The CWA and the IBEW are still in negotiations with Verizon as of this afternoon, after passing a strike deadline at midnight last night.

From the CWA:

Shortly before the midnight contract expiration, the unions said members would remain on the job until further notice while the talks are underway. Union leaders determined that enough progress had been made at the bargaining table to continue working toward a contract settlement, however key issues remain unresolved.

From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The issue of job security loomed over contract talks at Verizon as labor unions bargained Sunday past a strike deadline with the largest provider of local and wireless telephone service in the United States.

Telephone operators and technicians from Virginia to Maine reported to work as scheduled, despite the expiration of a three-year contract at midnight Saturday.

Verizon Communications spokesman Eric Rabe said the company’s negotiators want to reach an agreement as soon as possible.

“Making progress and having an agreement are two different things,” Rabe said. “We need to get an agreement. We’re going to stay with it and keep working on it.”

Major questions are how future layoffs will be handled and whether workers laid off can take jobs in other parts of the company.

Verizon’s local phone service business is shrinking, while growth areas are in wireless and high-speed Internet, separate divisions of the company that are not highly unionized.

Job security is the issue that has been “focused on for a good part” of the discussions at the negotiating table, Jim Spellane, spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents 18,000 Verizon workers, said Sunday.

The other key issue at the talks has been health care. Verizon, like other companies facing soaring health costs, wants employees to assume more of the burden.

The importance of job protection was driven home for Verizon workers just three weeks ago when an arbitrator ordered the company to rehire 2,300 people in New York state who had been laid off in December.

After the ruling, a happy union official joked that “my life will be in jeopardy” if he were ever to give away contract language on job security.

The arbitrator’s decision ratcheted up tension at the labor negotiations and undermined the company’s cost-cutting efforts.

Verizon had argued that the layoffs were justified because of a weak economy and tougher competition from rival companies and new technologies. The arbitrator said that those trends did not justify the layoffs.

The bulk of the 78,000 union employees seeking a new contract are with the Communications Workers of America, whose vice president called the recent decision giving back the New York workers their jobs “the greatest victory in my lifetime” for phone company employees.

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

If the unions strike, some local telephone service for Verizon customers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region could be affected. The company has insisted that customers making regular long-distance and local calls should not have trouble.

The company says disruptions of phone service should be avoided with about 30,000 managers and outside contract workers prepared to take over.

But delays or disruptions could occur for repairs and new installations of phone and Internet service, and for calls to customer service centers.

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

Meanwhile, Verizon is taking the gloves off, as LaborNotes reports:

While Verizon has reportedly maintained a “poker face” when presented with union demands, they are preparing an all-out public relations blitz.

In a company memorandum describing Verizon’s strategy, PR strategist Jerry Manheim suggests that Verizon compose a narrative for public consumption that “establishes the moral high ground and the company’s claim to it.” The point is to shape “the ‘reality’ to which journalists, political leaders and the union itself must respond.”

Verizon’s sample narrative reads in part:

“There was a time not long ago-in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks-when CWA members were genuine heroes, and when Verizon was proud to support their endeavors. But the spirit of cooperation born of that tragic time has dissipated…because of the failure of leadership within the CWA.”

This is not the only way Verizon plans to make use of the September 11 attacks. Looking back to the 2000 strike, when rank-and-file workers used militant tactics such as cutting telephone wires and cables to wreak havoc with the company, Verizon is preparing to “educate police/public about the effect of sabotage on…terrorism [and the] critical infrastructure of [the] nation.”

In the event of a strike, Verizon also plans to “greatly enhance security force and efforts,” pushing for “aggressive policing at picket sites.”

On another front of the PR war, Verizon has been training its lower-level managers in the art of spin. Kramer reports that at one New Jersey call center, “[Verizon] had all the managers come in and gave them a three-hour course on how to justify management’s pay to the employees.”

Kramer believes that the educational work unions are doing may be an effective counter to Verizon’s spin. “The members understand how wealthy the company is,” says Kramer. “Last year Verizon made $4.9 billion in profits…they’re making the lion’s share and keeping it for themselves.”

Jacob Remes has some very solid coverage and extensive links on the issue. As he says:

I’ll just continue my drumbeat that Democratic presidential candidates really need to show their support this weekend in order to be taken seriously by organized labor, particularly in New Hampshire. Yesterday, John Edwards was featured in the CWA strike bulletin for supporting Verizon workers already on strike in North Carolina, and the homepage of CWA local 1400 has pictures up of Gephardt’s visit. And at yesterday’s rally in Boston, the president of the IBEW local read a letter from John Kerry introducing it as from the next president, although frankly the fact that he couldn’t manage to show up (unlike three congressmen) doesn’t speak well for him in my book.

…really this strike is about health care for everyone in the country. The slogan they’re using is “Health care for all, not health cuts at Verizon,” and the emphasis is on preventing backsliding on health insurance premiums for those already covered. Ed Hill, IBEW’s international president, explained in his speech last night: “If we had a government that really cared enough about the issue, they would get off their backside and do something about the health care crisis in this country, instead of leaving it to labor and management to fight it out at every contract negotiation. If Verizon is serious about health insurance, we’ll stand with them to fight for decent health benefits for all. But I don’t see their corporate leaders or any other corporate leaders leading the charge on Capitol Hill on that issue.” The aim is to force companies to go with their unions to government and say “health care is too expensive, we need a governmental solution.” But this will only happen if companies are prevented from shifting health care costs to their employees.

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