Verizon Workers Ratify Their New Deal

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Verizon workers on the picket line – they have won a pay rise and the company will employ a larger workforce
Verizon workers on the picket line – they have won a pay rise and the company will employ a larger workforce

VERIZON union workers represented by the CWA and IBEW ‘overwhelmingly’ ratified a new four-year pact set to run through to August 2019.

Verizon Communications and tens of thousands of union employees officially ended a tense stand-off following the official ratification of a new labour contract agreed to late last month. The new agreement, which covers Verizon wireline employees in the Northeast, is set to run through to August 3, 2019.

According to the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, union employees overwhelmingly ratified contract terms. Those terms include workers receiving a 10.5% wage increase over the four-year term of the deal, with Verizon committed to hiring approximately 1,300 new workers.

‘The ratification of these hard-won contracts cements an incredible victory for the nearly 40,000 courageous workers who put everything on the line to protect the good jobs for their families and for all American families,’ said Dennis Trainor, VP for CWA District 1.

‘I want to congratulate everyone at Verizon who stuck together and worked so hard to get to this moment,’ said IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson. The deal for the first time also included some Verizon Wireless employees, including 100 technicians in New York and retail store employees.

‘The contract provides a first-ever grievance and arbitration procedure, protections against arbitrary discipline and firing and restrictions on the company’s ability to subcontract work,’ noted CWA. Verizon for its part said it gained the ability to offer special buyout incentives to employees and health care cost savings for current and retired workers under its pension plan.

‘We’re pleased that our employees ratified these new agreements,’ said Marc Reed, Verizon’s chief administrative officer. The terms are good for our employees, good for our customers and good for our business. The company’s key objectives for this round of bargaining were in the areas of health care, post-retirement costs and workforce flexibility.

‘These agreements achieve all of those objectives. The company will realise cost savings and cost avoidance through health care plan design changes, increased health care contributions, Medicare Advantage plans for our retirees, maintaining limits on post-retirement health care costs and freezing the mortality table for lump-sum pensions using the (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) rate.

‘In addition, the agreements allow for greater flexibility in call sharing to better serve customers, and give us the ability to offer special buyout incentives to associates.’ Verizon earlier this month admitted the strike would hit financial results for the current second quarter, with that hit expected to stay on the books for the remainder of the year.

Verizon CFO Fran Shammo, speaking this week at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference, said the company will see an earnings impact of between 5 cents and 7 cents for Q2 related to the labour strike, with that financial impact set to also hit full-year results.

Shammo explained the costs are coming from overtime paid to management employees, hiring contract workers to cover for striking workers and a decrease in new business installations. That decrease is expected to result in Verizon posting net losses across its FiOS broadband business for the quarter.

• Meanwhile, Donald Trump has reached the brink of the Republican presidential nomination in part by selling himself as the solution to the working-class blues, but the nation’s top union official told a labour conference in Atlantic City on Tuesday that it’s all a lie.

‘Donald Trump talks a big game about making America great. He says he’s a friend of workers,’ AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, in his speech to the organisation’s New Jersey state convention. ‘But Trump doesn’t have our backs – he wants to break our backs.’

Trumka discussed Trump’s record of labour violations, outsourcing the manufacture of some of his branded products and the now defunct for-profit Trump University, subject of fraud lawsuits charging it was a scam aimed at the vulnerable.

The leader of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO was making his first appearance since the organisation endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton last week. His message could find a special resonance in Atlantic City where, over the years, Trump has left a trail of unpaid and underpaid bills in the wake of several bankrupt casinos.

‘It’s our job to explain that Donald Trump won’t solve America’s problems. He is the problem,’ Trumka said. Name any core American value, and Donald Trump is against it: Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Responsibility. Equality. Unity. Integrity. He stands against everything we stand for.’

He was speaking the same day Clinton argued in a major speech in Columbus, Ohio that Trump would be a disaster as steward of the US economy. He has pledged massive tax cuts for the wealthy and tariffs on trade with China and Mexico that could trigger a recession, said Jake Sullivan, senior adviser to Clinton. Trump ‘would very likely drive us off a cliff,’ Sullivan said.

The convention occurred just after a victory for the union movement, a new contract with Verizon that will limit the company’s planned outsourcing of call-centre jobs. And it also came as union members at five of Atlantic City’s remaining casinos have authorised a July 1 strike over wage and benefit freezes.

AFL-CIO remained neutral during the primary contest between Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the fiery democratic socialist, though some member unions backed one or the other. Trumka said in an interview on Monday that there was a ‘groundswell’ among rank-and-file union members that it was time to rally behind Clinton, who has won the support of enough national convention delegates to secure the nomination.

‘I think we had two quality candidates running, both of which supported working people,’ Trumka said. He said that Clinton is the most qualified presidential candidate in his lifetime, and praised her opposition to the pending Trans Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement.

AFL-CIO will mount ‘the most sophisticated target programme in our history’, Trumka said – communicating with union members and working-class voters at worksites, through the mail and on the phone, to build support for Democrats.

‘There’s a chance for us to rewrite the rules (of the economy), and we’ve been waiting for that chance for decades,’ Trumka said. ‘We’re not going to let it pass us by.’