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July 19, 2012
By Josh Long
Exasperated by a lack of progress in negotiations with Verizon Communications, Inc. over contracts governing 45,000 workers, two unions on Thursday asked a federal agency to step in between the parties and mediate the thorny issues.
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services has been asked to assist in the bargaining process between Verizon and the unions known as the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
But Verizon must be willing to bring in a federal mediator.
“Both parties must agree to mediation,” John Arnold, a spokesman for the FMCS, said in a phone interview.
Richard Young, a Verizon spokesman, said the company had no comment when he was asked about the request for mediation. A representative of the CWA said she did not know whether Verizon opposes mediation.
“I don’t know what Verizon is thinking but I know it would be best for workers and the company if we worked with a federal to resolve these negotiations,” CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson told us.
Verizon workers last summer went on strike when talks to reach new agreements hit an impasse, and though the two sides have been in negotiations for more than a year, they have been unable to reach an accord. The 45,000 workers are spread out from New England to Virginia.
The two sides have been unable to reach a consensus over such divisive issues as job security and employment benefits.
Mediation could help.
A federal mediator seeks to assist two sides in reaching an agreement in contract negotiations, but unlike a federal judge or arbitrator, mediation is not a binding process. Under the Labor-Management Act of 1947, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services provides free mediation services in contract disputes between employees and the employees who are represented by a union, according to the FMCS’ website.
“The goal of mediation is to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement,” Arnold said. “We’re there to assist the parties.”
The FMCS has a pretty good track record.
“We help the parties reach a settlement in about 85 percent of the cases that we mediate,” Arnold said.
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