Verizon and unions representing workers in nine states -- such as Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland -- said employees will work without a contract as more negotiations are scheduled.
The wireless carrier and leaders of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers announced the decision early Sunday, shortly after a contract covering 39,000 workers expired.
The unions said they are prepared to schedule regular bargaining sessions, but that they will leave the sites of their round-the-clock negotiations in Philadelphia and Rye, New York.
Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer, said the company is "disappointed" it was unable to reach an agreement with the unions despite "six weeks of good faith bargaining and a very strong effort by the company." However, he said Verizon representatives will continue to meet with union leaders.
The unions say the telecom giant is demanding that workers sharply increase their health care contributions and make concession on pensions. They contend Verizon is demanding cuts in jobs and job security and wants to either eliminate the company's 401k benefit match or freeze its defined benefit pension. In addition, workers might be asked to pay "thousands more dollars" in health care costs due to higher deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance costs, according to the CWA's website.
"Verizon has earned $1billion a month in profits over the last 18 months, and paid its top handful of executives $249 million over the last 5 years, but continues to insist on eliminating our job security and driving down our standard of living," Dennis Trainor, a CWA vice president who represents Verizon workers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, said in a statement Sunday. "We're not going to take it, and we're going to keep the fight going while we're on the job."
Reed said Verizon presented the unions with a counter-proposal Saturday night that included changes to the company's previous proposals on healthcare benefits, retirement benefits and other subjects.
He said the company's proposal remains on the table at this time.
Verizon has said a strike would have a "minimal" effect on customers because it has trained thousands of nonunion employees and can also reroute calls to call centers not affected by the strike, and resolve some problems remotely.
"We remain fully prepared to handle any work stoppage so that our products and services will be available where and when our customers need them," Reed said in a statement.
The contract covers employees from Massachusetts to Virginia and Washington, D.C., who work for Verizon's wireline business, which provides fixed-line phone services and FiOS Internet service.
About 45,000 Verizon workers went on strike in August 2011 for about two weeks.