**Editor's Note: Click here for a breakdown of the issues that led to Verizon union workers walking off the job in August 2011.**
Verizon Communications and a pair of unions have a tentative agreement that establishes new, three-year contracts for 43,000 wireline workers in the eastern U.S.
The deal comes after a long fight. Verizon employees who are members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions went on strike for two weeks in August 2011, and the two sides have been engaged in serious negotiations ever since.
The employees have been working without a contract for more than a year.
“We stood up to the most sweeping and intensive attack on our standard of living and bargaining rights in the history of the telecommunications industry," said Chris Shelton, VP for CWA District One, which stretches from Maine to New Jersey. “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."
"After more than one year of direct negotiations, the parties entered mediation essentially at a standstill on a score of significant core issues," said George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, the government agency tasked with getting the unions and the company on the same page. "Ultimately, however, the parties committed to a problem-solving mindset which paved the way to their achieving a comprehensive agreement."
Most of the specific details of the new contract are being withheld until local unions have the chance to present them in meetings and on job sites over the next few days. But we do know it preserves existing job-security language; preserves provisions of the contract that restrict the company from reassigning workers long distances from where they live; and makes no change to the pension plans for current employees.
“We believe this is a fair and balanced agreement that is good for our employees as well as for the future of the wireline business," said Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer. “It provides competitive wages, valuable benefits and affordable quality health care while giving the company new flexibility to better serve customers and become more efficient."
Verizon and the other major carriers have long argued that they can't sustain the same level of benefits for wireline workers since so many customers are shutting off their landline service and going wireless only.
The unions will submit the agreement to their members for a ratification vote. If approved, the agreement will run through Aug. 1, 2015.