The Communications Workers of America says it has photographic evidence showing Verizon Communications Inc. has been depriving its aging copper network of money for maintenance and repair throughout parts of Pennsylvania.
The union - which represents 4,980 Verizon linemen, technicians, and customer service representatives in the state - filed the photos on Wednesday in a petition with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, seeking an investigation into whether Verizon has violated state utility laws by not maintaining its copper lines.
The photos taken in the late summer depict dangling cut-off utility poles, plastic-wrapped phone equipment, and spliced phone lines.
The union contends that Verizon has neglected its copper network as it has financed the introduction of FiOS in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and the expansion of its national wireless business. FiOS is Verizon's brand name for its high-speed fiber-optic Internet and TV services, which compete with cable TV.
Verizon spokesman Richard Young called the CWA's photos a "circus act" designed to force the company to hire more union employees.
The CWA has been working under an expired contract with Verizon since Aug. 1.
"It's the wrong approach. If the CWA truly wants to improve our network, they could start by working with us at the bargaining table on a new contract that's fair to our employees, our customers, and positions the company on a path toward success," Young said.
Young said that Verizon invested $5.8 billion in 2014 in its wire-line network in Pennsylvania and other states and $3.4 billion so far in 2015.
"If there's an issue that needs to be addressed, we will fix it," Young said.
The CWA's concerns in Pennsylvania are part of broader issues related to Verizon's transition to fiber-optic lines from copper over the last eight years. Critics have said that Verizon has chosen high-income areas to wire for FiOS, leaving rural and lower-income areas with copper.
The CWA first brought the copper network's condition to state regulators' attention in a letter in early September. The union followed the letter with the formal petition and photos on Wednesday. The union says it has more than 100 photos that depict a range of neglect in non-FiOS areas.
"What CWA found . . . were numerous instances throughout the commonwealth [of Pennsylvania] of physical plant in an appalling state of disrepair that pose a safety hazard to utility employees and the public," according to CWA's petition.
Debbie Goldman, CWA's telecommunications policy director in Washington, said Verizon could be fined $1,000 a day per violation if the PUC finds that the company violated state utility laws by not providing a "safe and reliable" network for customers and employees.
The CWA has not reported any workers hurt because of the condition of Verizon's copper network. But the union told Pennsylvania utility regulators in a letter in September that thousands of people had complained about copper line-related service problems, based on state regulatory data.
"We know this is endemic across the footprint," Goldman said, saying similar conditions existed in other Verizon states.
As Verizon's traditional copper network deteriorates and the company fails to extend FiOS to those areas, the union says, Verizon could force customers to its wireless products over time.
Verizon's wireless division workforce is mostly nonunion, while the employees in its wire-line division - the copper and FiOS networks - are mostly union.
The CWA says the number of technicians, repair workers, and customer call-center employees in Pennsylvania represented by the CWA has declined 43 percent, or 3,720 employees, through cutbacks over the last decade. In 2005, the CWA represented 8,700 Verizon workers.
Verizon has wired the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas with FiOS, the union says. But Wilkes-Barre, Johnstown, Scranton, and the areas along Interstate 80 have not been upgraded with FiOS. The CWA photos submitted to the PUC include images from Chester County and the Reading area.
Ed Mooney, a CWA vice president based in Philadelphia, said the union would like Verizon to wire the entire state with fiber-optic lines for FiOS and remove the copper network. If Verizon wired the state for FiOS, lower labor costs could result because FiOS is easier to maintain than the older copper network, Mooney said.
Verizon has said it plans to halt its FiOS expansion corporation-wide as it focuses on adding more wireless services.