Verizon, union reach deal
August 24, 2000: 7:55 a.m. ET

Negotiators for remaining workers reach agreement, ending 18-day strike
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The rest of the striking workers at Verizon Communications began heading back to work Thursday after negotiators reached a contract settlement, ending an 18-day-old strike against the nation's largest local phone company.

The tentative agreement, announced late Wednesday night between Verizon and the Communications Workers of America union, covers about 36,000 workers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states who had stayed on strike, even after more than 50,000 union workers in New York and New England reached a new contract Sunday.

"Some began coming back to work just after midnight," said Larry Plumb, spokesman for Verizon (VZ: Research, Estimates). "Things look pretty normal with the morning shift, although it's going to take several weeks to return the entire thing back to normal."

While directory assistance should be close to normal Thursday, repair and installation work will take longer to clear up, Plumb said, adding Verizon hopes the repair backlog will be cleared by Sunday or early next week. But installing new lines will take longer to get back to normal.

Company and unions leaders, who negotiated into the night Wednesday before announcing a resolution, said the pact strikes a balance between protecting employees while allowing the company to remain competitive.

"This settlement secures the future for our members at this company, and it also helps sharpen Verizon's competitive edge," said Communications Workers of America President Morton Bahr. "In many ways, it gives our members the ability to do their job even better."

Sharpening a competitive edge

Verizon executives said the contract would make it possible to exceed rather than just meet customer expectations.

The agreement "gives us the flexibility we need to compete in the Internet era, satisfying the company's need to manage the workload while meeting customer demands for outstanding service and access to the latest technology," Verizon President Lawrence Babbio Jr. said.

graphicWith employees back at work, the company can now focus its resources on serving customers, he said.

The employees represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the CWA went on strike Aug. 6, after their contracts expired with Verizon, the new name for the combined Bell Atlantic and GTE telephone companies. More than 25 million phone users in the East were affected by the walkout.

Wednesday's agreement came after picket lines reappeared in New York state three days after the settlement there, as CWA workers still on strike came to demonstrate at about 15 company facilities in New York. CWA President Morton Bahr had urged the New York workers to honor picket lines as a sign of solidarity.

Talks between the CWA unit from the Mid-Atlantic region and Verizon have been entangled the past few days over local issues and concerns about mandatory overtime. Currently, workers can be ordered to put in 10 to 15 hours of overtime a week.

Same offer, different day

Under the tentative agreement, customer service representatives could not be required to work more than 7.5 hours of overtime weekly. Technicians and operators in the region would have an eight-hour-per-week cap on mandatory overtime, beginning next year.

Verizon officials said the offer was substantively the same as one that was on the table days ago, with the cost of the total package for all union employees unchanged.

graphicAll three tentative agreements include a 12 percent increase in wages over the life of the three-year contracts, options for all employees for purchasing 100 shares of Verizon stock and caps on the number of jobs in any region that can be moved to another area in a year.

Unions had feared that Verizon would shift work to areas of cheaper labor within its newly expanded territory.

Through the negotiations, the unions also won an agreement to let them try organizing workers in the company's largely non-unionized wireless division using sign-up cards rather than holding a representation election. The unions must get signed cards from 55 percent of wireless workers in a specific group to represent them. That agreement takes affect in six months.

Verizon stock fell 1-1/4 Wednesday to 40-1/2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Back to top

-- compiled from staff and wire reports


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