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Verizon Workers' Unions Delay Planned Strike, Continue Talks
By Amol Sharma
The Wall Street Journal
Sunday, August 3, 2008

Unions representing workers at
Verizon Communications Inc. delayed a planned strike, citing progress in their weekend contract negotiations with the telecom giant.

A contract covering about 65,000 Verizon employees was slated to expire at 12:01 a.m. EDT Sunday, but the unions and Verizon agreed to "stop the clock" temporarily while negotiations continue on Sunday.

The Communications Workers of America, which represents about 50,000 of the affected Verizon workers, released a statement reporting progress on key areas of dispute, including health-care costs for employees and job security provisions.  However, the union said "significant additional bargaining still lies ahead before a settlement is possible."

Verizon released a statement saying it would "continue to negotiate in good faith to achieve new contracts for our employees."

The labor-contract discussions, which involve CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, affect workers in Verizon's landline division who are located in Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.  They represent about 25% of the company's revenue, a spokesman said. Overall, Verizon has 230,000 employees nationwide.

A strike would come at a critical juncture for Verizon as it tries to rapidly deploy a fiber-optic network to power its FiOS high-speed Internet and TV services.  The telecom company is just beginning to offer FiOS in New York City, a crucial market in its battle against cable providers.

Most observers see a strike as unlikely. The last work stoppage at Verizon was in 2000, not long after the company's formation from the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, when workers walked out for 18 days.  Nynex, another Baby Bell that is not part of Verizon, had a 17-week strike in 1989.

One of the main hang-ups in the current negotiations has been health care. Verizon proposes to require employees to contribute toward health-care-premium costs, and to scale back retiree insurance benefits.  The unions have also complained that Verizon is reducing their bargaining power by outsourcing more jobs to non-union workers.

Verizon workers have rallied in recent days to show support for a potential strike.  Gail Maria, a Verizon retiree from Pennsylvania who is a member of the CWA and whose husband is a current employee, said she doesn't want to see the unions give too much ground in final negotiations.

"My husband and I do not want a contract with take-backs. We have dedicated ourselves to this company," Ms. Maria wrote in an email.

Write to Amol Sharma at
amol.sharma@wsj.com

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121774411749307741.html?mod=us_business_whats_news