May 28, 2016
By WNYLaborToday.com Editor-Publisher Tom Campbell
Washington, DC – Nearly 40,000 Striking Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) represented Workers got an early Memorial Day Weekend gift today (Friday, May 27th) when U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez announced that an agreement in principle had been reached on a tentative four-year contract between the Unions and Verizon to end a six-week-long walkout.
In a telephone interview with WNYLaborToday.com from Washington, IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson told Your On-Line Labor Newspaper that it was Labor Secretary Perez – a Buffalo native – who should receive a lion’s share of the credit in helping bring an end to what has been a major Labor dispute in this country.
“It ‘absolutely would not have happened without the involvement’ of Labor Secretary Perez,” Stephenson told WNYLaborToday.com. “We started at (9 a.m.) Thursday and were winding down around (3 a.m.) this morning (Friday). We had gotten to the point where (negotiations) were ready to ‘break down,’ but Labor Secretary Perez responded that he would ‘not let us’ stop. He used the (football) analogy that ‘we were on the five-yard-line’ and he ‘wasn’t going to let us punt’ – and that ‘we were going to push this over the goal line.’”
In addition, Stephenson also singled out Allison Beck, Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, for her involvement at the table during the negotiations and the positive she also played in bringing about an agreement.
Labor Secretary Perez issued the following statement: “Today, I am pleased to announce the parties have reached an agreement in principle on a four-year contract, resolving the open issues in the ongoing Labor dispute between Verizon’s Workers, Unions and management. The parties are now working to reduce the agreement to writing, after which the proposal will be submitted to CWA and IBEW Union Members for ratification. Throughout the past thirteen days of negotiations at the Department of Labor, I have observed firsthand the parties’ good faith commitment to narrowing differences and forging an agreement that helps Workers and the company. The parties have a shared interest in the success of Verizon and its dedicated workforce. Indeed, these two interests are inextricably intertwined. This tentative resolution is a testament to the power of Collective Bargaining. I commend the leadership of Verizon, CWA, and IBEW for their commitment to resolving these difficult issues in the spirit of constructive engagement. I expect that Workers will be back on the job next week.”
Details of the four-year agreement in principle were not released. A number of Union Member ratification votes will be held early next week, Union Officials said.
After 10 months of talks on a new contract failed to produce a new agreement, Verizon’s 39,000 IBEW (which represents 10,000) and CWA (which represents 29,000 Workers) represented Employees walked off the job on April 13th. There are between 700 and 800 Unionized Verizon Workers employed here in Western New York. The Workers include Network Technicians and Customer Service Representatives in the Verizon's FIOS Internet, Telephone and Television Services Unit.
The company’s Unionized Union Workforce was upset over a number of Verizon’s demands at the bargaining table, which included – in part: Gutting job security protections; Contracting out more work; Offshoring jobs to Mexico and the Philippines, as well as other locations; Requiring Technicians to work away from home for as long as two months without seeing their families; and Refusing to negotiate any improvements in wages, benefits or working conditions for Verizon Wireless Retail Workers, who formed a Union back in 2014.
Strikers argued Verizon – which is making $1.8 billion in profit a month, shouldn't be in the business of cutting pensions, benefits and pay.
Meanwhile, Stephenson told WNYLaborToday.com that Union Representatives from both the CWA and IBEW – notably Martha Pultar, who heads the IBEW’s Telecommunications Department – were still in Washington today to continue to go over the agreement and address a number of remaining issues.
“There’s a lot of language that ‘still needs to be clarified’ and we are working on that today, so hopefully things will be done by mid-week (of next week),” he said.
As Stephenson had told WNYLaborToday.com earlier in the week during IBEW District Three’s 70th Annual Progress Meeting in Philadelphia, he took the time to praise his and the CWA’s Union Membership, who were out for six weeks walking the line, saying IBEW and CWA Members “have been strong – they stayed together and stay united.”
“This contract is a ‘win-win’ for everyone,” Stephenson told WNYLaborToday.com. “There are items in the contract that the Unions ‘didn’t care for’ and items that management ‘didn’t care for.’ But ‘that’s’ Collective Bargaining. In the end, this is ‘good’ for Labor, Verizon and ‘more importantly’ – ‘our customers,’ who will ‘now get proper service.’”
And – Stephenson told WNYLaborToday.com, it is an important victory for Working People: “People in general are ‘starting to understand.’ There’s been ‘too many takeaways’ for Working People and this (the Verizon Strike) has been a ‘trigger’ for people to understand that when you ‘stay together in crisis – you will be heard.’ The Working Class will not only ‘benefit’ from this, but hopefully it will involve ‘all’ in a ‘fight for the Middle Class.’”
WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: You can watch WNYLaborToday.com’s three-minute-long video interview with IBEW International President Stephenson on Your On-Line Labor Newspaper’s YouTube Channel at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSAm5eQMDNU. You can also read Your On-Line Labor Newspaper’s May 26th Labor News Story, Headlined: IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson Tells WNYLaborToday.com He's "Optimistic" The Strike By IBEW & CWA Represented Verizon Workers Could Be Coming To An End… During An Interview With 'Your' On-Line Labor Newspaper At IBEW District Three's 70th Annual Progress Meeting In Philadelphia, Stephenson Says Talks Are “Moving Quick Enough,’ In My Estimation. We’re ‘Seeing Some Changes Now.’”