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Verizon workers soon to be back on duty

Verizon Communications says striking workers will be back on the job August 22, temporarily working under the terms of their old contract while a new one is hammered out.

Verizon Communications said today its workers are heading back to work August 22 without a contract, signaling some progress on a new contract.

The New York telecommunications provider said the company and the two unions representing the workers--the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers--have made headway in their talks over a new contract.

The workers, who are based in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, are returning after striking for nearly two weeks. The strike was a distraction for the company, which had to fill the empty positions with replacement workers, retirees, and managers.

The workers returning will have no new contract. They will be temporarily working under the terms of the old contract.

"We agreed to end the strike because we believe that is in the best interest of our customers and our employees," said Marc Reed, head of human relations for Verizon. "We remain committed to our objectives, and we look forward to negotiating the important issues that are integral to the future health of Verizon's wireline business."

The unions said the two sides have agreed on the new structure of the talks, but warned that the sides were still far apart.

Indeed, the unions appeared to have been blindsided by Verizon's official statement on the temporary arrangement.

Not long after that statement was released, the CWA and IBEW sent out an updated response lashing out at Reed's comments.

"We are disappointed to see this quote from Marc Reed, Verizon's executive vice president for human resources, that the company hoped 'to convince the unions to begin bargaining with us in good faith.' It is both inaccurate and insulting," the unions said in a statement.

"We agreed with management not to claim victory in changing the process, re-instituting the contract, or shaping our goals," they said. "We will live by that commitment."

But the unions warned that if Verizon doesn't retract the statement, they would continue to "fight and fight hard," likely complicating the talks.

CNET has not yet heard back from Verizon about the unions' response to Reed's quote.

The strike began August 7, with the unions claiming Verizon was dragging its feet on negotiating.

The strike had turned bitter over the past two weeks, with Verizon taking legal action to curtail its workers' protests. The company claimed that union members prevented replacement workers from entering the building, harassed managers, and engaged in acts of sabotage. It said the company was working with the FBI to investigate the damage done to its telecommunications equipment.

Related links
• Verizon CEO: Hard decisions needed for landline business
• Verizon strike gets nasty
• Verizon may suspend health benefits for strikers
• Verizon workers go on strike

Earlier this week, Verizon said it would soon strip away the striking employees' health benefits and medical coverage.

The union, meanwhile, said Verizon managers were being too aggressive in their driving, and claimed two dozen reports of strikers getting clipped by cars.

Verizon is attempting to change the terms of the contract to better reflect the realities facing the older landline business. Executives have said the changes are necessary given the competitive pressures from cable rivals and wireless providers.

Verizon is seeking changes that would allow it to more easily fire employees, tie pay to performance, and require workers to pay for a share of health benefits.

The workers point to the record profits of the company and have dismissed the need for changes in their contracts. They also argue that they are responsible for the fixed-line infrastructure necessary to run the higher growth wireless business.

Update, 1:51 p.m. PDT adds information on the unions' reaction to Verizon's initial statement on the temporary arrangement.