NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 40,000 striking Verizon employees will return to work Wednesday after reaching a tentative contract agreement that includes 1,300 new call center jobs and nearly 11 percent in raises over four years but also makes health care plan changes to save the company money, the company and a union said Monday.
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The pact, subject to approval by union members, stands to end one of the largest strikes in the United States in recent years. Workers and Verizon Communications Inc. had reached an agreement in principle Friday but hadn't released details or a date for the workers' return. They struck in mid-April.
The Communications Workers of America union called the deal a victory for not only Verizon employees, but workers at large.
"We are turning the tide from cutbacks against working people to building a stronger labor movement and strengthening the power of working Americans," Dennis G. Trainor, vice president of the union's District 1 in the Northeast, said in a statement.
New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. said it was a good deal for workers, customers and the telecom giant alike.
"This will allow our business to be more flexible and competitive," chief communications officer Marc Reed said in a statement.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, which represents about 10,000 of the striking workers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Union members will vote on the deal after returning to work.
Besides the raises and new call center jobs, the tentative agreement includes $1,250 in signing bonuses and health care reimbursements for new workers, a 25-percent increase in the number of unionized crews maintaining Verizon's utility poles in New York state, and three 1 percent increases in pensions, which Verizon had proposed to freeze, the CWA said. It also includes a first-ever contract for wireless retail store workers, affecting 70.
The deal also entails changes that Verizon says will save significant money, such as adopting Medicare Advantage plans — private health insurance contracted with the government-sponsored Medicare program — rather than costlier insurance. The tentative agreement also increases flexibility to route customer-service calls from one call center to another, the company said.
Installers, customer service employees, repairmen and other landline and cable workers in nine Eastern states and Washington, D.C., have worked without a contract since last August. During the strike, other workers have stepped in, but there were some delays in installations of Verizon's Fios fiber-optic service.
The unions said they were striking because Verizon wanted to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers. Verizon said that it had high health care costs for its unionized workers, a group that has shrunk as it sold off large chunks of its wireline unit and focused on its mobile business, which was not unionized. It also wanted the union workers, just over one-fifth of its U.S. workforce, to agree to move around to different regions when needed, which the union opposed.
The strike made its way into the presidential campaign. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton visited strikers outside a Verizon store in midtown Manhattan, and rival Bernie Sanders cheered workers on a picket line in Brooklyn.
But the walkout was also troubled by allegations that strikers in Delaware intimidated and harassed non-union replacement workers, including chasing, ramming and surrounding a contract worker's van on Interstate 95. Union locals said any problems were isolated incidents not sanctioned by labor leaders; a Delaware judge said Thursday he felt the unions had "a causal role" but declined a Verizon request to hold them in contempt of a prior court order spelling out permissible strike activities.
Verizon workers last struck in August 2011, when about 45,000 were off the job for about two weeks.