PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Hundreds of union employees blocked a portion of Race Street outside the Verizon building this morning, demanding a new labor agreement.

The collective bargaining agreement between Verizon and its unionized workers expired Saturday at midnight.  Now, 45,000 Verizon employees are on strike after negotiations over a new union contract stalled.

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“Right now the company has some proposals that are totally unacceptable,” says Terron Pinkney, Unit 1 president of the Communications Workers of America.  He says workers will be protesting at Verizon locations across the country until a new agreement is reached.

“We don’t want our work contracted out; we want to keep our union jobs,” he says.

Verizon public relations director Harry Mitchell says the current labor agreement is outdated and points to the health care provision as a primary example.

“Today, 99 percent of the people who work pay some if not all of their health care premium. The 45,000 employees represented by the unions pay nothing,” he says.

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The union represents employees that service the “wire line” portion of the Verizon business.

Verizon officials say the landline portion of its business has been on the decline for years and now makes up less than 10 percent of its overall operating income.

But CWA Local 13000 president Jim Gardler says that’s misleading — that it doesn’t take into account the recent investment in FiOS — and he says the union’s been key in the success of the fiber-optics network, even helping the company get franchise agreements along the way.

“We’ll help you build the network as long as we’re part of the network, as long as we’re a part of the network,” Gardler says. “Don’t exclude us from the network.  They’ve been taking these jobs and moving them out of the country, and that’s a problem for us.”

Reported By Cherri Gregg and Jim Melwert, KYW Newsradio 1060; Jericka Duncan, CBS 3

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