Verizon, unions extend contract negotiations

August 3, 2008 4:34:18 PM PDT
Verizon Communications Inc. and two unions representing some 65,000 of its workers remained in talks after agreeing to "stop the clock" on contracts that were set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The company expects "business as usual" on Monday as talks continue, Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said late Sunday.

"We've agreed to continue to talk and the unions have agreed to continue to work," Rabe said. He said there was no deadline set for reaching a deal.

Major bargaining issues include health care coverage for employees and retirees, wages and union representation for new job areas.

One of the unions, the Communications Workers of America, said earlier Sunday a strike had been postponed "in light of progress that has been made" in the negotiations.

The CWA, which represents about 50,000 workers, said the current contracts remain in effect as talks continue. The other union is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The union workers are on the traditional telephone side of the business. Verizon Wireless, the company's big growth driver, has few union employees.

The contract negotiations come at a somewhat sensitive time for Verizon's landline business, which just received the go-ahead to sell TV service over optical fiber in New York City. Only a few buildings are wired for fiber already, and extending the lines to the rest of the city will be a labor-intensive process over six years. Verizon is also connecting homes across the rest of its 17-state service area with fiber.

Verizon executives have emphasized that the expansion of its fiber-optic FiOS service will continue.

The expiring contract was negotiated in 2003, a month after the previous contract ended. A threatened strike was averted when federal mediators joined the talks.

In 2000, at the height of the Internet boom, Verizon workers struck for 18 days before reaching a contract that was hailed as a victory for organized labor. Verizon said then that it would take a month to clear 230,000 requests for repair and unfilled orders that had piled up.

Verizon had 87,000 union employees in 2000, a number that had fallen to 78,000 by 2003 and further to today's 65,000. The company had 228,600 workers overall at the end of June, including Verizon Wireless.

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On the Net:

http://www.cwa-union.org
http://www.ibew.org
http://www.verizon.com


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