Labor negotiations are seldom smooth and unfettered by controversy, so perhaps this year's contract disputes between major telcos and their unions are nothing more than business as usual. However, Verizon Communications' contract disagreements with its unions nearly led to a strike, before talks were extended and a deal eventually reached, and Qwest Communications later saw a tentative deal rejected by its union membership. The unions made out fairly well with near-term pay hikes, but in both cases, long-term benefits for some employees were trimmed.
The latter may represent a future that the broader telecom industry workforce could find hard to escape. Embarq and Windstream Communications were among other telcos that stirred retiree anger by their attempts to cut long-term benefits that were costing their operations more and more money. Companies in all types of industries are confronting the difficulties of paying for the livelihood of an increasing large group of retirees. This year's labor difficulties offered just a glimpse of what could be the telecom industry's biggest dilemma this side of shrinking capex in the years to come.
Verizon reached a union agreement after tense negotiations
FierceTelecom readers had much to say about the Verizon talks
Qwest and its unions forged a contract agreement in August
The union membership later rejected the Qwest contract
Windstream looked to cut retiree benefits
Embarq retirees sued the telco over benefit cuts