NEW YORK (AP) - Thousands of striking Verizon workers will return to work Tuesday, though their contract dispute isn't over yet.
The 45,000 employees, who have been on strike since Aug. 7, agreed to return to work while they negotiate with Verizon Communications Inc. on the terms of a new contract. The workers are employed in nine states from Massachusetts to Virginia in the landline division.
Among the issues in dispute is the company's move to freeze pensions and its demand that workers contribute to their health insurance premiums. The company argues that it has to reduce benefits as the landline business deteriorates. More Americans are forgoing such lines in favor of mobile phones.
The employees' unions say the company is profitable and can afford to maintain the benefits.
For now, the two sides say they have narrowed their disagreements and have agreed on a structure for the negotiations. The workers will return to work under the terms of a contract that expired Aug. 6.
"The major issues remain to be discussed, but overall, issues now are focused and narrowed," the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said in a statement.
Marc Reed, Verizon's executive vice president of human resources, credited the company's managers with "ably meeting the needs of our customers" during the 14-day strike. This enabled the company to "withstand the strike without significant disruption to customer service," he said.
The company said it will "quickly address any backlog in repairs and unfulfilled requests for service."