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Verizon Employees Head Back to Work, Prepare to Ratify Contract Viewed as Major Victory

pic by Jeff Rae

pic by Jeff Rae

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The contentious Verizon strike carried out by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has ended with both sides declaring victories on key points. 40,000 workers returned to their jobs yesterday as a result.  

The four-year contract was agreed to in principle on Friday and will be voted on and ratified in the coming days.  The deal marks the end of one of the largest American strikes in recent history, which spanned nine states and Washington D.C.  It lasted nearly seven weeks.

Verizon has used its PR machine to put a positive spin on the ordeal, but many experts feel the resulting contract was a win for workers.  Speaking to Reuters, one analyst called the deal “very rich” for the union.  Joshua B. Freeman, labor historian and CUNY professor at Queens College in New York, agreed:

“These guys not only struck and survived but actually came out of it with a pretty good contract.  These days, that is a very unusual thing, to see that kind of walkout.”

Among the victories for the unionized members is a 10.9 percent pay raise over 4 years. Verizon also agreed to $1250 signing bonuses in the Mid-Atlantic; a $1000 signing bonus plus a $250 healthcare reimbursement account in the Northeast; a minimum of $2800 in profit sharing; pension increases; and a first contract for Verizon Wireless retail store employees in Brooklyn, NY and Everett, MA.

Other highlights from the proposed agreement, which will be presented to members after they return to work, include:

• The first contract ever for nearly 70 Verizon Wireless retail store workers
• All call centers that had been threatened with closure in the Mid-Atlantic region will remain open. Three of the five threatened call centers in upstate New York will also remain open; the six workers affected in the other two centers will be offered jobs locally in the company.
• The new contract guarantees that an increased percentage of customer service work will be handled by unionized workers. As a result, Verizon will add 1,300 call center jobs, 850 in the Mid-Atlantic region and 450 in the Northeast.
• Several major contracting initiatives will be reversed, sustaining work for union members in their communities and returning a significant amount of pole maintenance work to the unionized workforce in New York State. There will be a 25% increase in the number of unionized crews doing pole work in New York State.
• Existing Job security language will be preserved, as will existing language on transfer and seniority protections for retirement incentives. All of the company’s proposals on forced interstate transfers of technicians were withdrawn.
• All proposed reductions of pensions were withdrawn by the company, and there will be three 1% increases in the defined benefit pensions over the life of the agreement.
• The company agreed to terminate a performance supervisory program (known as QAR) in effect in the five boroughs of New York City that workers found extremely abusive, and both parties will work with an outside consultant to develop a non-punitive program. This was a major issue for NYC-based technicians.
• Proposed cuts in accident and disability benefits were withdrawn. The parties agreed to changes to active and retiree health care that generate savings to the company while protecting excellent plan designs for medical care.

The agreement was preceded by 13 days of negotiating with the Department of Labor.  Chris Shelton, CWA president, thanked those who made the agreement possible:

“CWA appreciates the persistence and dedication of Secretary Perez, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Allison Beck and their entire teams. The addition of good new jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and the country as a whole. This contract is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people.  It proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities and advance the interests of America’s working people.”

Dennis G. Trainor, Vice President of CWA District One, added:

“After more than six weeks on the picket line, Verizon workers won an excellent new contract that will protect good jobs and preserve our standard of living. The members’ unity and determination defeated company proposals to outsource and contract out work, and the new agreement will create 1,500 new union jobs up and down the East Coast.  Together, we are turning the tide from cutbacks against working people to building a stronger labor movement and strengthening the power of working Americans. And, for the first time in history, Verizon Wireless retail employees in Brooklyn, NY and Everett, MA will have a union contract that improves working conditions and gives workers a united voice on the job.”


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