Verizon still in union talks hours before deadline

Verizon Communications Inc was still in negotiations with two major unions over a labor contract covering 65,000 workers, as a Saturday midnight deadline approached for union workers to go on strike, Reuters reported.

One labor representative said the unions were considering late company proposals at about 8:30 p.m. (0030 GMT on Sunday) but gave no details. A union spokeswoman said there was still a lot of work ahead four hours before the contract was set to expire at midnight (0400 GMT).

"We'll keep talking over the next several hours and hope to reach an agreement," said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America said at about 8 p.m. "There's still many issues to resolve."

The majority of CWA's 50,000 members and the 15,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers covered by the contract have voted in favor of a strike authorization.

Areas in dispute involve job security, outsourcing and a potential increase in worker payments for health care coverage as well as a proposal that workers retiring from 2009 onward pay for their own health care and the elimination of retiree health care coverage for new hires, according to the CWA.

Verizon spokesman Alberto Canal said he was optimistic they would reach an agreement.

The expiring contract covers workers in the U.S. Northeast, in states reaching from Virginia to Maine.

Verizon has about 103,000 workers in its telecom unit which covers residential and small business telephone, broadband and video services. Hundreds of Verizon workers picketed company offices several times in the last week ahead of the deadline.

Any large-scale strike would be a blow at a time when Verizon is trying to expand its FiOS high-speed Internet and video service to compete with cable service providers like Time Warner Cable and Cablevision and stem losses in landline subscribers.

Verizon launched its FiOS TV service in New York City on July 28. The network buildout, for which Verizon is spending $22.9 billion from 2004 through 2010, is labor-intensive.

The last time Verizon workers walked out was in 2000 when about 85,000 workers went on strike for about three weeks.

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