NEW YORK — Forty-five thousand Verizon Communications Inc. workers from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., went on strike Sunday after negotiations fizzled over a new labor contract for more than a fifth of the company's work force.
Verizon is the nation's largest wireless carrier, but the contract that expired at midnight Saturday covers workers in the company's wireline division, which includes local-phone operations, services for businesses and governments and long-haul wholesale traffic.
Talks in Philadelphia and New York stalled Saturday night after Verizon continued to demand more than 100 concessions from workers regarding health care, pensions and work rules, said the Communications Workers of America.
Mark C. Reed, Verizon's executive vice president of human resources, called the outcome of the unions' actions "regrettable" for customers and employees.
"We will continue to do our part to reach a new contract that reflects today's economic realities in our wireline business and addresses the needs of all parties," he said in a statement.
Workers covered by the expired contract include 10,000 represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who serve as telephone and repair technicians, customer service representatives, operators and more. Contract negotiations began June 22.
"Even at the 11th hour, as contracts were set to expire, Verizon continued to seek to strip away 50 years of collective bargaining gains for middle-class workers and their families," CWA said in a statement Sunday.
New York-based Verizon has 196,000 workers; 135,000 are non-union.
The CWA said the concessions are unjustified and harsh, given that Verizon is highly profitable — the company's revenue rose 2.8 percent to $27.5 billion in the second quarter. Its growth was largely attributed to its wireless business.
But Verizon said its wireline business has been in decline for more than a decade, and that it is asking for changes in the contract to strengthen the unit. The company said union employees contribute nothing to their health care premiums.
Verizon activated a contingency plan to ensure customers experienced "limited disruption in service" for the length of the strike.
"Tens of thousands of Verizon managers and other personnel have been trained to step in and perform emergency work assignments," Verizon spokesman Rich Young said.
A customer satisfaction survey released in May showed Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel Corp. ranked highest among the Big 4 wireless carriers. The survey polled 8,000 households in the first quarter of this year.
Verizon added 1.26 million wireless subscribers under contract in the April to June period this year, a result that flies in the face of the slowdown in new subscribers across the industry in the last two years. A year ago, Verizon added just 665,000 subscribers under contract.
Verizon ended the last quarter with 106.3 million devices connected to its wireless network. No. 2 and chief rival AT&T is trying to leapfrog Verizon in size by buying No. 4 T-Mobile USA for $39 billion.
Lowell McAdam, the former head of Verizon Wireless, became CEO of Verizon Communications Inc. on Aug. 1, replacing Ivan Seidenberg. Seidenberg, the longtime CEO, remains chairman of the company.