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Verizon Unions Approve Contracts, 14 Months After Strike

More than a year of negotiations lead to ratification vote for agreement.

Verizon unions representing about 43,000 union wireline and communications workers in the East, including more than 5,000 in the New Jersey local of the IBEW, ratified a contract agreement Friday afternoon to end more than a year of contentious negotiations that had led to a strike in August 2011. The labor dispute played out also with more than a year of demonstrations in Basking Ridge and elsewhere.

The agreement calls for raises of between 2.25 percent to 3 percent over the next three years, but requires union members to begin contributing to their health care plans, according to information from the IBEW. But key is that the members were able to keep their own health plans, rather than being required to accept Verizon's version of a health benefits plan, Bill Huber, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 in New Jersey, said before the vote.

"Union leaders from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) notified Verizon today that union members have ratified the tentative agreement that was reached on September 19," according to a release from Verizon, which has a large facility on North Maple Avenue in Basking Ridge.

The new contracts, which cover about 43,000 East wireline associates, will run through August 1, 2015, according to releases from both the company and unions.

“We’re pleased that our associates ratified the agreement,” said Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer.

The new contracts go into effect immediately, with certain provisions beginning in the fourth quarter of this year, according to information from Verizon.

The New Jersey-based IBEW local 827 reported on its website that members had ratified all three contracts that govern the agreement to replace a contract that had expired in early August 2011, according to the local's website.

The website reported that members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, covering some 12,500 IBEW members in those states, had ratified the collective bargaining agreement.

“This has been an arduous process to reach a reasonable agreement with Verizon,” said IBEW International president Edwin D. Hill.  “Our members faced difficult choices, but in the end stood together to protect the integrity of the collective bargaining process and our ability to protect good, middle-class jobs at the company.”

Members of the IBEW and Communications Workers of America (CWA) struck for nearly two weeks in August 2011. Following the strike, both unions agreed to return to work and extend the expired contract pending further negotiations. Prolonged negotiations ended only after the assistance of a federal labor mediator this summer.

The retroactive contract also calls for an $800 ratification bonus, according to the letter on the website. Raises during 2013 and 2014 would be 2.75 percent the first year and 3 percent the second, the letter said.

The new pact is also supposed to offer job protections and the hiring of 325 new employees for call centers in the Northeast.

Union members would start to contribute $30 monthly for single and $60 monthly for a family in November, moving forward, Huber said in an email earlier on Friday. "Our health benefit plans remain the same, only we will be paying premiums, co-insurance 90/10 with an out-of-pocket maximum of $1000 annually and an increase of $5 more for doctor visits," he said.

Other union locals reportedly already had approved the proposed contract earlier in the week.

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