NEW YORK - Tens of thousands of Verizon landline and cable workers on the East Coast have walked off the job after working without a contract since August.

The strike Wednesday morning involves about 39,000 members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in nine eastern states and Washington, D.C.

About 5,500 workers in New Jersey are striking, according to the State Director of the Communications Workers of America Hetty Rosenstein.

The unions say they're striking because Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers.

A spokesman for Verizon says the company is very disappointed that union leadership has called a strike.

Spokesman Rich Young says Verizon has been trying to work with union leadership for the past few months to come up with a fair contract. He says "unfortunately, they have been unwilling to negotiate in good faith and have now called this job action."

The telecom giant has said there are health care issues that need to be addressed for both retirees and workers as medical costs have grown.

Verizon Communications Inc. says it has trained thousands of non-union employees to fill in during the strike.

The last Verizon strike was in 2011 and lasted for two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.