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Verizon, Unions Agree to Federal Mediation in Contract Dispute

By Thomas Gryta Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and two labor unions have agreed to federal mediation as they attempt to reach a contract covering about 45,000 wireline workers at the telecom heavyweight. The move comes after almost a year of unsuccessful talks and volatile public statements from the parties. Last week, Verizon rejected the union's request to take the talks to mediation and instead insisted that the issues could be solved at the bargaining table. The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represent workers in Verizon's wireline division from New England to Virginia. Under the agreement, the future negotiations will be conducted under the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent government agency. The talks will occur under Agency Director George Cohen and Director of Mediation Services John Pinto, beginning on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The company, the unions and agency have all agreed to not make public comments on the schedule or status of talks "until further notice," according to an FMCS statement. A Verizon spokesman declined to comment, citing that agreement. A CWA spokeswoman also declined to comment. The workers involved have been working under their previous contract since last August, when the company's pursuit of benefit cuts led to a 15-day strike. The company is seeking concessions on pensions, health care and job security. It has said such moves are needed to offset declining sales in its traditional wireline business. In general, the telecom carriers have seen their wireline businesses deteriorate as consumers depend more heavily on mobile devices and switch off their traditional land-based home phones. AT&T (T) is also in the midst of contract negotiations with more than 40,000 wireline workers. -Write to Thomas Gryta at thomas.gryta@dowjones.com Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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