- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2000

Verizon Communications and unions representing about 50,000 workers reached a tentative agreement for a new three-year contract last night, mostly ending a two-week strike.
The negotiators who reached an agreement with the nation's largest local telephone company represent workers in New England, New York and New Jersey. They are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communication Workers of America.
Negotiators representing CWA members in the Mid-Atlantic region which includes Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia still were finalizing their contract late last night.
"We have these two tables, north and south, and the north table wrapped up their negotiations earlier today," said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for CWA, which represents 72,000 of the 87,200 striking workers. "The south has been, throughout the day, kind of finalizing issues and looking over contract language."
The new agreement puts workers in the New England area back to work today. They face a repair backlog of about 92,000 orders that Verizon's 30,000 managers had been trying to clear during the 15-day strike. Verizon typically has a 32,000-order backlog on a normal day.
Tens of thousands of orders for new phone service and high-speed Internet access also have piled up in the 12 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions that are the company's primary service areas.
Customers also have had trouble reaching directory assistance and receiving billing information.
The agreement, which now must be ratified by union members, replaces a contract that expired Aug. 6. Harry Mitchell, a Verizon spokesman, said the new contract gives workers a 12 percent wage increase over the life of the contract and improvements in benefits and job security protection.
"One of the good things about the agreement is that it gives us the flexibility we need to thrive in the telecommunications marketplace today and tomorrow," he said. "We are very happy to reach an agreement."
The negotiations became a forum for unions to push for greater ease in trying to organize workers in Verizon's largely nonunion wireless division. The unions won concessions on that front, with the company agreeing to allow workers to show their desire to join a union by signing a card a quicker process than holding a secret ballot election.
The card check would apply in the former Bell Atlantic territory 12 Eastern states and the District, the area covered by the new contracts.
Company officials said they also agreed this weekend to union demands on how high-speed Internet connection work is to be performed.
IBEW officials were unavailable last night, but the union's Web site announced the tentative agreement, without giving any details on the new provisions.
"I am proud of our members for holding strong during these long and difficult negotiations," Myles Calvey, chairman of IBEW System Council T-6, a group of 10 local unions representing some 13,000 Verizon workers in five New England states, said on the Web site announcement. "Through our unity and determination, we were able to win a fair agreement that protects our members' job security and gives nonunion workers an opportunity to join our union."
CWA and Verizon representatives would not disclose the details of the agreement until negotiations for the Mid-Atlantic states wrap up.
Bargaining had dragged until Thursday, when negotiators for IBEW and CWA's north table threatened to walk out of negotiations by midnight if no agreement was close. Talks developed quicker after that, leading to yesterday's agreement.
While the workers hit picket lines through the District and 12 Eastern states from Maine to Virginia, Verizon had its 30,000 managers fill in for the workers. Friday, 14 percent of those managers who had been working 12-hour shifts daily got their first break since the start of the strike.
The striking workers yesterday received their first paychecks from their unions, for $200. Those checks would have increased to $300 on the 28th day of the strike.
Verizon Communications was formed June 30 when Bell Atlantic Corp. completed its purchase of GTE Corp.
The CWA struck Bell Atlantic for two days during the last contract negotiations in 1998. In 1989, workers remained on strike for more than four months before reaching terms with Nynex, the New York-New England phone company that later merged with Bell Atlantic.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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