By Malathi Nayak
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Verizon Communication Inc's <VZ.N> wireline unit workers on the U.S. East Coast have voted to go on strike, if needed, amid contract negotiations, the unions representing them said on Saturday.
At a rally in New York, the unions announced that 86 percent of Verizon's 39,000 wireline employees have voted to authorize a strike. This comes a week before their current contracts expire on Aug. 1.
The vote to strike does not mean work in the wireline business, which includes FiOS Internet, telephone and TV services, will come to a halt as the board of the unions Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that represent the employees have yet to approve it.
“Our members are clear and they are determined – they reject management’s harsh concessionary demands, including the elimination of job security, sharp increases in workers' health care costs, and slashing retirement security," Vice President for CWA District One Dennis Trainor said in a statement.
The company's union-represented employees in the East work under 27 collective bargaining agreements in nine eastern states in the United States and Washington D.C. Verizon's plans to cut costs by controlling healthcare and pension-related benefits over a three-year period are at the center of union negotiations.
"Union rallies and strike authorization votes are useless distractions that achieve nothing," Verizon spokesman Rich Young said. "We believe their time would be far more beneficial focusing on the important contractual issues that need to be resolved."
Verizon said in late June it offered salary hikes to 39,000 employees in its East wireline business after its first negotiating session with representatives of the two unions.
The wage increases were subject to an agreement between the company and the unions. In 2011, the last round of talks had ended in a strike.
(Reporting by Malathi Nayak)