Little Movement in Telephone Talks


Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — Mandatory overtime and the ability of workers to transfer jobs are taking center stage as the protracted labor dispute between Verizon Communications and thousands of phone workers wears on.

The unions say the latest management proposal fails to address their concerns about the amount of overtime employees work.

Currently, the company can require employees to work 10 extra hours a week during seven months of the year, and 15 extra hours a week during five months of the year.

Union officials say that provision was intended to give the company flexibility during emergencies or periods of heavy traffic, not to allow Verizon to demand that employees work to these limits each week. They seek to scale back the provision.

``Two hours every day is just a little bit too much for a working mother,'' said Verizon worker Lisa Charles of Newark, N.J., who says she typically works 10 hours of mandatory overtime a week. ``You're exhausted.''

The company says the mandatory overtime is part of its multipronged strategy to meet customer demand in a tight labor market while minimizing employee stress.

Other components of this approach include limiting the monthly transfers of customer service representatives, particularly in call centers with heavy volumes, and being able to distribute work such as incoming calls to centers throughout the company's region, Verizon officials say.

``We believe we have fairly addressed the issues,'' said Eric Rabe of Verizon, the nation's largest local and wireless telephone company formed from the summer merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE.

But these interconnected management techniques have prompted other concerns by the unions. CWA leaders say a company proposal that would limit to 1.5 percent the number of workers that can transfer each month would trap workers in high-pressure jobs. The unions also fear that the company will reassign work to areas in their merged territory where labor is cheaper.

Some unions leaders suggested that the company, now facing a strike that has dragged on 10 days, may have underestimated the importance of concerns raised by employees.

``I think the company misjudged the solidarity of the workers, and I think they misjudged the seriousness of the issues that the workers were trying to emphasize during negotiations,'' AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in an interview in Los Angeles.

The strike of 87,000 employees for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and CWA affects Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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On the Net: Verizon Communications: http://www.verizon.com

Communications Workers of America: http://www.cwa-union.org

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: http://www.ibew.org