But during the first six months of this year, productivity declined. Instead of signaling a possible ramp-up in hiring, economists said, it's a bad sign for the labor market. That's because employers added workers at the beginning of the year anticipating stronger growth but when that did not happen, companies had more workers but not enough work to do, said Charles W. McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services in Washington.

"Now, hopefully as production picks up, if it does, employers will add hours of work to the existing work force rather than adding new jobs," McMillion said.

Referring to the Verizon strike, Clark said: "They're simply taking advantage of that situation in this case to cut back on wages and benefits at a time when they have the advantage."

Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said that for several months the company has trained tens of thousands of management employees to step into call centers as well as maintenance and installation positions in case of a strike. "The needs of the business are still there," she said."For the most part we're trying to keep business operations as close to normal as possible."

The company said in a statement that it completed more than 75 percent of repair commitments on Sunday, but they are asking customers to be patient if they experience longer waits when calling sales or service centers as for completing repairs.

Briana Gowing usually works in government affairs for Verizon as a liaison with municipalities. But for the last nine days, the Elkridge resident has pulled 12-hour shifts doing repair work in homes, apartment houses and businesses. "It's okay. We know people want their telephone service," she said.

Gowing said she completed 40 hours of online training, two weeks in the classroom and several days training with a supervisor. The experience has made her appreciate how difficult it can be to isolate the source of problems, said Gowing, who has been with Verizon for 16 years. "It's a complicated network," she said.

Opfer, the Verizon splicer and local union official, said it's frustrating to watch others do her job and contends the limited instruction of replacements puts them at risk of injury.

"They're training them to essentially take food out of my mouth," she said. "They don't have the training to do what we do on an everyday basis," she said.