No strike yet: Verizon, CWA, IBEW unions to continue negotiations as contract expires

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) unions said they will continue negotiating a new labor contract covering 39,000 workers after the current one expired on Saturday.

Union leaders said that workers will continue to perform their jobs and are prepared to schedule regular bargaining sessions. Both unions urged Verizon to begin bargaining constructively.

CWA leaders criticized Verizon and the initial proposal the company made in late June covering union workers. Under proposed new agreement, Verizon included three elements: a 2 percent wage increase effective Aug. 2, 2015; a 2 percent increase one year later; and a $1,000 lump sum payment in the third year.

Some of the other sticking points on which Verizon and the unions have not been able to come to an agreement are how to structure pension benefits, health care contributions, and removing restrictions on the company's right to contract out and offshore union jobs.

"The company has barely moved off its initial June 22nd proposal that made outrageous demands of Verizon workers. If this company is serious about reaching an agreement, it needs to start bargaining constructively and now," said Ed Mooney, vice president for CWA District 2-13, whi​ch represents Verizon workers from Pennsylvania to Virginia, in a release. ​"Right now there isn't even anyone across the table from us who's got the power to make any decisions."

Verizon said it offered the unions what it said was a "comprehensive initial offer" and that the union counter proposals are not realistic.

"Employees are eligible to receive up to five weeks of paid vacation time, not including paid sick days and paid excused days," said Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer, in a release. "While we're willing to consider all offers, union leaders came back with counterproposals that would offer up to 19 additional days off, including new holidays, employee birthdays, more vacation days and additional sick days. That sort of proposal is unrealistic and out-of-touch in today's marketplace."

In addition to the contract, the CWA and the IBEW have been critical of Verizon's refusal to extend FiOS to more communities in its East Coast territory and accusations that it has not been maintaining its existing copper networks.

An audit conducted by New York City's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications found that Verizon failed to deliver on its promise to provide fiber-optic service for television and broadband to anyone who wants it by 2014. Verizon immediately dismissed the report's findings, saying it was based upon erroneous information and incorrect interpretations of the company's franchise deal that was signed with the city in 2008, which enabled it to deploy FiOS throughout the city.

While the unions decided to not go on strike, one is imminent as 86 percent of the CWA members authorized a strike if necessary late last month.

"We'll strike when we think it is the right time to strike, and that is not tonight," Mooney said. "The ball is in their court--we are waiting for them to get serious."

Verizon has been training over 15,000 non-union employees to fill in with repair and customer service roles to ensure service continuity if a strike occurs.

For more:
- see this CWA release
- and this Verizon release
- WSJ has this article

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