Verizon plans to lay off 201 landline technicians in the state in February, cuts that may include 40 to 50 job losses in South Jersey, the president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 said Friday.
The Mercer County-headquartered union, which represents about 5,000 workers in the telecommunications industry, said cuts would affect facilities and outside technicians, including those who fix telephone service on copper wires.
The move represents an ongoing shift of Verizon’s focus from traditional copper landline phone service to fiber optics and FiOS, union local President William Huber said.
But Huber said the latest cuts would hurt phone service reliability with fewer workers to maintain a deteriorating infrastructure of traditional landlines still used by about 1.5 million consumers in New Jersey. An earlier round of layoffs last year affected 336 union workers, he said.
“Our argument is they’re understaffed,” he said. “They can’t maintain the service level, and they can’t maintain the service because there are not enough people. And now they want to lay off more people.”
Earlier this week, the union filed a petition with the state Board of Public Utilities asking it to stay Verizon’s layoffs.
In documents filed with the BPU, the union blamed Verizon for not keeping an adequate New Jersey-based work force for delays in restoring phone service after Hurricane Sandy, and said service problems have existed well before the storm.
Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said the layoffs will not affect the company’s service.
“Verizon operates in an extremely competitive industry, and we continuously adjust our work force based on the needs of our customers and the needs of our business,” Gierczynski said in a statement. “While we have made every effort to reduce head count through voluntary means, any targeted reductions will not impact our ability to serve our customers or jeopardize our focus on repairing our own critical infrastructure impacted by Hurricane Sandy.”
Both Huber and Gierczynski said the number of potential layoffs could change as both sides talk.
On Friday afternoon, Huber said there was no list of affected employees yet.
A contract dispute between Verizon and unions prompted a more than two week national strike in August 2011 involving 45,000 union members of the Communications Workers of America and the IBEW.
During that strike, workers picketed in the area, including Egg Harbor and Upper townships, Millville, Vineland, Wildwood and Stafford Township.
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