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Verizon, Unions Reach Tentative Agreement

September 5, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Verizon Comunications and its unions reached a tentative, five-year agreement Thursday night that provides raises and job protections for 78,000 East Coast telephone technicians and operators.

The deal comes more than a month after contracts expired and the unions threatened to strike. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Peter Hurtgen joined the contentious talks to successfully avert an Aug. 3 walkout.

Members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers still must approve the agreement, which includes 27 separate local contracts.

``I think everyone was mindful of the enormous stakes, not just for labor-management in this situation, but for its potential effect on telecommunications in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,″ Hurtgen said in a statement. ``I think everyone involved recognized how vital it was to reach an agreement.″

Preserved in the deal are existing provisions that protect workers against layoffs and prohibit transfers out of communities without employee consent. However, workers hired after the contract takes effect will not have those protections.

The agreement also provides for annual, structured talks on jobs and wages to ``mutually assess changes in the economy and the competitive environment and to balance any basic wage increase above 2 percent against the needs of the company to reduce the size of the work force,″ Verizon said.

But the contract will remain in place if both sides do not agree on changes.

``This landmark agreement is fair for employees and at the same time helps Verizon remain competitive in these very challenging times,″ said Lawrence T. Babbio, Verizon’s vice chairman and president.

Workers will receive immediate cash bonuses of 3 percent, or an average of $1,600, upon approval of the contracts. Base wages will then increase 2 percent annually, for a total of 8 percent during the contract. Cost-of-living increases are possible in years four and five, depending on inflation.

``We said during the negotiations that a union’s primary mission is to fight for jobs and a more secure future for its members. This agreement does that, and it was achieved thanks to the strong solidarity of union members during this long and difficult process,″ said IBEW President Edwin D. Hill.

Pensions will increase by 11 percent over the life of the contract. Annual profit-sharing cash bonuses next year through 2008 will give employees a minimum of $3,000.

Health care premiums remain fully paid by the company for active workers and retirees. But employees will face increases in prescription drugs and health insurance deductibles and co-payments.

Talks involving telephone workers in 12 states and the District of Columbia have been ongoing since June 16. In 2000, a strike lasted 18 days, causing a backlog of about 250,000 repair requests and new orders for Verizon.

Negotiations centered on the turbulent telecommunications market, with local and long-distance phone companies competing with cable providers for market share in the growing wireless and high-speed internet arenas.

Verizon had sought to cut costs in its eroding local phone business, while workers wanted job security and access to positions being created in other areas of the company, namely wireless and high-speed Internet. Those are separate divisions of the company that aren’t highly unionized.

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