More than a year after 6,000 Verizon Communications Inc. employees in Massachusetts staged a contentious two-week strike, their union representatives struck a tentative agreement with the communications giant Wednesday for a new three-year contract.
The deal gives workers an 8.2 percent pay raise over three years but requires them to contribute more toward their health insurance, according to union officials. It still needs approval from 43,000 union employees of Verizon who are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The workers from Verizon's landline telephone, Internet, and television services divisions picketed in August 2011 in the Boston area, and along the East Coast, after contract talks fell apart over issues such as pension, job security, and changes to health coverage. The labor issues do not involve workers from Verizon Wireless, the company’s mobile division.
Landline employees returned to work under the old contract while their representatives and Verizon officials tried to hammer out a deal in negotiations that have been described as tense and painful.
But union officials in Boston said Wednesday that they came away from talks with a deal that they believe members will accept. “We are light years ahead of where we started,” said Ed Fitzpatrick, president of IBEW Local 2222 in Dorchester. “We have a tentative agreement that we think we can live with.”
The deal also calls for at least $700 in annual profit sharing for each union member and preserves some job protections. Importantly for current members the new contract preserves existing pension benefits; new hires will have access to a 401(k) plan, but not pension benefits.
“We feel very pleased with the agreement. We preserved our job security and our pension,” said Bob Master, legislative representative for CWA District 1, which covers New England. “Despite the fact that we will be making some modest contribution to the cost of health care, we still have excellent health coverage.”
Verizon representatives said they are also satisfied. “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. “It provides competitive wages, valuable benefits, and affordable quality health care.”
Verizon representatives had previously said they needed to make changes in the contract due to reductions in its landline business. Those proposed cuts prompted one of the biggest labor actions in recent history. The bitter two-week strike involved incidents that led to about 40 Verizon employees, including 10 in Massachusetts,being terminated for alleged harassment and intimidation.
The unions will submit the new agreement to members for ratification. If approved, it will run run through Aug. 1, 2015. Verizon’s stock closed Wednesday at $45.27, up 36 cents, or 0.8 percent.