Verizon workers to end strike Monday night

Posted: August 20, 2011

Striking Verizon workers will return to work Monday night, ending, for a time, the longest and largest strike in recent American labor history.

"We agreed to end the strike because we believe it is in the best interest of our customers and employees," Marc Reed, Verizon's executive vice president of human resources, said in a statement.

"The major issues remain to be discussed, but overall, issues are now focused and narrowed," the unions representing 45,000 employees said in a statement.

The return of the workers is neither a win nor a lose for either side, but rather a draw - since workers are returning without a new contract and the company has yet to achieve its collective bargaining goals.

In a telling move, the two sides included different return dates - Monday and Tuesday - in their statements. It is the overnight Monday shift.

Operators, technicians, customer service agents and sales consultants will return to work under the terms of a contract that expired Aug. 6.

They went on strike, union leaders said, to protect many of the wage, benefit and job security provisions in that contract.

Union leaders had said from the start that they would return if the company were willing to bargain more productively. Each side had accused the other side of inflexibility.

Reed said the unions would work indefinitely under the old contract to bargainers time to address the major issues - job security, benefits, cost structure and work flexibility. He said the two sides had made "headway."

Workers are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Will workers lose their momentum if they come back before a settlement?

"They'll be jazzed up to get a paycheck," said Ray Abernathy, a union media consultant and strategist in Washington. "And they'll be jazzed to go back out again if they have to."

He said Verizon workers have been on strike in the past, so they are likely to understand some of the strategies involved. These days, he said, "we consciously do in-and-out strikes to preserve resources."

Management lawyer Doreen Davis, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P. in Philadelphia, said if workers return the company gains immediately: A service disruption ends, and so does a "public relations nightmare."

A strike, she said, is all about who has the "economic muscle."

Verizon, she said, "thinks it has the economic muscle, and if the workers come back without a settlement, Verizon has broken their strike."

But the playbook is different when, instead of trying to gain increases, workers are trying to protect wages and benefits from being cut, as is the case with the Verizon strike.

"When it's concession bargaining," Davis said, "the union has the economic muscle. The longer it can stave off the concessions, the better off they are," she said. "That's why I was surprised they went out on strike to begin with."

The sides filed unfair labor practice charges against each other, although it was the company that cancelled the final bargaining sessions late Saturday evening, Aug. 6, when the contract expired.

After that, there were days of unofficial talks just to get the "official" talks started again. Bargaining has been taking place in Philadelphia and Rye, N.Y.

To handle repairs and customer service during the strike, Verizon corralled managers and non-union employees from around the country. Spokesman Rich Young said Friday that 90 percent of customer service calls were being answered within 30 seconds.

But customers have complained about slow service and the company said it recorded at least 90 acts of vandalism. As of Friday, there had been no arrests, Young said. The unions said they did not condone violence or vandalism.

On strike were workers from New England to West Virginia, all employed by Verizon Communication Inc.'s landline division, which also handles fiber optic cable installation, sale and service.

The majority of employees of the company's mobile division Verizon Wireless, which is half-owned by a German firm, are nonunion. However, the union part of the company does service many aspects of the mobile business.


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or @JaneVonBergen on Twitter.

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