Verizon Labor Talks Enter 3rd Day

Tuesday, August 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Striking telephone workers in 12 states and the District of Columbia went into their third day without a contract Tuesday after talks between Verizon Communications and two unions snagged over job-security issues.

Negotiators wrapped up Monday's formal talks around 8 p.m. Both sides said they were committed to returning to the bargaining table Tuesday.

The strike by 87,200 company employees affects operations for 25 million customers from Maine to Virginia.

Late Monday afternoon, the Communications Workers of America, the larger of the two unions in negotiations, said several job-security issues had slowed the overall progress of contract talks. Chief among the barriers was the question of transfer of work to other areas served by Verizon's coast-to-coast service area.

``That's a big issue, to protect the people that we have now, and for growth of membership,'' said Jack Marshall, an IBEW official from Worcester, Mass. ``We want jobs for our kids, basically.''

The company, formed in June by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE Corp., says it needs flexibility to distribute calls depending on the level of traffic. But unions fear Verizon could move work to areas that are cheaper or have less of a union presence, or could force employees to relocate.

Another issue bogging down talks deals with a subsidiary of Verizon that handles wiring within homes, CWA officials said. That division split off from the main business several years ago so that it could have a separate wage scale and compete more effectively with rivals.

The unions argue that some of the work done by this subsidiary in five states and the District of Columbia should be handled by union workers.

Other issues still unresolved include organizing rights for wireless workers, forced overtime and workplace stress.

Another sensitive issue at the bargaining table is the unions' ability to organize in Verizon's burgeoning wireless division, where fewer than 50 of the 32,000 workers are union members.

Union leaders say they want to ensure that their members have access to jobs in the wireless division, and are pushing for a system in which employees could vote for representation by filling out an authorization card, a process labor leaders call less cumbersome than secret balloting.

Verizon says ballot elections would protect workers' rights better.

On Monday, Verizon officials bristled at the idea that union members don't already have access to high-tech jobs. Spokesman Eric Rabe said the company has experienced tremendous growth in its unionized data business, which provides high-speed Internet service.

``The objective is for us to add high-tech new economy jobs there,'' said Rabe, the company spokesman.

The strike affects the District and 12 states: Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

According to the company, 14,000 employees picketed in front of Verizon facilities Monday.

Those included about 350 in Providence, R.I., many of whom carried signs reading ``Stop Corporate Greed'' and ``Jobs with Justice.''

``There doesn't seem to be any loyalty to workers,'' said John Lang, 52, of Johnston, R.I., a technician for 32 years. ``All we want is a few crumbs from the table and don't give our jobs away.''

In Boston, 200 strikers shouted ``Scab!'' as workers who crossed the lines entered and exited Verizon's offices. Some had police escorts.

Workers in several cities wore black T-shirts with a cobra rising from the union symbol and the slogan ``Will strike if provoked.''

In New York City, police on Monday reported 56 incidents of violence or harassment and 40 acts of vandalism against phone company installations since Sunday, when the strike began.

In the workers' absence, about 30,000 Verizon managers filled in, pledging to work seven-day weeks of 12-hour shifts.