Verizon Workers Win Card Check Organizing in Contract

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Mon Aug 21 10:39:13 PDT 2000

A few details left on the Mid-Atlantic/Southern unit of Verizon, but the basic contract seems to be in place. And while the monetary settlement is quite good, the real gains in the contract are in job security and a far-reaching right-to-organize provision in Verizon's non-union divisions - allowing unions in the contract's regional area to automatically unionize any shop where 55% of workers sign cards. No followup election, just instant recognition.

This now means that every major Baby Bell and AT&T have either card check or "expedited election" procedures (company neutrality with a special election held within two weeks of workers signing cards) in their contracts, assuring that unions will be able to develop a foothold in cable, wireless and other parts of the "new economy" of telecommunications. -- Nathan Newman

Here's a bit more from today's BOSTON GLOBE:

N.E. strikers, Verizon in deal

Two-week walkout continues for Mid-Atlantic unit

By Diane E. Lewis, Globe Staff, 8/21/2000

Thousands of striking telephone employees in New England and New York began returning to their scheduled shifts early this morning, several hours after Verizon Communications and two labor groups reached a tentative contract that promised three years of labor peace and union access to new technology jobs.

News that Verizon had reached a settlement with the 13,000-member International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the northern unit of the Communications Workers of America came last evening while talks continued between the company and CWA's southern division. That bargaining unit represents 36,000 customer service employees, and includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

The southern unit remained on strike last night as 50,000 union members from New England and New York prepared to return to work today and, in some cases, no later than Wednesday after a two-week strike that disrupted repairs and telephone installations in a dozen eastern states and the District of Columbia.

The unions won assurances that fewer jobs could be transferred than the company originally had sought and guaranteed more flexibility and less forced overtime.

But ofmost of the provisions of the accord remained secret last night until management and labor could work out language concerning the strikers' return to work. The unions also demanded amnesty for strikers accused of disruptive behavior while on the picket lines.

Under the agreement, IBEW and CWA's northern district workers will receive wage increases of 4 percent the first year of the contract, 3 percent the second year, and 5 percent the third and final year of the agreement.

Management and labor also agreed that 50 digital subscriber line positions that are being given to subcontractors will be set aside for customer service representatives in New York and New England.

Both sides hailed the contract.

''For New England and New York, the strike is now over,'' said Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey. ''The fundamental issue for us was how we could continue to add union jobs in an industry that is so highly competitive. At the same time, customers want service and they want immediate attention. This agreement will allow us to do an even better job serving customers. That's why we are pleased.''

''Nobody's happy about a strike, so I'm glad it's over,'' noted Myles Calvey, president of IBEW Local 2222 in Quincy. ''I'm also very pleased that we addressed the job transfer issue. That was a big issue. That was downright job security.''

A total of 85,000 workers walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 6, following the expiration of a two-year contract. Although basic service for most customers continued with few disruptions, analysts maintained that the growing backlog of consumer repair and installation orders, which had risen to 100,000 from about 50,000, provided a strong incentive for Verizon to end the strike.

Verizon Communications, the company created by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, serves approximately 25 million customers from Maine to Virginia and is the biggest provider of local telephone service in the region.

The agreement came several days after both sides worked out language giving the unions permission to use a card check neutrality agreement to organize workers at Verizon Wireless, a subsidiary.

That provision, regarded by labor experts as the most surprising aspect of the pact, will allow the unions to organize wireless workers after collecting signed cards from a majority of workers.

''Whatever was decided about the other outstanding issues, the fact that Verizon agreed to a neutrality card check agreement is a major, major accomplishment for the unions and a major concession by the company,'' said Robert Ross, a labor specialist at Clark University in Worcester.

Jeffrey Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst in Atlanta, said the contract will expand labor's advancement into the industry from a toehold to ''a strong foothold on the work of the future, the work of tomorrow.''

At the same time, Kagan questioned whether this contract will also prove to be a bit of a burden around Verizon's neck.

''If the unions got everything they wanted, then Verizon is going to have a real challenge,'' he said. ''Sure, it will have great workers. But will Verizon be as flexible as its entrepreneurial competitors? Will the company be nimble enough to compete against companies that are not shackled by these future union demands? If it is not, those union members will not have jobs.''

During the strike, picketers had demanded a reduction in mandated overtime, the hiring of more customer service representatives, and more flexible scheduling. Union sources said the agreement guarantees that more workers will be hired, but said a quota was not set.

The contract also states that more training will be available to service representatives, and that more accommodations will be made for those with medical or personal problems.

''In the agreement for Local 1400 of the CWA, we received a package of reforms,'' said Steve Early, an international representative and organizer for New England. ''The company agreed to give people more advanced notice of forced overtime, and ease restrictions that prevented service representatives from transferring to other units in the company.

Additionally, workers will receive a profit sharing plan tied to the chief executive officer's plan. It will pay a minimum of $1,800 and a maximum of $3,000 over the three-year life of the agreement.

Other provisions in the agreement announced last night include:

Language granting a one-time award of 100 Verizon Communications stock options to full-time members and 50 shares to part-time members.

Language granting an increase in the company's matching contribution to a 401K plan from 80 percent to 82 percent.

Language amending the pension, as of Aug. 1, 2002, to a lump sum cash-out option. Retiring members may receive their benefits either in a lump sum or in the form of an annuity. ''This is not a cash balance account,'' said IBEW's Calvey. ''This is cash, which is a lot different.''

Language authorizing that new benefits be added to the health care network, including a maximum lifetime benefit of $20,000 for fertility and reproductive treatments.

''This contract recognizes that the service representatives' job is much more stressful and requires more skills because employees are being asked to sell a whole range of new services,'' noted Early.

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