*Verizon's Call Center Workers Gain Concessions

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Verizon workers in New York and New England went back to work yesterday with some new concessions from the company after a two-week strike.


The 51,000 workers, represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, had been seeking a range of new benefits in their contracts, including several related to the call center working environment.


About 36,000 employees in several Mid-Atlantic states remained on strike as the company continued to negotiate with the CWA on a separate contract covering those employees.


Although the unions represent a wide range of workers at the phone company, which was formed earlier this year through the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE, many of the CWA's concerns were related to the call center working environment. About one-fourth of the striking workers were call center agents and operators.


Under terms of the new contract, customer service agents will receive a 4 percent increase in pay, effective immediately, in addition to the 12.5 percent pay increase that other union members will receive during the next three years.


"This will help the company retain skilled, motivated customer service representatives, which in turn should reduce turnover in the company's call centers, stress and the need for overtime," Verizon said in a statement.


Employees also will receive stock options in the publicly traded company.


Verizon agreed to limit the amount of mandatory overtime that employees would be required to work and also implemented some measures to reduce stress in its call centers. According to reports, call center employees will be able to do work other than answer calls for up to five, 30-minute periods each week. Telephone agents had complained that they were unable to complete some of their tasks, such as filling out order forms, because they only had two seconds in between calls.


The company also formed a "stress relief committee" to address the issue of stress in the call centers and to seek additional changes in the workplace.


The company also agreed to limit the transfer of union jobs to other call centers to 0.7 percent of union jobs in a given geographic area per year for the next three years. The CWA was concerned that Verizon might try to transfer some jobs to call centers in other parts of the country where labor is cheaper.


In addition, the contract also will allow Verizon to offer performance-based incentives to groups of call center workers. The company will reward employees with bonuses
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