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Verizon And Strikers Reach Tentative Agreement


Though this is the start of a long weekend for many Americans, we're going to begin the program today with stories about work. In a minute, we're going to turn to France, where labor strikes are sparking unrest and sometimes violence. But first, we want to take a look at a high-profile labor dispute here in the U.S., which is nearing resolution. For almost two months now, nearly 40,000 Verizon workers have been on strike.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho. Corporate greed has got to go.

MARTIN: Up and down the East Coast, workers marched and picketed in front of Verizon stores. It's been the biggest strike in the U.S. in five years. But on Friday, the U.S. Labor Department announced the two sides had reached a tentative agreement.

Joining us now is Aaron Pressman, a writer for Fortune who has been covering the strike. Aaron, thanks for joining us.

AARON PRESSMAN: My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about the agreement, or the tentative agreement?

PRESSMAN: Well, we'll have more details soon because all the workers need to vote on the agreement, and that's going to be the next big hurdle. But so far, we have heard a lot of positive reaction from the union side. They are including some workers in Verizon's wireless division in the wireless stores, only a small number, but it's a start for the first time. And that's a big step for the union. And also, they seem to have gotten a guarantee to keep more call center jobs in the United States, which had been moving overseas.

MARTIN: Were there one or two issues that actually precipitated a strike, which are pretty rare in the U.S. these days?

PRESSMAN: That's right. This is the biggest strike in five years. And five years ago, the biggest strike was the same Verizon workers going out. And I think one of the lessons they learned over the last five years was that getting better wages and maybe even, you know, better benefits wouldn't necessarily help them if the company was moving call-center jobs to the Philippines and Mexico, using greater numbers of nonunion contractors and those sorts of things. So in this walk-out, I think the real issue was about job security.

MARTIN: Now, as I said, the U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez got involved. Could you talk a little bit about what are the circumstances that call for a labor secretary to get involved?

PRESSMAN: Well, obviously this was a very high-profile strike and very large, but also I think it had started to escalate in ways that were concerning. Verizon was going to court and complaining about dangerous kinds of harassment that they saw some of the replacement workers were experiencing.

And then there was the issue where some Verizon workers went to the Philippines to try and meet with some call-center workers there to see if they had some common ground, and the security forces for the Verizon headquarters chased them down with guns and had the police try and arrest them. It was quite a crazy scene, and I think that that's the kind of thing that probably prompted the secretary to get involved.

MARTIN: Even though the strike got the attention of the Department of Labor, and you followed it very closely, do you think that this was a major story? I mean, I noted that the settlement was covered in major newspapers, but on the business page, not on the front pages of either The Post or The Times.

PRESSMAN: Yeah, I've also been surprised. You know, Allison Beck was the federal mediator in this case, and two years ago she helped avert a strike at the New York Metropolitan Opera company, and I feel like that strike, which involved a few hundred people, got more coverage in, you know, sort of major East Coast newspapers than this strike did.

Part of the problem - and maybe what we're seeing in some of the presidential campaigns and among their supporters - is that certain kinds of issues are not just resonating with the people who decide what's news, and that leaves a lot of people feeling like, you know, where's my voice, where's my story in the news?

MARTIN: Aaron Pressman is a writer for Fortune, and he's been covering this Verizon labor dispute. Aaron, thanks so much for speaking with us.

PRESSMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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