Union threatens to leave talks

Strike at nation's largest local phone company enters day 11

Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2000

WASHINGTON -- One of two unions on strike against Verizon Communications said it will quit negotiations at midnight Thursday if there is no agreement to replace a contract that expired Aug. 6.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing 14,700 employees in New England and upstate New York, is dissatisfied with the pace of the progress in the talks.

''We want an agreement by (Thursday) night,'' IBEW spokesperson Jim Spellane said Wednesday, the strike's 11th day. ''These negotiations are dragging on and even issues that are reported as settled details are not working out to our liking.''

A spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, which represents more than 72,000 striking workers, said he knew of no similar official decision by his union. Jeff Miller did acknowledge that ''people are growing frustrated at what they consider to be the slow response by the company.''

Spellane said the IBEW will stay at the bargaining table if an agreement was very close Thursday night.

''If our team goes home, they would come back when they feel there is something substantial to talk about,'' Spellane said.

Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said Wednesday he had not received formal notice about the union's plans.

''We'd love to have it finished by midnight (Thursday) night,'' he said, calling word of the IBEW announcement ''disappointing.''

''We need to work until we get it done,'' Rabe said.

IBEW officials said even issues reportedly resolved are not necessarily to the union's liking of the union. Spellane cited a tentative agreement on the ability of the unions to organize workers in the company's wireless division.

That issue was reported settled last week, with the company agreeing to let workers sign a card to indicate their desire to organize. But details remain unresolved, Spellane said.

A second issue is the movement of work from Bell Atlantic territory to GTE's region. The two companies together formed Verizon in June.

''We don't feel we have adequate assurances that they won't try to take jobs away from our people,'' Spellane said.

Bruce Gordon, president of retail markets for Verizon, said earlier Wednesday that he considered an agreement near for part of Verizon's unionized work force at some of the call centers. Rabe would not say which workers Gordon referred to.

The CWA says workers fear that Verizon executives will be rewarded as the company expands nationally, while rank-and-file employees will be forced to move or take lower-paying jobs to stay at their current locations.

CWA and the IBEW also wish to scale back a provision for mandatory overtime, which can amount to up to 15 extra hours a week.

Rabe said Verizon is working to complete about 90,000 pending repairs using managers and retired workers filling in for the strikers.

The strike affects directory assistance, service and repairs in 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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