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Verizon Unions Due to Vote on Contract Friday

New deal to replace agreement that expired August 2011 would take effect if unions vote to ratify.

The tentative contract agreement reached last month by negotiators for Verizon Communications and wireline and communications unions for Verizon employees is due for a final vote by union employees this Friday.

"All the unions involved with bargaining must complete voting by this Friday," said Bill Huber, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 in New Jersey. Huber said he plans to notify the company of the New Jersey IBEW local's results by early afternoon. "If the membership ratifies, then we have a new agreement."

In that case, he said, a 2.25 percent raise for the membership, about 6,000 in New Jersey, goes into effect on Sunday. Raises for the new contract, which would replace the agreement that expired in August 2011 and resulted in a labor dispute that turned into a strike, would be compounded to a total of 8.2 percent through the duration of the proposed contract through Aug. 1, 2015, according to a letter posted on the IBEW local 827's website.

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.

If the contract offer is rejected, Huber said on Wednesday, "We need to make a decision. That will take place after we see the results."

"The unions are in the process of holding their ratification votes for their members," Lee Gierczynski, spokesman for Verizon, confirmed on Wednesday. If the union membership approves the contracts, "the process is complete," he said.

The tentative contract agreements, reached with the assistant of a federal labor mediator after more than a year of fruitless negotiating, would cover about 45,000 Verizon employees in the east who are members either of the IBEW or the Communications Workers of America.

IBEW Local 827 also had followed up after the proposed contract settlement to try to advocate for union members that had been fired during last summer's strike, which lasted about two weeks. If those employees sign off on the agreement, they will return to work next Monday, Huber said.

Several times since July 2011, union members had held demonstrations at the Verizon headquarters in Basking Ridge and once at the Mendham home of Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam.

The contract replaces an agreement that expired in Aug. 2011, prompting a strike last summer and several demonstrations during the past year by the Verizon building in Basking Ridge.

“We believe this is a fair and balanced agreement that is good for our employees as well as for the future of the Wireline business,” Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer, said in September. “It provides competitive wages, valuable benefits and affordable quality health care while giving the company new flexibility to better serve customers and become more efficient.”

The agreement was achieved through lengthy negotiations and mediation conducted under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS),

In a communication signed in September Huber said, "Despite the Federal Mediation News Release, despite the International CWA “We Stood Up” release, and despite the International IBEW press release announcing a Tentative Agreement between IBEW New England and New York, CWA and Verizon, IBEW. Local 827 and CWA District 2-13 (the South Bargaining table) has not signed the agreement."

In the International IBEW press release, also on the IBEW Local 827 website, IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill was quoted as saying, "In this tough economic climate, with many politicians and CEOs preaching more and more austerity for the middle class, working families at Verizon stood strong and stuck together to get the best possible agreement,” Hill said. “We don’t agree with everything in it, but it allows us to move forward and continue to fight for good middle-class jobs at Verizon in the years to come.”

“The strong unity of the members at the bargaining table and in the workplace — along with the impartial hand of Director Cohen and his staff — forced the company to back off its original proposal which would have gutted nearly all the gains won by previous generations of telecommunications workers,” Hill said in the International IBEW release.

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

On Friday, Huber added that the bargaining result was that union members were able to keep their previous health plan, not Verizon's suggested replacement health plan, a key point in negotiations. However, members would start contributing to their health benefits plan with this package, he said.

Union members would start to contribute $30 monthly for single and $60 monthly for a family in November, moving forward. "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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