Strike-Ending Verizon Proposal Includes 10.5 Percent Raise Over Term

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By Tyrone Richardson

May 31 — As many as 39,000 striking Verizon Communications Inc. employees on the East Coast will return to work June 1, ending a six-and-a-half-week work stoppage after the telecommunications giant and unions recently agreed to a tentative labor contract.

The proposed contract includes a 10.5 percent pay increase over the term of the deal, including a 3 percent increase upon ratification and 2.5 percent on each anniversary of the contract. The unions characterized the increase as 10.9 percent compounded.

Verizon also agreed to add 1,300 call center jobs, provide a $2,800 minimum profit-sharing payment and increase pension contributions.

The pact would create a first contract for about 70 Verizon Wireless retail store employees in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Everett, Mass.

If approved, the Verizon agreement will run through Aug. 3, 2019.

The tentative pact ended picketing by between 36,000 and 39,000 Verizon workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Details of the tentative pact were revealed May 29, two days after Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced Verizon and union negotiators had reached a labor contract proposal “in principle” to end the strike, which began April 13 (103 DLR AA-1, 5/27/16).

Both Sides See Win

Both Verizon and union officials have touted the tentative pact as a win for their cause.

“Together, we are turning the tide from cutbacks against working people to building a stronger labor movement and strengthening the power of working Americans,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president for CWA District 1, which represents Verizon workers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

“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,” he said.

Ratification votes will be conducted by individual CWA-IBEW locals and balloting could start in a couple of days, union officials told Bloomberg BNA May 31.

The CWA represents about 29,000 workers and the IBEW represents about 10,000, union officials have said. Verizon officials have challenged the math, saying the unions collectively represent about 36,000 workers.

The proposed pact also stands to end one year of bitter negotiations between the two sides. Contract talks started in June 2015, aiming to replace 27 collective bargaining agreements in nine Eastern states and the District of Columbia that expired Aug. 1 (148 DLR A-11, 8/3/15).

This marks the latest extended labor contract talks with telecommunications companies seeking a means to shrink costs amid rising competition. For example, a group of about 16,000 CWA-represented AT&T Inc. workers in California and Nevada are remaining on the job despite the expiration of their labor contract in April (100 DLR A-2, 5/24/16).

Splicing Wins at Negotiation Table

The proposed deals offer language that will help the company be more competitive, company officials said in a written statement May 30.

That includes buyout incentives and tweaks to employee benefits, including offering coverage such as Medicare Advantage plans for retirees.

“This will allow our business to be more flexible and competitive and will help achieve greater efficiencies as we operate in the ever changing and dynamic digital marketplace,” Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer, said in the statement.

Union leaders also highlighted some wins at the bargaining table.

In addition to 1,300 more call center jobs, the proposed pact would keep the doors open at some such facilities initially slotted for closure, both company and Verizon officials said.

The proposed pact also offers three 1 percent increases in pension contributions over the contract term, an about-face to the company's initial proposal to freeze pension contributions.

The proposed deal also would boost the wage increases to at least 10.5 percent, which is up from the 6.5 percent increase proposed by the company in its “final” contract offer in late April.

The deal also includes a $1,250 signing bonus for mid-Atlantic workers and a $1,000 signing bonus, plus $250 healthcare reimbursement accounts for Northeast workers, according to the CWA.

Verizon officials have said its union-represented employees have a wage and benefit package that averages more than $130,000 a year (141 DLR A-13, 7/23/15).

The proposed agreement also includes language that would withdraw the company's initial proposal on forced interstate transfers of technicians, a point of contention at the negotiations table (69 DLR A-10, 4/11/16).

If ratified, the proposed deal stands to calm tensions between Verizon and the two unions. Both sides have exchanged several allegations of wrongdoing, including the unions saying Verizon was wrongfully forcing customers to switch from copper telephone lines to fiber-optic technology (85 DLR A-4, 5/3/16).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com