Verizon, unions nearing agreement for East Coast workers

Monday, August 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Verizon Communications and its unions are nearing an agreement as 78,000 East Coast telephone operators and technicians begin a fourth week on the job without contracts.

Negotiators had made significant progress at the bargaining table over the past several days _ enough that the end appeared within reach.

Candice Johnson, spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America, said talks Sunday centered on ``a few remaining issues,'' but she declined to be specific. Negotiations were to resume Monday.

Both sides ``certainly have been bargaining intensely over the past several days and moving forward to resolve a a lot of the outstanding issues,'' Johnson said.

Verizon spokesman Daniel Diaz Zapata said only that ``the process continues and I have no new developments.''

Johnson cautioned that negotiators may need more time to strike a deal. The union also was preparing to open its annual convention Monday in Chicago.

Still, the tone was a stark turnaround from last week, when both sides sparred publicly over efforts to gain a public relations advantage.

The CWA sued Verizon and two executives after they listened in to the union's conference call with reporters about plans to urge the public to switch carriers.

Verizon had complained that a union official violated a previously negotiated cease-fire by using the slogan ``Can you hear me now?'' in the conference call.

The CWA, along with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, has been negotiating with Verizon since June. Government mediators joined the talks to successfully avert a strike planned for Aug. 3 that could have affected service from Virginia to Maine.

A strike in 2000 lasted 18 days, causing a backlog of about 250,000 repair requests and new orders.

Verizon's local phone service business is shrinking. Growth areas are in wireless and high-speed Internet, separate divisions of the company that aren't highly unionized.

At issue is how future layoffs will be handled and whether those workers can take jobs in other parts of the company.

Verizon cut 18,000 jobs in 2002, primarily through attrition and voluntary buyouts.