WASHINGTON (AP) – Officials at Verizon Communications and the two unions representing Northeast workers met again Wednesday with government mediators trying to broker an agreement before Sunday’s strike deadline.

Local and long-distance telephone service in 13 Eastern and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia could be affected if agreements are not reached at 12:01 a.m. EDT Sunday.

The current contracts, reached after an 18-day strike by workers in 2000, expire on Saturday.

The nearly 80,000 workers – including repair and installation technicians and operators – are represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

In Maine, nearly 1,300 of Verizon’s union workers could walk off their jobs if no agreement is reached by the weekend deadline.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offered to intervene in talks, which have been ongoing since June 16. Both sides agreed to the voluntary service, and met for the first time Tuesday.

“Our intention is to work as hard as we can to get a contract,” said Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe.

Verizon Maine spokesman Peter Reilly said, “We believe we’re going to get a contract before the strike because no one benefits from a strike. But we are doing whatever is necessary to continue good customer service.”

At the center of negotiations is a turbulent telecommunications market, with struggling local and long-distance phone companies competing with cable providers for market share in the growing wireless and high-speed internet arenas.

Verizon wants to cut costs in its eroding core local phone business. Workers want “access to the new jobs being created in the company,” said Candice Johnson, CWA spokeswoman. Those areas are in Verizon’s wireless and Internet service divisions, and forays into fiberoptics.

The New York-based company views nonunion Verizon Wireless, of which it owns 55 percent, as a separate entity. The unions do not.

“For our members, jobs and job security remain the big issue,” Johnson said of negotiations.


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