Verizon Says Striking Employees to Return to Work This Week

Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) said 45,000 striking workers in the northeast U.S. will begin returning to the job tomorrow night, while the two sides keep negotiating what the company called “major issues.”

Benefits, work flexibility and job security are among the matters that still need to be negotiated, Verizon said in a statement yesterday. Contracts that expired on Aug. 6 will remain in effect for an undefined period, Verizon said.

Facing a decline in its traditional landline phone business, Verizon has been seeking work-rule changes and employee contributions to health-insurance premiums. Workers have said they shouldn’t have to make substantial concessions as earnings rise and executive pay remains healthy.

“This is going to take time, that’s why there was no set deadline,” said Peter Thonis, a spokesman for Verizon, in a telephone interview. “We will be meeting again very soon. There is a set schedule for this.”

He didn’t know when the company and unions would meet again.

Jim Spellane, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said in an interview that the agreement “lowers the temperature and helps create an atmosphere for serious bargaining.”

Walkout

Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America, said the talks will resume this week.

New York-based Verizon said yesterday the two sides have made progress on some local and regional issues, without elaborating. The talks began in July.

The resolution will end a walkout begun Aug. 7 by employees from Verizon’s landline business in nine Northeastern states and the District of Columbia. The labor action was the largest since 73,000 General Motors Co. workers went on strike for two days in 2007, said Jeffrey Keefe, professor of labor and employment relations at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The employees are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In an Aug. 7 statement, Verizon Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam said the company needed concessions from unions because of the division’s customer losses and eroding profitability. He also cited competition from cable-TV providers that don’t have similar “contract constraints, enabling them to be more nimble and flexible meeting customer needs.”

Growth in Wireless

Verizon’s competitors also include AT&T Inc. (T), the biggest U.S. phone carrier and second-largest wireless operator. AT&T has proposed acquiring Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile USA, allowing it to surpass Verizon Wireless as the No. 1 U.S. mobile carrier.

Verizon’s revenue and profit fell last year as declines in the landline business offset growth in wireless. The number of fixed lines, including residential and business customers, slid 8.2 percent to 26 million at the end of last year, extending declines since 2003. During the same period, wireless subscribers more than doubled to 94.1 million.

The company’s wireless business has been largely unaffected by the strike.

Verizon shares fell 36 cents to $34.71 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading on Aug. 19. The stock has declined less than 1 percent since the work stoppage began.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Hart in Washington at dahart@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sylvia Wier at swier@bloomberg.net

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