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Bell Atlantic, Pacific Telesis Report Progress

August 19, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Progress is being reported in strikes against two regional Bell telephone companies, but union officials in New England and Chicago are trying to turn up the financial pressure on companies there.

The Communications Workers of America said Friday that New England Telephone should pay customers the money it wasn’t paying striking workers.

The company said no, it has to pay overtime to managers filling in for strikers and probably was losing revenue to competitors.

Telephone operators at Illinois Bell asked customers to delay paying their telephone bills during the strike. Chicago-based Ameritech, which serves five Midwestern states, said using customers in the week-long walkout was ″irresponsible.″

Some progress was reported in talks local companies held with CWA on Friday, a day after the union reached agreement with Bell Atlantic. Bell of Pennsylvania was to begin talks today with the CWA, whose members have been on strike for two weeks.

On the West Coast, Pacific Telesis of San Francisco also reported substantial progress toward a new contract.

Wages and employee contributions to health-insurance plans have been major issues blocking settlement of the contracts with the four companies’ nearly 200,000 employees in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

The striking workers include operators, telephone installers and repairmen, factory workers and some sales and clerical personnel. All four companies have continued service using management personnel, but there have been delays for installation and operator services.

The Bell Atlantic-CWA agreement resolved regional issues, while leaving local issues to be decided in further talks. Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic also was bargaining separately with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Union officials at Bell Atlantic said 41,000 striking workers won’t return to work until all local issues are resolved and the 11,000 workers represented by the IBEW settle. But both sides said a final accord could be reached within days.

Pacific Telesis spokesman Lou Saviano said CWA and company negotiators made ″very substantial progress,″ but unresolved issues remained.

No new talks have been scheduled in the Ameritech strike.

Five people were arrested Friday outside Ohio Bell headquarters in Columbus after CWA members blocked building entrances. Those arrested were issued summonses and released.

A picketer was arrested at a Michigan Bell facility near Saginaw after strikers blocked a driveway. The 37-year-old woman was charged with obstructing traffic, a misdemeanor, and freed on $100 bond.

In Vermont, where CWA and IBEW workers are striking New England Telephone, a subsidiary of New York-based NYNEX, union officials said the regional company stood to save $3.1 million from 1989 through 1992 if it’s successful in shifting some costs of health insurance to its employees.

″This money will not be translated into lower phone bills for Vermont customers because local rates are frozen,″ said Ken Peres, a CWA economist. ″Instead, the $3.1 million will flow directly as profits to NYNEX’s subsidiary, New England Telephone.″

Richard Fortier, business manager of IBEW Local 2326, said union officials also wanted rebates to Vermont phone customers ″to reflect New England Telephone’s decreased expenses on wages and benefits during the bargaining impasse.″

NYNEX spokesman John Bonomo said: ″We’re not doing this to save money. We’re asking employees to pick up part of the health-care costs because the costs are escalating so much we can’t keep pace ourselves.″

Bonomo said the company was incurring increased expenses in overtime paid to managers filling in for striking workers and probably was losing revenues to competitors.

In Chicago, CWA spokesman Greg Kenefick said the union wanted telephone customers to ″put telephone bills on hold.″

″Our focus now is going to be biting into their income, asking people to put bills on hold,″ Kenefick said, adding that he doesn’t believe there’s much risk of customers losing service if they withhold payment.

Pat Montgomery, spokeswoman for Illinois Bell, called it ″irresponsible to use customers in a management-union dispute.″

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