Verizon, Workers Reach Tentative Agreement — Largest U.S. Work Stoppage In 5 Years Ends As Unions Celebrate Progress on ‘Major Goals’

After 6 weeks, a tentative deal was reached on Friday between Verizon and the two unions representing nearly 40,000 striking workers, from Massachusetts to Virginia to get people back to work, and winning big gains for workers.

According to the New York Times, the company met with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to discuss a 4-year contract that will need to be ratified by the members of both unions.

As details later emerged, Verizon’s wireline workers, responsible for building and maintaining its Fios broadband network, look to win big concessions from the company after the largest work stoppage in the United States since 2011.

Starting on April 13, Verizon wireline workers took to the picket lines to strike over the impasse in contract negotiations after the previous contract expired in August 2015.

One of the bigger issues in the past several months had been the company’s health care obligations, which the unions worked out. Yet, changes in Verizon’s demands, including the outsourcing of up to 5,000 mostly call center jobs, capping of pensions at 30 years, and the sending of workers on extended contracts away from home for up to 6 months resulted in a union vote to strike.

By April 28, Verizon offered its “last, best, and final” offer to the unions which, as Spotlight News reported, did not satisfy the workers or the unions. While Verizon offered to match the 401(k) plan and add a 7.5 percent increase for 3 years, it maintained that the workers had to pay more for their health care plans, included increased costs for retirees, retained the 30-year pension cap, and argued for the need to use more non-union workers for its projects.

While the company cites costs as a reason for its proposals, a CWA Local president in the Syracuse, New York area had a different take.

“When you have a company that makes $1.5 billion a month in pure profit, you shouldn’t have to talk to someone in India,” he said.

Verizon workers picket a company office in Philadelphia. [Photo by Matt Rourke/AP Images]
Just days after that offer, on May 1, Verizon then cut health care coverage to all striking workers and their families, resulting in about 110,000 losing coverage in total.

In response to the strike, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders voiced his solidarity with the workers at a picket in New York City early on.

“Verizon is one of the largest, most profitable corporations in this country… They want to outsource decent paying jobs, they want to give their CEO $20 million a year.”

While Sanders was rounding up, at approximately $19 million per year, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam makes about 500 times the average salary of a Verizon worker.

A Fortune report noted that the strike had a negative effect on current quarter sales, stemming from a decline in new customers signing up for Fios service. News of the decline contrasted sharply with the company’s expectations that the work stoppage would bear no material impact.

As negotiations winded down on Friday, according to a CWA press release, the union came away with big wins for the workers and their major goals. As details emerged, the agreement in principle would include increasing the working families’ standard of living, creating union jobs, and achieving the first union contract for wireless workers, which will cover about 165 employees to start.

“The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole. The agreement in principle at Verizon is a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people,” said Chris Shelton, CWA President. “This proves that when we stand together we can raise up working families, improve our communities and protect the American middle class.”

[Photo by Mike Groll/AP Images]