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Union worried as Verizon scales back landline business

Union worried as Verizon scales back landline business

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BLOOMINGTON -- A union representing Verizon workers in Central Illinois says it's concerned about job security as the telecom giant plans to divest much of its landline business.

Verizon, with more than 230,000 employees, said in July that it wanted to shed 8,000 workers in its wireline unit by 2010. That comes after the company already reduced headcount by more than 8,000 since mid-2008.

Verizon instead will focus on wireless and broadband, its fastest-growing businesses. Verizon announced in May that it plans to sell 4.8 million access lines in 14 states -- including Illinois -- to smaller Frontier Communications. Verizon says about 11,000 landline employees would move to Frontier if the deal is approved.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 1,000 Verizon and Frontier employees in Illinois that would be affected, has spoken out against the deal, saying customers could lose out.

There are 4,600 Verizon employees in Illinois, including about 400 in McLean County, according to a 2009 tally.

Four of seven landline employees took their severance and left the company when a Verizon Plus storefront in Bloomington closed in August, said Rod Brandt, business representative for Springfield-based IBEW Local 51. Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap said the store, which was used mostly as a customer bill-payment center, was closed primarily due to decreased foot traffic. The other employees were relocated within Verizon.

Brandt said about 30 IBEW cable locaters also lost their jobs when Verizon subcontracted out the work last year, though some found work elsewhere with Verizon.

IBEW Local 51 has about 300 members who work for Verizon, including an estimated 80 who work out of the company's downtown Bloomington offices, Brandt said.

Those cuts have happened around the U.S., said Bob Erickson, an IBEW international representative. "The wirelines are diminishing - they're going the way of the blacksmith or the dinosaur," he said.

Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap would not disclose area-specific numbers.

"We continually assess and adjust the size of our workforce, reducing staff and hiring staff as needed to keep our cost structure in line with this competitive marketplace," she said in an e-mail.

The companies say existing union agreements will be honored if the Frontier deal closes, possibly in mid-2010.

"We have no plans on making any changes," said Frontier spokesman Steve Crosby.

Still, the IBEW has concerns, especially with Frontier touting a possible $500 million in cost savings if the deal is approved. Brandt said many Local 51 members with Verizon now plan to retire rather than move to Frontier.

"If one of the biggest companies in the world (Verizon) ... can't make it work in those areas," said Erickson, "why should we think Frontier can?"

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