Unions’ Campaign Against Verizon Sale Nets Better Deal for Consumers, Workers
by James Parks, Mar 25, 2008
Verizon workers mounted a strong campaign against the sale of the company’s landlines in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. As a result, when regulators approved the sale, the workers’ efforts created a better deal for consumers and the workers.
The Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which together represent 2,500 Verizon employees, reached a tentative agreement yesterday with FairPoint Communications, the North Carolina-based company that will take over Verizon’s landline operations in the three states March 31.
The unions say the five-year deal includes wage and pension increases, continues health care benefits for employees and retirees and improves 401(k) benefits. The two unions, along with political leaders and community organizations, had urged regulators to reject the proposed deal.
The unions questioned whether FairPoint had the financial resources to take over a company more than five times its size. The workers’ efforts helped ensure that FairPoint will be stronger financially than it would have been under the original deal. The final sale requires Verizon to put $362 million more into the deal and FairPoint must cut its dividends by at least $200 million in order to reduce its debt.
Says CWA President Larry Cohen:
Efforts by union members, concerned elected officials, community and consumer groups, and thousands of residents and activists in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine resulted in changes to the original deal that will help bring about quality service and support for northern New England customers.
The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) acknowledged workers’ contribution to the debate in its Feb. 25 decision:
Although they did not endorse the settlement agreement, in our judgment the Labor Intervenors’ participation was key to the improved outcome.
Once the sale was approved, the unions began negotiating with FairPoint. The new IBEW/CWA contracts contain few changes from the previous contracts with Verizon, says Glenn Brackett, business manager for IBEW Local 2320 in New Hampshire. He said the agreement effectively extends the contracts five years and provides 3 percent raises for all workers each year until 2013.
Brackett told the Concord (N.H.) Monitor:
We’re happy with our contract. Again, we’re still concerned about the financial viability of FairPoint, but we’re going to do everything we can to make them a successful company.
The current contracts between the unions and Verizon were set to expire in August, but FairPoint asked to start negotiations early once the sale was approved by regulators in the three states. The new contracts, which still must be approved by the union members, would take effect April 1.
One of the key issues in the negotiations was retiree health care benefits. While Verizon had agreed to continue paying for benefits for retired workers, FairPoint would not guarantee to fund the benefits for future retirees. But the New Hampshire PUC ordered FairPoint to set up a trust fund to pay for the benefits, a provision that was incorporated into the contracts.
CWA Vice President Chris Shelton said he also was pleased with its agreement. In a statement, he said:
We know that the members that we represent are the best in the world at what they do. With their experience and expertise and FairPoint’s commitment to improving service to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the future looks bright for telecommunications in northern New England.
Tags: Verizon , Larry Cohen , Electrical Workers , Communications Workers Of , CWA , IBEW , FairPoint , Union , Unions , Labor
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License.