- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Verizon’s union leaders have called their local representatives to a “contract explanation meeting” scheduled for tomorrow as talks continue to resolve their labor dispute, an official familiar with the negotiations said.

Communication Workers of America officials plan to use the meeting to explain terms of agreements they have reached so far.

A tentative agreement was reached Tuesday evening for wireless technicians, which was a major sticking point that stalled negotiations on a larger contract for more than 78,000 unionized Verizon workers.

“There are still issues to work on in the main contract,” CWA spokeswoman Candice Johnson said.

CWA, with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, has been negotiating with Verizon since June. Their contract expired Aug. 2.

CWA represents about 60,000 Verizon workers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including the Washington area. The electrical workers’ union represents about 18,000 Verizon employees.

About 1,600 unionized Verizon workers are represented by CWA Local 2222 in Annandale, the largest local for Verizon workers in the Washington area.

Government mediators joined the talks to successfully avert a strike scheduled to begin Aug. 3.

Verizon was threatening to replace the union employees with nonunion workers if they went on strike.

An 18-day strike in fall 2000 caused a backlog of about 250,000 repair requests and new orders.

Verizon and CWA spokesmen yesterday would say only that progress is being made. A federal mediator has told them not to reveal details of negotiations publicly.

“Both sides are going over the language, and we hope to have a settlement as soon as possible,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Said Harry Mitchell, Verizon Mid-Atlantic spokesman, “The negotiation process continues. We hope to get a contract as soon as possible.”

A breakthrough occurred Tuesday evening when Verizon granted job-security concessions for 51 wireless technicians in New York.

A CWA statement said the “tentative contract settlement” would provide raises of 3 percent a year to wireless technicians at the top of the pay scale and 2 percent a year for most other technicians.

The five-year agreement gives workers seniority rights for the first time in determining the order of layoffs and job recalls, which was “one of our major goals in these talks,” said CWA District 1 Vice President Larry Mancino, who heads the union’s New York, New Jersey and New England region.

A comprehensive agreement for all of Verizon’s unionized workers has stalled largely on job-security issues.

“Verizon is basically looking for language in these contracts that allows them to right-size the work force in weak times,” said Patrick Comack, a telecommunications analyst for the Miami financial firm of Guzman & Co.

The company is enduring stiff competition for its local telephone service after Congress deregulated the industry. Staying competitive would require them to lay off employees or move their jobs to less-expensive locations, Mr. Comack said.

“I think Verizon could have broken the union,” Mr. Comack said. “They were ready to break them.”

CWA officials said progress in the negotiations convinced them to back off the strike threat last month.

“Our union determined there are other strategies in addition to a strike that can be used to negotiate our contract,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Among the strategies was successfully eliciting support from local and federal politicians.

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