45,000 Strike at Verizon as Landline Business Collapses

This will go down as an annus horribilis for labor. The high-profile showdowns between players and owners in the NBA and NFL are puny compared to the 45,000 unionized employees with Verizon's wired business who went on strike at midnight Saturday night. The affected workers "are responsible for maintaining and repairing traditional landlines, as well as installing FiOS," the Washington Post reported. The company's wireless division is not affected.

As much as this story represents the long erosion of labor's power and the corresponding rise of health care costs, it also represents a secular collapse inside telecom. Between 2006 and 2011, Verizon landlines have declined from 47 million to 25 million -- nearly a 50% collapse in five years.

As cell phones replace landlines for younger generations, the wired telecom carrier industry is one of the most troubled in the country. The $150 billion business declined by half in the last decade and is projected to decline by more than another third in the next five years. The vast majority of businesses still keep a wired phone by each computer station, but some analysts expect that the union of Microsoft and Skype could speed up the voice-over-Internet revolution in offices.

In a review of the fastest dying industries, IBISWorld wrote that wired telecom "has declined in every year [and] they are generating lower returns each year as consumers switch to VoIP and wireless products."

Dying industries

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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