UPDATE: Verizon Union Members Back on Job
Strike achieved continuing coverage under contract that expired even without a new signed agreement, union leader says.
Striking Verizon wireline workers returned to work beginning with shifts starting Monday night at 11 p.m., with most reporting on Tuesday morning. Even so, the 45,000 union members, including 5,400 in New Jersey, still don't have an updated contract with the company, a Verizon spokesman confirmed on Tuesday morning.
"Everything went as planned," Rich Young, a Verizon spokesman, said shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday. He said many of the employees had already started work by that time.
The strikers' return to work means that Verizon's management and other non-union employees, including those reassigned from among 3,000 employees at the Verizon Center in Basking Ridge, will return to their regular positions as of Tuesday, according to Young.
Young said that the company looks forward to continuing negotiations on the unsettled contract later this week.
Both sides said negotiations for the contract that would govern the union employees, to replace a contract that expired on Aug. 6, will resume in Washington, D.C. with some major issues still will on the table.
William Huber, president and business manager for the New Jersey-based local 827 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, defined those issues as health benefits, pensions and certain jobs being assigned to union employees instead of being passed along to outside non-union employees.
On Sunday, Huber said the striking workers will come back to work with something they didn't have when a strike was called on Aug. 6—continuing contract coverage.
He said all aspects of the previous three-year contract that expired Aug. 6 at midnight will remain in full-force while negotiations continue. Previously, Verizon had expected workers to stay on the job after Aug. 6 as "at-will" employees, without contract coverage, Huber said.
Young said the union has its own "take" the contract situation, but confirmed that wireline employees will return to work Monday night under the terms of the pre-Aug. 6 contract.
The agreement for 45,000 Verizon workers to halt the two-week-old strike was the result of 15 hours of intense negotiations, conducted in Washington that lasted until Saturday at 1:45 a.m., Huber said.
The result, Huber said, was that, "we have the ability to continue to talk and our members are protected."
Huber said it benefits both Verizon and the unions to call off the strike and have the properly trained union workers return to fill their job at this time.
Huber said the union never has had any desire to hurt Verizon's business. "That's our bread and butter," he said. "Going on strike was a last-ditch effort, and it really doesn't help anyone."
"We want to do what's necessary to best serve our customers," Young said on Monday. He said it is in the best interest of both the unions and company to have Verizon's wireline job responsibilities and call centers staffed by employees trained to do those jobs "day-in and day-out."
Now, "we have a mutual goal of wanting to reach an agreement that meets the needs of all parties," Young said.
"We are looking forward to their [the striking workers] return, but there are serious issues still on the table," Young added mid-day on Monday.
On Sunday, Huber said the unions have the right to again strike if the negotiations do not work out.
Last weekend's lengthy session in Washington that resulted in the end of the strike included Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, Huber said on Sunday morning.
According to a Saturday statement on the Verizon website, the company and the unions have made headway in negotiating a number of local and regional issues. The parties have agreed on a process for moving forward to negotiate the major issues regarding benefits, cost structure, work flexibility and job security, according to the statement.
The contracts will be extended with no specific deadline for achieving new collective bargaining agreements so that the parties can take the time required to resolve the critical issues, the statement said.
According to Huber, those critical issues include what he said is Verizon's proposal to freeze contributions to employees' retirement funds. Another issue, he said, is that the company just several weeks ago demanded that employees switch from a longtime health benefits plan to a different plan that could disrupt health care for many longtime union members.
Huber also said the union wants call center communications in New Jersey, dense with Verizon customers, to be handled by union employees. He said that some calls now are being shunted to other call centers with non-union employees.