Verizon Workers Strike, Talks Go On

Monday, August 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Verizon Communications entered the busy workweek Monday with thousands of operators and technicians still on strike in a dozen Eastern states. Consumers faced delays in reaching directory operators and getting phone repairs.

Negotiators for the telecommunications giant and two unions representing 87,200 workers tried to sort through thorny contract issues involving working conditions and union representation for employees in the fast-growing wireless field.

They talked until 1 a.m. Monday and returned to the table at about 8 a.m.

The contract expired at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, affecting operations in states from Maine to Virginia and in the District of Columbia. The weekend deadline gave company officials some time to prepare themselves for the normal business week, when the volume of calls typically increases.

Some of Verizon's 30,000 management employees already were on the job Sunday. In Philadelphia and elsewhere, picket lines blocked managers from getting inside the company's buildings, but a Pennsylvania judge issued an injunction limiting to four the number of pickets permitted in front of facilities in the state.

In New York City, police reported five incidents of vandalism against Verizon facilities, although they could not say whether the acts were connected with the strike. More than 2,500 customers in the Bronx and about 600 in Manhattan lost service.

In Maryland, workers were urged to rally Monday outside a Silver Spring complex to slow the 1,000 managers from getting to the site.

``We know how big a work force they (management) have, and we plan on making every single one of them late,'' said Bob Campbell, president of the local CWA unit.

Some consumers calling for directory assistance reached a recording saying that no operator was immediately available due to the work stoppage. The company also warned to expect delays in repairs and installations and suggested consumers hold off on getting new lines or billing inquiries.

The parties said Monday that they had moved forward on many points, but were still hammering out details.

``I think in some areas we are pretty close,'' said Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe.

Job security, transfers and overtime for operators and customer service representatives are among issues on the table.

``We're are at the point of nearly round-the-clock bargaining,'' said Candace Johnson, spokeswoman for the largest union, Communications Workers of America.

The CWA represents 72,500 Verizon workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 14,700.

Verizon was formed in June by the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE Corp., and unions had feared the company could shift work to areas that are not as heavily unionized or where the pay scale is lower.

Late Sunday, the IBEW's lead negotiator, Myles Calvey, reported progress on this and other working condition issues such as forced overtime and vacations.

IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane Monday said the parties are now bargaining in great detail.

``When you get to this situation it's incumbent on you to make sure there is a clear understanding on every issue,'' he said.

Another sensitive issue deals with the unions' desire to have better access to Verizon's burgeoning wireless division. Fewer than 50 of the 32,000 wireless workers are unionized.

Union leaders want assurances the company will let union workers take jobs in the wireless operation and will give the unions more opportunity to organize current wireless workers.

Verizon says that the rapidly changing nature of the field requires it have flexibility in determining compensation for wireless workers. It also says those employees should vote for union representation via secret ballot elections, rather than by simply filling out an authorization card, the method preferred by the unions.

Outside experts say the unions' desire to reach wireless workers is a key part of the labor movement's strategy to revitalize itself.

``Because it's such a visible campaign in an industry that touches the lives of millions of people, any kind of success is bound to spill over to unionizing campaigns in other sectors of the economy,'' said Daniel Cornfield, a sociology professor and labor specialist at Vanderbilt University.

A tight labor market and a growing telecommunications sector also put unions in a better position to negotiate, said Thomas Hyclak, an economics professor at Lehigh University.

``The union is betting that Verizon will make concessions because they don't want to lose business at a time when it's exceptionally good,'' Hyclak said.

Verizon serves customers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.