Verizon workers ratify new contract after victorious strike

Three weeks after the end of a 45-day strike, members of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states ratified a four-year collective bargaining agreement with Verizon.

CWA Vice President District 1 Dennis Trainor called the strike “an incredible victory for the nearly 40,000 courageous workers who put everything on the line to protect the good jobs for their families.”

“It was a tough strike, but this contract, which secures good jobs in our communities and preserve workers’ standard of living shows what can happen when we stand together,” said Ed Mooney, vice president CWA District 2-13. “I am so proud of our members for standing up for themselves, our communities, the customers and their families.”

Because union power has been greatly weakened during the last 30 years, a union official claiming victory in a strike can mean anything from, “we returned to work without making any significant concessions” to “we survived.”

But in this case, the outcome looks like a solid win for labor.

Verizon wanted to outsource more work, close 16 call centers, eliminate jobs, and make the jobs remaining less secure.

The new contract maintains all the call centers except for two small ones in New York (where workers will be placed in other jobs at the company), creates 1300 new call center jobs, returns outsourced pole maintenance work in New York to union workers, and maintains job security provisions including no involuntary layoffs, forced transfers, or job classification downgrades.

Verizon wanted to freeze pensions and force workers in the defined benefits pension plan to choose between the defined benefits plan or 401(k) savings plan.

The new contract maintains the current pension plan for those enrolled in it and increases pension payments by 1 percent each year over the next three years.

Verizon wanted to eliminate corporate profit sharing for workers.

The new contract preserves profit sharing and sets a $700 yearly minimum.

Verizon proposed a 7 percent pay increase over the four-year term of the contract.

The new contract calls for a 10.9 percent increase over four years.

The one area where Verizon made some headway was health care.

The new contract requires higher health care premiums for workers, but the wage increases will offset the higher costs with enough left over for a decent take-home pay raise.

Conventional wisdom held that winning a strike at Verizon would be difficult if not impossible.

Almost all of the company’s union workers work in the wireline division while most of the company’s revenue is generated by its wireless division.

Verizon’s technology investments also appeared to give it an edge in the strike.

The Washington Post reported that “a decision Verizon made at least two years ago to cut the human out of many customer interactions is blunting some of the strike’s effects. . . . The technology-driven shift. . . could give Verizon a greater ability to withstand one of the biggest walk-offs in company history.”

But as it turns out, the wireline division is still an important generator of revenue and Verizon’s technology turned out to be a poor substitute for the skilled hands and minds of the company’s union workers.

One important job done by union workers is the installation and maintenance of FiOS, Verizon’s voice over internet service that customers use to access telephone, internet, and cable service.

Replacement workers couldn’t keep up with the demand for new FiOS installation. As a result, one analyst estimated that the company would lose up to 150,000 customers during the strike.

Also, replacement workers weren’t able to keep landline telephone service intact.

In one instance, the Homestead, Pennsylvania police department reported that its telephone system was unavailable because replacement workers were unable to repair it.

““We can’t talk to anybody,” said Homestead Police Department Chief Jeffrey Desimone to KDKA, a CBS affiliate in Pittsburg, during the  strike. “Our phone lines have been down for over two weeks actually. Can’t seem to get any help.”

A month into the strike, Verizon warned investors to expect a steep drop in revenue because of the strike.

One Wall Street analysts said that the strike would trim Verizon’s yearly earnings by $200 million.

The strike was also having an impact on the national economy. A poor May jobs report was blamed partially on the strike.

US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez took interest and called the two sides together for mediated negotiations.

Perez told the two sides that he didn’t care what the final agreement looked like only that the two sides reach an agreement in a hurry.

The mediated talks not only resulted in a contract for wireline workers, they produced new contracts for the small number of Verizon wireless workers who belong to CWA, which could be significant going forward.

About 100 union wireless technicians in New York won gains that include the same raises and signing bonuses as the wireline workers, a new parental leave benefit, and improved standby pay.

Verizon retail workers in Brooklyn and Everett, Massachusetts, who recently joined CWA, ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with the company.

The new agreement establishes a guaranteed base of $2000 for performance pay, a grievance procedure that includes arbitration, restrictions on subcontracting, and the right to swap schedules.

These gains for wireless workers could be the most important result of the strike.

The wireless workforce is overwhelmingly non-union, and Verizon would like to keep it that way.

The new contract gains could encourage more wireless workers to unionize.

How effectively the union organizes these workers will have a big impact on the next round of bargaining four years from now.

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Tentative agreement announced in Verizon strike

Unions representing 39,000 striking Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states on May 27 announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with the company on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The workers, who belong to the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers(IBEW), have been on strike for 45 days. If the agreement is ratified, the strikers could return to work next week.

No details of the agreement have been released, but CWA President Chris Shelton said that tentative agreement achieves “our major goals of improving working families’ standard of living, creating good union jobs in our communities, and achieving a first contract for wireless retail store workers.”

“The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole,” said Shelton. “The agreement in principle at Verizon is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people. This proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities, and protect the American middle class.”

Since the strike started, members of the two unions have taken an aggressive stand to protect their jobs, which Verizon was looking to eliminate by outsourcing work and consolidating call centers.

Workers not only picketed work sites, they held demonstrations at Verizon stores, thousands of them converged on Verizon’s headquarters in New York, and they conducted outreach campaigns to win the support of consumers and elected officials.

Verizon tried to maintain a semblance of normal service by using managers and replacement workers to provide services.

The company even paid for replacement workers to stay in hotels during the strike.

Alex Gourevitch writing for Jacobin reports that, when union members learned where the scabs were staying, they arrived at the hotels early in the morning blowing horns, ringing bell, and chanting loudly.

The disruptions caused some hotels to stop allowing Verizon to use their premises as a base of operations.

The courts finally issued injunctions to stop the workers from demonstrating at the hotels, but the workers maintained their solidarity on the picket lines, and the strike began to takes its toll on Verizon.

The Montclair Patch reported that Verizon customers in New Jersey complained about serious service problems during the strike.

“It as been nothing short of a nightmare,” said one dissatisfied Verizon customer, who was trying to get her phone fixed. The replacement worker who was sent to fix her phone, “didn’t have a clue as to how to fix my phone, so they called two more techs to come and help. They were at the house from 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and the four of them completely botched my phone and made it even worse.”

The strike also appeared to be affecting Verizon’s bottom line.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam on May 24 told investors to expect lower second quarter earnings because of the strike.

The Wall Street Journal reported that one analyst estimated that the strike would reduce company revenue by $343 million during the company’s second quarter reporting period.

Three days later the tentative agreement was announced.

Negotiations for the new contract began last summer, but dragged on until April when the company decided to test the resolve of its workers by forcing them to go on strike.

The company demanded that the unions accept its concession demands, or the company would begin requiring technicians to accept job assignments that would keep them away from their homes for months at a time.

The unions refused to budge, and the strike began on April 13. A few days later, Verizon announced that its concession-laced contract proposal was its last, best final offer.

The move was an attempt by the company to stampede union members back to work, but the strikers held firm.

In a few more weeks, government officials began to worry about the strike’s impact on the larger economy, and US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez summoned union leaders and company executives to Washington for a face-to-face meeting.

After the meeting, the two sides announced that negotiations would resume, and a day later, Perez said that a federal mediator would help the two sides reach an agreement.

The subsequent negotiations took 13 days before a tentative agreement was announced. When it was announced, the unions said that they would take down their picket lines.

One important result of the strike is that 65 Verizon wireless workers, who joined CWA in an attempt to improve their working conditions won their first collective bargaining agreement.

The company had steadfastly refused to recognize the new union bargaining component because it wanted to keep its wireless division union free.

The new contract for wireless workers will likely encourage other Verizon wireless workers to join the union.

Verizon workers strike for jobs, better customer service, and their families

When negotiations between striking workers and Verizon resumed on Friday, April 15, the two unions representing the 39,000 striking workers came ready to negotiate a fair contract that could end the two-day old strike, but Verizon management had other priorities.

Instead of bargaining, Verizon executives demanded more concessions from the unions, then left the meeting to get an early start on their weekend.

The unions, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers (IBEW), rejected the new concession demands and the ones that Verizon has insisted on during the last ten months of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement that covers Verizon union workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

“Workers already have put hundreds of millions of dollars in health care cost savings on the table,” said Ed Mooney CWA vice president for District 2-13. “We simply cannot compromise on contract changes that would ship more work overseas and have our families separated for months at a time.”

While Verizon executives were turning their backs on their workers, they appeared to be turning their backs on customers as well.

The New York Times reports that “Verizon’s wireline customers can reasonably expect a deterioration of service (during the strike).”

All but a handful of the strikers work in Verizon’s wireline division, which provides landline telephone services to homes and businesses.

Their skill and expertise keep landlines at homes and businesses operating.

Skilled call center representatives are also on strike. They expedite customers’ calls for help and service.

Verizon reports that it has trained 10,000 non-union staff to replace the 39,000 strikers during the strike, but it’s difficult to see how this under-staffed cohort of strike breakers can maintain pre-strike levels of services.

“There will almost certainly be some functions which may be slower or unavailable during the strike, because they require specialized skills or there just aren’t sufficient alternative resources available to fill all functions,” said Jan Dawson, an independent technology analyst for Jackdaw Research to the Times.

But this won’t be the first time that Verizon has put customer service on the back burner.

In 2004, Verizon promised to extend FiOS, its fiber optic service, to 18 million people living in communities without this service. Doing so would have extended broadband internet service and improved landline service to these communities.

More than a decade later, millions of these potential customers are waiting for that promise to be fulfilled.

As a result 14 mayors of cities that have been passed over by Verizon, recently wrote the company a letter criticizing the company’s decision to ignore their communities.

Verizon also failed to extend FiOS to under served communities in New York City.

According to Counterpunch, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication reported last year that Verizon had not met the terms of an agreement with the city to expand FiOS in the city’s five boroughs.

And both unions report that Verizon is not maintaining its copper wire network, which makes wireline service possible to millions of customers.

Verizon has snubbed customers in other ways.

For instance, it has outsourced 5,000 call center customer representative jobs to other countries.

Rosemary Batt, a professor at Cornell University who studies the impact of offshoring call center jobs, told the Times that, “turnover is lower and performance and customer satisfaction are substantially higher when (call center work) is done in-house (rather than offshore).”

“You need a more sophisticated work force that’s trained and committed to the company to do (customer service) well,” said Batt to the Times.

Preserving the in-house call-center jobs that remain at Verizon is one of the main goals of the strike.

Without the union, (more)  jobs would be off-shored in a heartbeat,’ said Keith Bonasoro  a striking IBEW member to the Boston Globe. . . “What we’re doing here is we’re protecting American jobs. They (Verizon) want to constantly off-shore, outsource good middle-class jobs that support our community. There’s growing public sentiment against corporate greed.”

In addition to offshoring jobs, Verizon, which reported $39 billion in profits during the last three years, wants to outsource more work to low-wage contractors, close and consolidate call centers, and make wireline technicians work away from home–sometimes in other states–for up to two months at a time.

Closing and consolidating call centers and making technicians work away from home for extended periods of time will make family life more difficult for workers and their loved ones.

Verizon also is refusing to negotiate a new first contract for Verizon wireless workers who recently joined CWA and wants to raise health care costs of Verizon retirees.

“Our families and our customers deserve more from Verizon” said Isaac Collazo, a CWA member from Brooklyn. “Through our hard work, Verizon is making record profits while our families are left with threats to our jobs and our customers aren’t getting the service they need. Striking is a hardship for our families, but we need to remind Verizon executives that the people who build their profits are a critical reason for the company’s success.”

Strike at Verizon set for April 13

CWA and IBEW, two unions that represent 39,000 Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, announced that the unions will strike Verizon beginning at 6 A.M. on April 13 unless a fair new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

The strike will be the largest work stoppage in the US since the same Verizon workers went on a two-week strike in 2011.

Bargaining representatives for both unions said that Verizon’s greed is the cause of this strike.

“We’re standing up for working families and standing up to Verizon’s corporate greed,” said CWA District 1 vice president Dennis Trainor. “If a hugely profitable corporation like Verizon can destroy the good family-supporting jobs of highly skilled workers, then no worker in America will be safe from this corporate race to the bottom.”

“For months and months, we’ve made every effort to reach a fair agreement at the bargaining table,” said Myles Calvey, IBEW Local 2222 business manager and chairman, T-6 Verizon New England. “We’ve offered Verizon hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings and yet they still refuse to provide basic job security for workers. We have to take a stand now for our families and every American worker.”

CWA and IBEW have been bargaining with Verizon for ten months. In August, their collective bargaining agreement expired, but the unions agreed to continue negotiations in hopes of finding common ground that would make a fair agreement possible.

In March, the unions proposed a path for addressing the company’s critical needs including health care cost savings of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Instead of responding to unions’ proposals with proposals that addressed the union workers’ critical needs, the company continued to demand steep concessions.

In addition, Verizon told union negotiators that unless the unions accepted these concessions by May 20, the company would start transferring technicians without their consent to any place where Verizon does business in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

The transfers would last for up to two months. During that time, workers would be forced to live away from their homes and families.

“Verizon is already turning people’s lives upside down by sending us hundreds of miles from home for weeks at a time, and now they want to make it even worse,” said Dan Hylton, a technician and CWA member in Roanoke, Virginia, who has been with Verizon for 20 years. “Technicians on our team have always been happy to volunteer after natural disasters when our customers needed help, but if I was forced away from home for two months, I have no idea what my wife would do. She had back surgery last year, and she needs my help. I just want to do a good job, be there for my family, and have a decent life.”

In addition to asserting more control over their employees time away from work, Verizon is demanding concessions that, according to the unions would “gut job security protections, contract out more of our work, freeze our pensions at 30 years of service, and shutter call centers and offshore the jobs to Mexico and the Philippines.”

Verizon also wants to eliminate profit sharing and raise health care costs for retirees. In addition, the company refuses to offer wage increases and benefit improvements to it unionized Wireless workers.

Verizon is demanding all these concessions at a time when the company is extremely profitable.

During the last three years, the company booked profits of $39 billion. During the first three months of 2016, Verizon has averaged $1.8 billion a month in profits.

Verizon executives have been amply compensated for the company’s profitability.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam was paid $18 million last year, 200 hundred more times than the average Verizon worker.

Over the last five years, Verizon’s top five executives were paid $233 million.

Shareholders have also been treated generously.

“Last year alone, Verizon paid out $13.5 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to shareholders. But they claim they can’t afford a fair contract,” reads a message that CWA sent to members about the upcoming strike.

“More and more, Americans are outraged by what some of the nation’s wealthiest corporations have done to working people over the last 30 years, and Verizon is becoming the poster child for everything that people in this country are angry about,” said Edward Mooney, vice president, CWA District 2-13. “This very profitable company wants to push people down.”

Mooney also criticized Verizon for not fulfilling its promise to expand its fiber optic network (FIOS) to communities that are not adequately served by high-speed internet service and for not maintaining it copper wire network that enables land line services to homes and businesses.

Verizon doesn’t just want to push down its workers it also wants to “push communities down by not fully repairing the network and by not building out FIOS.”

Verizon workers are still working but the fight for a fair contract continues

Two weeks after their collective bargaining agreement expired, 39,000 unionized Verizon workers the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states continue to work without a contract as bargaining between the workers’ unions and Verizon continue.

Union leaders told members that a strike is still possible, but when and if a strike does occur, it will take place when the unions have a tactical advantage.

“We are disgusted by Verizon’s attitude at the bargaining table. Their greed knows no bounds,” said the leaders of unions’ bargain team in a message to their members. “But we are not going to let our anger allow us to walk into a trap. It’s quite possible that Verizon is trying to provoke us into a long strike in order to try to break us. They have spent tens of millions of dollars preparing for a strike, training managers, hiring scabs and contractors, advertising against us on TV and radio. So your leadership has decided that if and when we strike, it will be on our terms, on our timing.”

Verizon despite making $18 billion in profits over the last 18 months is demanding concessions that include higher health care costs for workers, less job security, and more outsourcing of union work.

For the time being, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the two unions representing the workers, are taking other actions to strengthen their position at the bargaining table.

Among other things, the unions are reaching out to Verizon’s customers.

In a recent radio ad sponsored by CWA, the unions criticize the company for poor customer service.

“Can we count on Verizon to provide high speed internet and reliable phone service to customers and maintain good jobs for working families? Check the facts,” says the ad’s narrator. “Despite profits of $1 billion per month, millions of people can’t get FiOS and risk losing reliable phone service because of poor maintenance while Verizon outsources thousands of jobs and cuts workers’ take home pay.”

FiOS is Verizon’s voice over internet broadband service, which the company has decided not to extend to certain communities in the Verizon service area because the company believes that doing so would cut into the company’s profits.

FiOS could improve the quality of telephone service in these communities, where telephone service has deteriorated badly over the years because Verizon is not adequately maintaining the copper cabling used to deliver traditional telephone service.

An editorial in the South Jersey Times  said that South New Jersey is “the epicenter of discontent with (Verizon).”

According to the editorial, Verizon will be installing FiOS in upscale suburban neighborhoods and dense urban enclaves, but everyone else in South New Jersey is “stuck with deteriorating landlines that won’t be upgraded with anything comparable.”

Residents of rural New York voiced similar complaints at a recent hearing held by the New York State Public Service Commission in Poughkeepsie, New York. They were joined and supported by CWA members.

At the hearing, commission members heard complaints from community officials who criticized Verizon’s decision not to extend FiOS while allowing traditional phone lines to deteriorate.

Jim Gescheidle, executive vice president of CWA Local 1120, told the commission that the reason that Verizon’s telephone service is deteriorating is that “there are too few workers to do the work.”

Gescheidle went on to urge the commission to fine Verizon for its poor service.

The unions also have been mobilizing their members to show Verizon management that the workers are united and willing to fight for a fair contract.

Workers Verizon’s Silver Springs, Maryland, call center are holding “Militant Mondays” to demonstrate their unity. At the first Militant Monday, CWA Local 2108 members showed up for work wearing red and military camouflage.

The unions are also reaching out to elected leaders and asking for their support.

At a recent rally in Rockland County, New York union member were joined by local office holders and members of the legislature in urging Verizon to negotiate a fair contract and to make high speed internet service available to all of its customers.

In Dover, Delaware, CWA Local 13100 were joined by Mayor Robin Christiansen at a rally at a Dover Verizon office.

Union members have been busy collecting statements of support from other local, state, and national elected officials.

IBEW and CWA are urging other unions to help them stand up to Verizon by spreading the word about Verizon’s unreasonable stance at the bargaining table and its lack of concern for its customers.

Strike at Verizon looms as bargaining deadline approaches

Come August 1, 39,000 Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states may be on strike.

Members of two unions currently bargaining with Verizon on a new collective bargaining agreement voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if a fair agreement can’t be reached by the bargaining deadline.

“Our members are clear and they are determined – they reject management’s harsh concessionary demands, including the elimination of job security, sharp increases in workers’ health care costs, and slashing retirement security,” said Dennis Trainor, CWA District 1 vice president. “Verizon made $9.6 billion in profits in 2014, and reported $4.4 billion in profits just in the 2015 second quarter alone. Their demands are completely outrageous and unwarranted.”

“The company’s comprehensive proposal does nothing but take from this membership,” said Dave Keating, business manager for IBEW Local 2325 in Worcester, Massachusetts. “They post profits in the billions but continue to look for more from our members. They put more money in their own pockets and erode the working conditions of our members. Enough is enough.”

IBEW represents about 10,000 Verizon workers in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. CWA represents the rest.

CWA reported that 86 percent of its members voted to authorize a strike. IBEW reported that “an overwhelming number” of members voted to strike.

Despite robust profits that have left Verizon sitting on stacks of money, the company is demanding a laundry list of concessions.

Among other things, Verizon wants to undermine workers’ retirement security. Verizon told the union that it no longer wants to make contributions to a worker’s 401(k) plan if the worker chooses to remain in the company’s defined benefit pension plan.

Savings plans like 401(k) plans are no substitute for a pension, but they do provide a way for workers to supplement their pensions, which makes retirement more secure.

In addition to making retirement less secure, Verizon wants a new collective bargaining agreement that

  • Eliminates cost of living raises
  • Makes workers pay more for their health insurance by increasing co-pays, deductibles, and the workers’ share of health care insurance premiums
  • Bars the union from negotiating health care benefits for retirees
  • Discontinues workers’ family leave benefit, which the union negotiated 20 years ago.
  • Removes protections against layoffs and forced transfers.
  • Eliminates the minimum profit sharing payout.
  • Eliminates Saturday and Sunday differentials (extra pay) and premium pay and all but 10 percent of the differential pay that workers earn by working odd hours.
  • Rewrites the overtime rules, so that workers are paid overtime only after working 40 hours a week, not eight hours a day as it states in the current contract
  • Eliminates caps on overtime
  • Ends disability payments resulting from accidents and reduces sickness disability payments
  • Allows the company to outsource more work
  • Allows the company to transfer employees without employees’ approval
  • Cuts back the company’s tuition assistance plan
  • Eliminates job security language in the current collective bargaining agreement
  • Eliminates family care leave, and
  • Allows the company to change medical plans or health care premiums paid by workers to avoid paying the Affordable Care Act excise taxes without negotiating with the union.

The lost pay resulting from changes to premium, differential, and overtime pay, the loss of cost of living raises, the possibility of higher health care costs, the elimination of other benefits that have been hard won by union members over the years far offset the modest pay increases that Verizon management has proposed.

But Marc Reed, Verizon Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, has been sending e-mails and letters to union members telling them that Verizon’s contract proposals are a generous offer that’s being blocked by union negotiators.

“Marc Reed’s letters are complete and utter bullshit,” said CWA President Chris Shelton at a July 25 rally in front of the Verizon building in New York City.

Shelton’s assessment seems to be shared by many others as the 12,000 Verizon workers who attended the rally replied to Shelton’s assessment by chanting, “bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”

Shelton told the crowd of union workers who came from as far away as Virginia and Buffalo, New York that their good pay and benefits aren’t the result of the company’s generosity, but rather their own willingness to stand up and fight.

If the company had its way, they’d like to reduce pay as low as possible, eliminate benefits, and take away any job security that workers might have, said Shelton.

“On August 1 at midnight, these bastards,” said Shelton, pointing to the Verizon headquarters building. “Are going to learn that we’re ready to fight, and fight, and fight. . . and that we’re ready to win.”

Verizon workers ratify new contract

The CWA and IBEW on October 19 announced that members on the East Coast from Virginia to Maine ratified the tentative agreement that the unions reached with Verizon in September.

“The ratification vote shows that our members listened to the union’s leadership when we told them that this was the best contract we could negotiate with Verizon at this point in time,” said Bill Huber, president and business manager of IBEW Local 827 in New Jersey.  “They understood that we were facing a perfect storm of negative economic circumstances and that although this was not the best contract we had hoped to achieve, it was one that will allow us to live to continue to fight for our members and the consumers they serve.”

Neither union released any details about the ratification vote, but several CWA locals, including one of the union’s largest, Local 1101 in New York City, rejected the new contract.

Nevertheless, the contract becomes effective on October 21 and stays in effect until August 2015.

When negotiations began in June 2011, Verizon demanded a long list of concessions to bring the pay, benefits, and working conditions of its unionized Wireline workers into line with those of its non-union Wireless workers

Among other things, the company sought to freeze pensions and eliminate them for new hires, eliminate regular pay raises, reduce sick days, eliminate job security and other job protections, eliminate shift pay differentials, eliminate double-time pay, cut disability pay in half, and substantially increase employee health care costs.

The tentative agreement held the line against many of these concessions. It includes an 8 percent pay raise paid in annual increments over three years, preserves the pension benefit for current employees,  preserves the no-layoff, no forced transfer, and no downgrade language of the previous contract, preserves shift and weekend pay differentials, increases company health care funding for retirees, and restricts the company’s ability to move work outside the region.

The new contract also returns to work, 37 of the 41 workers who Verizon fired because of their strike activity; although it’s not clear whether the returning workers will receive back pay.

The new contract, however, increases out of pocket health care expenses such as premium payments, co-pays, and deductibles. Over the next three years, premiums for the PPO plan increase from $0 a month to $55 a month for individuals and $110 for families; for the HMO plan, premiums increase from $0 a month to $82.50 a month for indivuduals and $165 a month for families.

Tobacco users will pay an extra $50 a month, and those who don’t complete a health assessment risk will pay an extra $100.

For the PPO, deductibles increase over the next three years from $250 a year for individuals and $625 for families to $475 for individuals and $1187.50 for families

The maximum that a worker pays for out of pocket medical expenses also increases at about the same rate as the deductible increases.

In a letter to members urging them to  accept the tentative agreement, CWA District 1 Vice-President Chris Shelton told members that the union agreed to health care cost increases in order to win concessions from the company on other issues such as preserving pensions for current employees, job security, retiree health care, and disability benefits.

In addition to agreeing to higher health care expenses, the unions also agreed to eliminate pensions for new hires, who will now be diverted into a 401(k) savings plan instead.

Shelton said that the union didn’t want to create a two-tiered pension system, but that it would have taken a strike in order to preserve the benefit. “Ask yourself, how long would you personally be willing to stay on the street to guarantee a defined benefit pension for workers who are not yet hired,” said Shelton in his letter.”

But Local 1101 President Keith Purce urged members to reject the deal.

“We don’t believe we should settle for a concessionary contract without a fight,” Purce told members in a message posted on the local’s website.

Other Local 1101 members said that they also opposed the contract because of the concessions that the union made.

“New hires already aren’t covered by the job security protection that pre-2003 hires have,” said Pam Galpern, a Local 1101 member, to Labor Notes. “And they don’t have the same retiree health benefits as those hired before 2008, and now they won’t have a pension. (Verizon is) incrementally trying to dismantle the contract we have.”

Shelton described the negotiations as the toughest he has seen in the 44 years that he has been a CWA member.

The reason that the negotiations were so tough is that corporate power is stronger than it has been since the 1930s. At the same time, union membership at companies such as Verizon has declined. Only 7 percent of the private sector workforce is organized, and the CWA has lost half of its membership at Verizon.

Just as important is the fact that Verizon is retreating from the Wireline business and focusing more on its non-union Wireless business. The company’s CEO Lowell McAdams told investors that he envisions that the company will some day abandon much of its Wireline infrastructure, which provides jobs for most union members.

Whether the unions at Verizon will be able to stop future concessions will depend on the unions’ ability to organize workers at Verizon Wireless.