WASHINGTON (AP) – A tentative agreement was reached Thursday between Verizon Communications and unions representing 78,000 East Coast telephone technicians and operators who have been without contracts for more than a month.

The five-year agreement was being finalized and an official announcement was expected later Thursday night, said sources close to negotiations.

Members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers still must approve any agreement.

The deal comes more than a month after contracts expired for workers from Virginia to Maine, and the unions threatened to strike. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Director Peter Hurtgen joined the talks to successfully avert an Aug. 3 walkout.

Workers will receive raises and keep their job protections, but some increases in health insurance costs will occur.

The agreement follows a tentative deal reached Tuesday between Verizon Wireless and CWA, covering 51 workers in New York.

Talks involving telephone workers have been ongoing since June 16. A strike in 2000 lasted 18 days, causing a backlog of about 250,000 repair requests and new orders for Verizon.

Negotiations centered on the turbulent telecommunications market, with local and long-distance phone companies competing with cable providers for market share in the growing wireless and high-speed internet arenas.

Verizon had sought to cut costs in its eroding local phone business, while workers wanted job security and access to positions being created in other areas of the company, namely wireless and high-speed Internet. Those are separate divisions of the company that aren’t highly unionized.

AP-ES-09-04-03 2031EDT

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