”