Verizon rejects unions' request for federal mediation in protracted labor talks

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Verizon (NYSE: VZ) rejected a call Thursday by two unions--The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)--to move their longstanding and often rancorous contract negotiations to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS).

Verizon union rally 2011

Verizon union workers rally at an informational picket last fall. (Screencap: Verigreedy.com)

Verizon, in a story reported by Billing World, not only rejected the mediation demand but threw the onus to resolve matters back onto the unions.

Lawrence Marcus, senior vice president of labor relations for Verizon, wrote to CWA region 1 Vice President Chris Helton that the carrier has experienced "extended periods when the unions have failed, despite repeated company requests, to make counters on critical issues like medical for many weeks," the story continued. "As I told you in June 2011 and have stated repeatedly through these negotiations, the company needs meaningful change relating to its cost structure and operational flexibility."

The unions, of course, are having a hard time swallowing Verizon's claims. In a statement the two unions noted that "the company has made more than $16.3 billion in profits over the past four years."

In second quarter earnings released this week, Verizon said its wireline operating revenues had dropped off to $9.9 billion (a 3.1 percent decrease).

At the same time, though, CFO Francis Shammo, in a prepared statement, noted wireline "consumer revenues were up 2.5 percent, which was the highest growth rate we've seen in several years." He credited the carrier's "intensely focused" approach to profitability management" for the improvement.

For their part, the unions, who represent about 45,000 Verizon workers from New England to Virginia, said they have been "flexible and shown a willingness to negotiate, including significant proposals on health care and other key issues for management, but management continues to insist on proposals that would reduce jobs and cut our benefits by thousands of additional dollars per year,. And fail to return thousands of jobs that the company has off-shored," according to a statement from Ed Mooney, vice president of CWA Districts 2-13 and Bill Huber, president of IBEW Local 827.

This situation, they said, has led to the request for mediation--which Verizon rejected.

"CWA and IBEW members have been unable to negotiate an agreement for over a year as Verizon management continues to insist on drastic cuts in benefits and employment security," the unions said in a news release announcing the mediation request.

For more:
- see the unions' release
- read the Billing World story
- and Multichannel News' coverage

Related articles:
Verizon posts higher wireline revenues thanks to FiOS
CWA wants Verizon's board to help settle contract issues
Verizon to reduce its wireline workforce by 1,700

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