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Verizon, striking unions reach tentative agreement

Verizon Communications Inc. and its unions have reached a tentative four-year agreement, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said Friday, ending the largest strike in recent labor history, with an estimated 36,000 to 39,000 workers off the job.

Verizon Communications Inc. and its unions have reached a tentative four-year agreement, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said Friday, ending the largest strike in recent labor history, with an estimated 36,000 to 39,000 workers off the job.

"We have a great contract that is going to protect our members and bring in additional jobs," said Edward Mooney, a vice president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), one of the two unions on strike against the telecommunications company since April 13.

"Verizon is very pleased with this 'agreement in principle,' " Verizon's chief administrative officer, Marc Reed, said in a statement.

"The agreement is consistent with our objective of creating high-quality American jobs and achieving meaningful changes and enhancements to the contracts."

The strike involved CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) members employed in Verizon's landline divisions from New England to Virginia. It occurred as Verizon is building its nonunion mobile business and selling off its traditional wireline assets, where most of the unionized employees work.

The unions urged their members to have a great weekend and to be prepared to return to work next week. So far, there is no schedule for ratification votes on either side.

Wall Street reacted happily to the news Friday. On April 4, Verizon's shares had reached a high of $54.42, but they fell to $49.14 on Monday as analysts and executives said the strike was taking its toll on revenue.

The Friday afternoon announcement of an agreement prompted an immediate spike in the price to $50.82, from Thursday's close of $50.16. Verizon shares closed Friday at $50.62.

On Friday morning, a handful of CWA members in red T-shirts with their strike signs chatted outside Verizon's Philadelphia headquarters at 17th and Arch Streets.

The pickets dispersed as word of the settlement spread via text message: "Tentative contract - four year deal. Stand down. Strike is over."

The workers will receive wage increases. Issues involving pensions and the assignment of workers to locations far from their homes was settled in the unions' favor, Mooney said.

A key concern - the routing of sales and technical-support calls overseas - also was settled in the unions' favor, said Julie Daloisio, president of CWA Local 13500, which represents call-center workers in Pennsylvania.

In return for the company agreeing not to close 30 call centers and agreeing to add 1,300 employees instead of sending many calls to outside contractors, the union agreed that calls could be handled by any union operator, not just those in the state where the call was made, she said.

The agreement will add 300 jobs in Pennsylvania, Daloisio said.

What made this round of bargaining unusual was the intense involvement of Perez, the labor secretary.

"This tentative resolution is a testament to the power of collective bargaining," he said in a statement.

Long past midnight, in Friday's early hours, Perez remained holed up in a conference room at the Labor Department's headquarters along with Verizon chief executive and chairman Lowell McAdams, the leaders of the two unions, and Allison Beck, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

"It shows the concern the administration had in getting this resolved, that they would put that kind of resources into it," said Michael Hanlon, a longtime management-side employment lawyer and a partner in the Philadelphia firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

Hanlon said it was also unusual for a corporate chairman to be involved in negotiations.

On May 17, after the strike had gone on for nearly five weeks, Perez called the parties to Washington, asked them to agree to mediation, assigned the top mediator, Beck, to the case, and insisted on a blackout of negotiation-related communications.

"I offer my deep gratitude to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Allison Beck for all their efforts to help us reach a fair and mutually beneficial agreement that gets our members back on the job," IBEW president Lonnie R. Stephenson said in a statement.

Perez "was able to look at things without any of the viewpoints that the two sides had," Mooney said, adding that Perez made sure "both sides kept their eyes on the end goal, which was a contract that will secure middle-class lifestyle and a future at this company for our members."

The final issue to be resolved, Mooney said, was a first contract for the only two wireless units in Verizon to have been organized into a union, CWA.

The parties broke for a few hours about 3 a.m. Friday, returning to the bargaining table about 9 a.m., with an announcement from Perez sent out in the early afternoon.

It turns out that Perez was operating under his own strike deadline: his daughter's high school graduation, which was set for Friday.