PHILADELPHIA -- Striking Verizon employees may be back to work next week after the company and its unions reached an agreement in principle for a four-year contract.
About 39,000 landline and cable employees in nine Eastern states and Washington, D.C., have been on strike since mid-April, one of the largest strikes in the U.S. in recent years. Verizon had trained other workers to step in but there were still delays in installations for Fios customers.
Verizon has been focusing on its mobile business and selling off large chunks of its wireline unit, which is unionized, while wireless workers were not. Verizon said that it had high health care costs for its unionized workers, about 30 percent of its U.S. workforce, that it wanted to lower. It also wanted its wireline workers to agree to move around to different regions when needed, which the union opposed.
CWA President Chris Shelton said in a statement that the agreement is a "victory for working families" and that there will be new jobs at Verizon, but the union would not give details of the contract, so it's not clear yet what the workers gained. IBEW did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Verizon released a statement saying it's pleased with the agreement, which has "meaningful changes and enhancements" that will make its wireline business more competitive.
The deal does include a first contract for Verizon wireless employees, says the CWA. It applies to about 165 workers in six wireless stores in Brooklyn, New York, and one store in Massachusetts.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Friday that the agreement is being written and will be submitted for approval by union members of Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and he expects workers back on the job next week.
The workers had been working without a contract since last August. New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. has about 177,000 employees. Verizon and the unions have been negotiating at the Department of Labor for the past 13 days, Perez said.
Striking workers outside Verizon's headquarter in Philadelphia took off their signs, and exhaled.
"I am just happy to be going back to work. I'm excited," said Vera Gonzalez.
Bruce Haft is a troubleshooter for Verizon, but also a husband and father. The strike took a toll.
"Nailbiting. I haven't paid bills," he said.
"It's been hard for everybody," said Gonzalez. "Everyone is just trying to budget their money and, you know, make ends meet. But we are just happy to be getting back to how we are used to living.
Verizon Communications Inc. shares rose 46 cents to $50.62. They are up 2 percent over the past year.
Verizon, unions reach deal in principle for 4-year contract