Verizon Remembers Strike, Seeks to Fast Track Talks With Salary Increase

Verizon on Monday commenced negotiations with union representatives in what could mark just the beginning of months of back-and-forth haggling over salaries, health care and other benefits affecting 38,000 workers who are protected under collective bargaining agreements.

But Verizon hopes to quickly nip the negotiations in the bud. The company said it offered a 2 percent wage increase that would take effect later this summer so long as a contract was signed by Aug. 1, the date the current bargaining agreements expire. Verizon’s proposal also includes a 2 percent wage increase one year later and a $1,000 lump sum payment in the third year.

The wireline employees work in Washington, D.C., and nine eastern states.

The talks between Verizon and the unions can become impassioned, as occurred four years ago when around 45,000 employees went on strike after the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) were unable to reach a new contract with the telecommunications giant.

Verizon characterizes itself as a generous employer. According to the company, an associate in the East receives an average annual salary and benefit package of $130,000. In the New York City/Long Island region, technicians receive a wage-and-benefit package worth more than $160,000 a year, Verizon said.

The issues that divided Verizon and the unions four years ago – such as health care, pensions and wage increases – will need to be hammered out once again. The company wants to increase individual health-care premiums next year by roughly $32 per month and obtain more flexibility in how it manages its workforce. Another proposal would give employees the option of earning pension benefits under a defined plan or opting for an enhanced 401(k) plan. Many employees have both a defined benefit pension plan and a 401(k), which Verizon described as a “benefit structure that’s from another era.”

Robert Mudge, Verizon’s executive vice president for wireline operations, said the telco’s “cost structure has not changed nearly fast enough to align with today’s market realities and customer needs.”

Union reps with the CWA and IBEW did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment on the talks.

It may be awhile before an agreement is reached. Verizon referenced negotiations in 2011 and 2012 that lasted for 15 months.

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