Verizon, Unions Continue Talks With Federal Mediators

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Federal mediatiators said they're making progress toward resolving the labor dispute between Verizon Communications and two unions as the negotations stretch into their third week, but added that significant issues remain on the table.

The telco agreed to negotations supervised by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in the standoff, which has lasted more than a year, after initially rejecting calls for mediation by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The bargaining under the FMCS started on July 30. The two unions represent approximately 45,000 wireline workers in Verizon's Northeast territory, running from New England to Virginia, who have been working without a contract since Aug. 22, 2011.

"As of this date, the parties have been engaged in intensive negotiations for two weeks under the auspices of myself and director of mediation services John Pinto," FMCS director George Cohen said in a statement late Thursday. "The negotiations continue to be constructive and progress continues to be made, but, again, a number of core issues remain to be resolved."

Verizon said as part of its agreement with the federal mediators, it is not commenting on the status of negotiations.

The CWA and IBEW members went on strike Aug. 6, 2011, when their previous contract with Verizon expired, and returned to work about two weeks later. The unions have complained that Verizon "continues to insist on drastic cuts in benefits and employment security" and accused the telco of stalling in deal negotiations.

The unions previously had claimed that Verizon's demands would cost union members as much as $20,000 per year. Verizon has been seeking a number of concessions from the CWA and IBEW, claiming it needs to lower the cost structure of its wireline operations to stay competitive with cable operators. Those include requiring workers to pay health-care premiums, having more flexible work rules and freezing pensions while paying matching funds to workers' 401(k) plans.

The Washington, D.C.-based Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, created in 1947, is an independent U.S. government agency whose mission is to promote labor-management cooperation.