Striking Verizon workers to return to work

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 unions said Monday.

The pact, subject to approval by union members, stands to end one of the largest strikes in the U.S. in recent years. Workers and Verizon Communications had reached an agreement in principle Friday but hadn’t released details or a date for the workers’ return. The strike began in mid-April.

The Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers unions, which both represent the strikers, called the deal a victory for American workers.

“We are turning the tide from cutbacks against working people to building a stronger labor movement and strengthening the power of working Americans,” said Dennis Trainor, vice president of the union’s District 1 in the Northeast.

New York-based Verizon Communications 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 administrative officer Marc Reed said.

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.

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 agreement also increases flexibility to route customer service calls from one call center to another, the company said.

The unions said they were striking because Verizon wanted to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers.

Verizon said it had high health care costs for its unionized workers, a group that has shrunk as Verizon sold off large chunks of its wireline unit and focused on its mobile business, which was not unionized. It also wanted the union workers, around 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.

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