Labor peace on horizon for employees, Verizon
Sunday, August 21, 2011 – Updated 3 hours ago
Verizon Communications workers abandoned picket lines and their two-week strike yesterday, agreeing to resume work beginning tomorrow despite the absence of a new contract agreement, as both sides signaled progress in talks.
“We told the company that when they got serious about bargaining, we would send our people back to work,” said Don Trementozzi, president of CWA Local 1400 in Portsmouth, N.H. “We feel, based on the conversations over the last 48 hours, that is what’s going to happen. The attitude at the bargaining table and their commitment to be reasonable . . . led us to believe that this would be a correct decision.”
Verizon spokesman Phil Santoro said both sides knew in the past few days that they didn’t want the strike to continue.
“So I think they worked in earnest and hammered out how we’re going to go forward on these negotiations and how we’re going to get everybody back to work,” he said. “Both sides were making progress on local and regional issues.”
The 45,000 union employees will work under the existing terms of their expired agreement, which will remain in force for an indefinite period as their leaders prepare to resume negotiations with the nation’s No. 2 telecom provider in about a week.
All major contract issues, including medical benefits — Verizon pays 100 percent of the workers’ health-care premiums — as well as job security, pensions and attendance policy, remain unresolved. But the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said Verizon has agreed to a more meaningful and narrowed dialogue at the bargaining table.
Verizon hadn’t previously offered to let the employees continue working under their existing contract, according to Ed Fitzpatrick, president of IBEW Local 2222 in Dorchester.
“That was not the deal that was on the table the night we went on strike,” he said. “It was a take-it-or-leave-it deal — take it or have no contract.”
Workers for Verizon’s landline and FiOS Internet and cable operations — who walked off their jobs Aug. 7 from Massachusetts to Virginia as contract negotiations stalled — left picket lines as of 12:30 p.m. yesterday after a contentious work stoppage.
The New York-based Verizon has found more than 200 incidents of alleged sabotage to its cables since the strike began, according to Santoro. On Friday, it won an injunction in Suffolk Superior Court that prohibited picketers from blocking access to its offices, stores and parking.
It’s too early to tell if there is a winner or loser in the back-to-work agreement reached, according to Seth Borden, a labor and employment attorney at McKenna Long & Aldridge in New York.
“The short, trite answer would be: If they’re going back to the bargaining table, everybody is winning in some respect,” Borden said. But the extremely cooperative tone of both the unions and Verizon yesterday is a marked departure from their public relations machines of the last two weeks, he said.
“What it suggests to me . . . is the parties must have had to reach at least some understandings on their other positions on some of these issues,” Borden said.
Neither side was winning “hearts and minds,” according to Borden. As much as Verizon denied it, the company was having understandable customer service pressures, and the unions didn’t get the PR traction that they likely expected, he said.
“They went on a strike in a very difficult environment to garner public sympathy,” Borden said. “There were people without jobs every day walking past those picket lines.”