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Union Deal Ends at Verizon Wireless

August 19, 2004|From Bloomberg News

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile-phone operator, said Wednesday that a four-year agreement that would have made it easier for workers to join unions had expired.

The company had agreed not to bar workers from signing cards indicating they would join unions. The accord also called for Verizon to recognize a union in each eligible unit where 55% of employees signed cards, making a secret-ballot vote by workers unnecessary.

The company also had agreed not to criticize the unions.

Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace said the unions had failed to sign up any workers and ended talks about renewing the deal after rejecting a company proposal.

The expiration is a disappointment to unions trying to organize a largely nonunion industry, labor lawyer Sandy Oxfeld said. Only one of the top four U.S. wireless companies, Cingular Wireless, has a union. Verizon Wireless was targeted by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"It's easier to organize in an area that is traditionally unionized than to go into a whole new area," said Oxfeld, who is with Newark, N.J., law firm Oxfeld Cohen.

Unionizing probably would raise the Bedminster, N.J.-based company's costs because employees would have more power to obtain raises, said Rick Black, a telecommunications analyst at investment bank Blaylock & Partners.

Shares of Verizon Communications Inc., which owns 55% of Verizon Wireless, rose 21 cents to $39.13 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has risen 12% this year. The wireless company is also owned by Vodafone Group.

The unions will now have to contact employees without the company's cooperation, said Myles Calvey, a spokesman for the IBEW.

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