Unions and Verizon reach tentative agreement

Verizon and unions representing its 43,000 East Coast workers on September 19 reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. Union members over the next month will vote on whether to accept or reject the agreement.

“We stood up to the most sweeping and intense attack on our standard of living and bargaining rights in the history of the telecommunications industry,” said Chris Shelton, Communication Workers of America District 1 vice-president. “The unity and determination of 34,000 CWA members since bargaining began in June 2011 has produced a new agreement that preserves intact our members’ pension and job security, provides for a substantial wage increase, and preserves a high quality health plan.”

“In this tough economic climate, with many politicians and CEOs  preaching more and more austerity for the middle class, working families  at Verizon stood strong and stuck together to  get the best possible agreement,” said Edwin D. Hill, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “We don’t agree with everything in it, but it allows us  to move forward and continue to fight for good middle-class jobs at Verizon in the years to come.”

Details of the pact will not be released until local unions have the opportunity to present the terms of the contract to members.

Reuters reports that Verizon failed in its attempt to freeze pensions for union members, but new hires will not be eligible for pensions; instead, the company will match new hire contributions to a 401(k) savings plan up to 6 percent of their salary. All workers will begin contributing to their health care plan.

According to Reuters, “Guggenheim Securities analyst Shing Yin said it seemed ‘at first glance that Verizon had probably made more concessions than the union’.”

In August 2011, Verizon workers accusing the company of not bargaining in good faith went on strike for two weeks.

Reuters reports that the strike hurt Verizon’s 2011 third quarter earnings.

The strike ended in a standoff with workers returning to work and Verizon continuing to honor the expired contract and agreeing to resume good faith bargaining.

For nearly a year, there was no movement at the bargaining table, which prompted union leaders to request the assistance of federal mediators. Since July, a federal mediator has overseen the talks between the two sides.

“The union bargaining teams credited the mobilization of tens of thousands of members and allies throughout the labor and progressive communities in making a big difference in the negotiations,” read a statement on the CWA website. “CWA is hopeful that the agreements will lead to additional investment and jobs going forward.”

Most of the workers represented by the unions work in the company’s Wireline division, but a small number of Verizon Wireless workers are members of CWA. According to the CWA, Verizon Wireless workers won a new contract that contains a substantial pay increase and no concessions.

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