52,000 Verizon Staffers Go Back to Work

More than 50,000 staffers at Verizon

Communications in New York and New England returned to work Monday after a two-week strike was settled over the weekend, the company announced Sunday.

Verizon, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America in New York and New England announced a tentative agreement on new three-year contracts, Verizon said in a statement.

The proposed agreement gives Verizon the flexibility it needs to thrive in a highly competitive national marketplace, according to Lawrence T. Babbio, vice chairman and president of Verizon. At the same time, however, it also gives labor unions a foothold in the burgeoning wireless communications industry.

The concord, which union members still have to ratify, brought about 37,000 Communications Workers of America and 15,000 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members back to their jobs in New York and New England.

Another 35,000 CWA workers in the mid-Atlantic region, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, remain on strike as negotiations have bogged down on local issues. Discussions continue.

The agreement with the 52,000 union workers provides a 12 percent pay raise over three years, increases in benefits, a reduction in forced overtime and first-time stock options. It also gives the unions an easier way to organize Verizon workers in company's wireless joint venture with Britain's Vodafone AirTouch PLC (VOD) . For the first time, it allows unions to use card check procedures, which enable unions to organize at a particular site if a majority of workers sign a card authorizing it. The method is simpler than the more bureaucratic procedure of holding an election, but it would be restricted to the East Coast strike region, where about a quarter of the wireless workers are located.

Equally important, Verizon, formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. (BEL) and GTE Corp. (GTE) , will stop using outside, nonunion contractors to install DSL lines, or high-speed online connections, for consumers and business.

Instead, the company will use union workers that it will select from among union rolls.

A company spokesman said the DSL arrangement will give unions greater access to jobs in this high-growth business while ensuring that the connections can be set up in one rather than two trips by technicians to a home or business.

Labor experts say the Verizon agreement could serve as a guide for contract negotiations between Baby Bells and more than 200,000 telecom workers next year.

(David Legard writes for the IDG News Service.)

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