Verizon workers walk the picket line outside the Telephone Building at 320 St Paul Street. They have been working without a contract since August.
Verizon workers walk the picket line outside the Telephone Building at 320 St Paul Street. They have been working without a contract since August. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

NEW YORK — Striking Verizon employees may be back to work next week after the company and its unions reached an agreement in principle for a four-year contract.

About 39,000 landline and cable employees in nine Eastern states and Washington, D.C., have been on strike since mid-April, one of the U.S. largest strikes in recent years. In Maryland, 3,500 to 4,000 workers were on strike, a union official said.

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Verizon trained other workers to step in, but there were still delays in installations for Fios customers.

"Sometime early next week, we'll be back to work and get this mess cleaned up and be back to normal," said Ed Mooney, international vice president for the Communications Workers of America in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington. "We appreciate their patience and support.

"This was a successful resolution to a long strike," Mooney said. "I couldn't be more proud of members for standing up and fighting the fight."

The workers had been without a contract since last August.

New York-based Verizon Communications said that it had high health care costs for its unionized workers, which have shrunk as it sold off large chunks of its wireline unit and focused on its mobile business, which was not unionized. It also wanted the union workers, just over one-fifth of its U.S. workforce, to agree to move around to different regions when needed, which the union opposed.

The union and Verizon are not providing details of the contract, so it's not clear yet what the agreement entails for workers. As the number of organized workers shrinks, union fights in recent years have tended to be defensive, aimed at holding the line for their members rather than winning new benefits, said Jake Rosenfeld, sociology professor at Washington University, in an interview before the agreement was announced.

Verizon released a statement saying it's pleased with the agreement, which has "meaningful changes and enhancements" that will make its wireline business more competitive.

Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers union, said in a statement that the agreement is a "victory for working families" and that there will be new union jobs at Verizon.

"The addition of new, middle-class jobs at Verizon is a huge win not just for striking workers, but for our communities and our country as a whole," Shelton said in the statement.

Mooney said he expects about 1,300 additional call center jobs across the Northeast and about 100 additional technicians in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.

Members "have a new four-year contract that protects their middle class standard of living," Mooney said.

Opt trim grafThe deal does include a first contract for Verizon wireless employees, according to the CWA. It applies to about 165 workers in six wireless stores in Brooklyn, New York, and one store in Massachusetts.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said Friday that the agreement is being written and will be submitted for approval by union members, and he expects workers back on the job next week.

Verizon and the unions have been negotiating at the Department of Labor for the past 13 days, Perez said.

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Baltimore Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this story.

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