This is not a battle for public opinion.
That was the message from the U.S. Department of Labor Tuesday as Verizon and representatives of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) met in Washington Tuesday.
According to the Department of Labor, both Verizon and the unions have agreed to “make no public statements” as they work to hash out the terms of a new contract that will end the more than month-long strike of nearly 40,000 workers. Similarly, the Department of Labor said there will be no public comments from the federal officials involved in the negotiations as talks continue through this week.
The gag agreement comes on the heels of Labor Secretary Tom Perez’s intervention in the proceedings last week, and appears to be an attempt to stem the fierce public relations battle between the two that has been raging since the strike began in April.
Up to this point, Verizon and the unions have taken turns trading barbs as negotiations have progressed.
At the start of the strike, the CWA accused Verizon of failing to meet pledges to expand FiOS broadband and destroying middle-class jobs by shipping jobs abroad. The union also accused the company of corporate greed. Verizon, however, said it has worked “diligently” to come to a fair agreement and placed the blame for failed negotiations at the feet of union leaders who “have their own agenda rooted in the past.”
And things haven’t improved with time. Verizon at the end of April issued an ultimatum when it presented its “best and final” offer to union officials. Strike leaders quickly condemned the offer and called on the Verizon to “start bargaining in good faith.”
The stalemate appeared to hold until Perez stepped in to help the pair resume talks.
The Labor Department said both Perez and federal mediator Allison Beck will oversee the ongoing negotiations. Perez commended both Verizon and union leaders for their “continued commitment to remain at the bargaining table and work toward a resolution.”
A resolution to the strike – which began April 13 after 10 months of failed contract negotiations – will likely come as a relief to all parties involved.
Verizon said it has had to deploy “thousands” of contractors and employees on special assignment to cover the gaps left by striking workers. The carrier has also turned to automation to help ease pressure on overburdened call centers.
CWA workers, who have gone without a paycheck since the strike began and lost access to benefits at the end of April, have been forced to lean on the union’s $440 million strike fund to help make ends meet. Between the third and eighth weeks of the strike, CWA representatives said workers will receive $300 per week from the member-funded reserve. After the eighth week of the strike, that amount will rise to $400 per week with no cut off date.