Verizon Makes Contract Talks Public

August 22, 2003 ( - A letter to a dozen US senators said Verizon Communications Inc. promised not to lay off workers before October 2004 or relocate jobs for five years if its unions accept an increase in health care costs.

According to the letter from Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg, the phone giant, locked in contract talks with two unions representing 78,000 workers and about 60,000 retirees, has asked workers to shoulder “modest increases” in some co-payments and deductibles, and offered not to increase health care insurance premiums, the Washington Post reported.

In the letter, Seidenberg said the company also offered to negotiate future wage increases and job-security issues next October, and make a lump-sum payment when the contract is signed.

“What Seidenberg put out there does not reflect what’s being discussed today,” Jeff Miller, a Communications Workers of America (CWA), spokesman, told the Post. The CWA represents about 60,000 Verizon workers.

Seidenberg’s communication was mailed in response to a letter signed by the 12 Democratic senators that appeared in newspaper advertisements sponsored by the CWA earlier this week. It offers more detail than has been disclosed about proposals that have been on the table since the parties started negotiating a contract in June.

The old contract expired at midnight on August 2, but workers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions have continued on the job nonetheless. Meanwhile, officials from Verizon, CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers continue to meet in Washington with federal negotiators to resolve their differences, particularly over job-security concerns and health care.

The parties met yesterday and are expected to resume talks today.

Bargaining Blackout

In an internal memo circulated to its members quoted by the Post, the CWA accused Seidenberg of circulating the letter to managers in violation of a “blackout” imposed at the federal mediator’s request on all details of bargaining. The union accused management of trying to confuse union members and influence bargaining.

“Some of the ideas that he mentions as part of the company proposal have in fact been discussed in bargaining,” the CWA memo said. “But most of them – for example, the commitment to no health care premium shifting and to no movement of work for five years – never came across the bargaining table as formal proposals.”

Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe confirmed that Seidenberg mailed the letter to the senators’ offices in Washington “to give them better information” but declined to comment on its contents or the status of negotiations. “

In the letter, Seidenberg defended the company’s positions, stating that Verizon pays its employees better than some of its nonunion rivals and more than other highly skilled workers like teachers. “We have been extremely fair in these negotiations,” Seidenberg wrote. “We believe the union is attempting to extract guarantees for employment that are unreasonable for any company in today’s business environment.”