Updated: Unions Seek Federal Mediation In Verizon Contract Talks

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The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers on Thursday asked the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to intervene in contract negotiations with Verizon Communications, after more than a year at the bargaining table -- while the telco rejected the call for mediation.

The two unions represent approximately 45,000 workers in Verizon's Northeast territory, running from New England to Virginia. Those employees went on strike Aug. 6, 2011, when the previous contract expired, and returned to work about two weeks later, on Aug. 22. The two sides have been in negotiations since then.

According to the unions, CWA and IBEW members have been unable to come to an agreement for over a year, dating back to June 22, because Verizon management "continues to insist on drastic cuts in benefits and employment security."

"This delay in reaching a fair agreement is not only bad for workers, it's bad for consumers and bad for our communities," Chris Shelton, vice president of CWA District 1, and Myles Calvey, chairman of IBEW System Council 6, said in a statement.

Verizon said that senior vice president of labor relations Lawrence Marcus sent a response Thursday to the CWA's Shelton that said the company "declines your request to proceed to mediation."

"As the negotiations reach a key juncture after 13 months of bargaining, we don't need another 'process' which will inevitably result in further delay -- we need the unions to address the full range of issues on the table instead of engaging in delaying tactics to avoid making the tough decisions," Marcus wrote, according to Verizon.

The unions pointed out that Verizon has generated more than $16.3 billion in profits over the past four years and that its board of directors approved a 200% increase in compensation for CEO Lowell McAdam to $23.1 million per year.

On a call Thursday with investors discussing Verizon's second-quarter earnings, chief financial officer Fran Shammo said, "When we entered into these negotiations, we knew that this was going to be extremely difficult and very hard negotiations, and it was going to be a long haul not a short haul."

Verizon is not "asking for things that have not already been given to other companies," Shammo said. "These are not new issues for the union. Many of our peer companies are already there." Verizon had 88,600 wireline employees as of the end of June, down from 93,200 a year earlier.

The unions previously had claimed that Verizon's demands would cost union members as much as $20,000 per year. Verizon was seeking a number of concessions from the CWA and IBEW, including requiring workers to pay health-care premiums, having more flexible work rules and freezing pensions while paying matching funds to workers' 401(k) plans.

Ed Mooney, vice president of CWA Districts 2-13, and Bill Huber, president of IBEW Local 827, said in a statement that "for the past year, we have been flexible and shown a willingness to negotiate, including [on] significant proposals on health care and other key issues for management, but management continues to insist on proposals that would reduce jobs and cut our benefits by thousands of additional dollars per year, and fail to return thousands of jobs that the company has off-shored."

Verizon's Marcus characterized the unions' request for federal mediation as a stalling tactic. He said that two months ago the company proposed "continuing job security protection for the 38,000 associates who are presently covered provided that the company received some relief relating to movement of work and people."