- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

Verizon Communications and its 35,000 telephone workers striking in the Mid-Atlantic reached a tentative agreement last night, ending an 18-day strike.

The workers, who had been on the picket line since Aug. 6 when their contract expired, will be back at work today. They face a repair backlog of about 63,000 orders, and another 200,000 customers are on a waiting list for new-service installation. Verizon officials said it will take a month to clear all the orders.

"We are very pleased with this settlement, especially because we were able to reach members' key goals concerns for job security, limits for forced overtime for out-service call representatives and other workers, easing the job stress and pressures … to make it easier to balance workers' responsibilities and lives better and also win organizing rights for wireless workers, said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communication Workers of America, which represented the striking Mid-Atlantic workers.

Verizon settled Sunday night with 55,200 service-call representatives, operators and technicians in New England, New York and New Jersey. Those workers returned to work Monday.

The contracts still need to be ratified by unions members a process that takes about three weeks.

It really secures our workers' future in the company, she added.

We are very happy that our employees will come off the picket line and come back to the job serving customers, said Harry Mitchell, a spokesman for Verizon.

Workers who had settled over the weekend returned to work Monday to begin tackling a backlog of installation and repair requests. Some in New York stayed off the job yesterday, honoring picket lines set up by striking workers from the Mid-Atlantic region.

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

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. Workers now can be ordered to put in 10 hours to 15 hours of overtime a week.

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 one that was on the table days ago, with the cost of the total package for all union employees unchanged.

"This agreement is affordable and prudent and will not affect Verizon's financial targets," said Lawrence T. Babbio Jr., Verizon vice chairman and president.

The strike affected service to some 28 million business and residential customers of Verizon from Maine to Virginia. People watched the labor action against the nation's largest phone company for signs of how organized labor will fit into fast-growing businesses like wireless communications. One of the key issues involved the unions' desire to let Verizon Wireless employees more easily organize into a collective bargaining unit.

All 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 a 0.7 percent limit 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.

Verizon's shares fell 94 cents yesterday to close at $40.69 on the New York Stock Exchange. The agreement was announced after the close of regular trading. Verizon shares have dropped 13 percent since the strike began, partially hurt by the company lowering analysts' earnings estimates about two weeks ago.

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