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Phone Strike Spreads to Midwest; Two Western ‘Baby Bells’ Settle

August 14, 1989

Undated (AP) _ More than 190,000 telephone employees were on strike nationwide today after workers in five Midwestern states joined the walkout. But two other regional telephone companies reached settlements to keep 83,000 workers on the job.

About 35,000 members of the Communications Workers of America went on strike Sunday against Chicago-based Ameritech, which serves 12.3 million customers in the Midwest.

They joined more than 156,000 operators, installers and other employees at three other ″Baby Bells″ - NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, and Pacific Telesis - who entered the second week of their walkout today.

Terry Tilden of the State Library in Harrisburg, Pa., said today the reference desk has been receiving numerous calls from people needing phone numbers but unable to reach directory assistance.

″One day last week I had the Manhattan white pages and the Philadelphia white pages out and didn’t bother reshelfing them between calls,″ he said. ″One lady said something like trying to get through to directory assistance was giving her heartburn.″

In Indiana, 2,100 managers at Ameritech subsidiary Indiana Bell braced for today’s start of the work week after learning how to take operator-assistance calls and service requests.

″We got through yesterday pretty good,″ spokesman Estel Gibson said. ″Our management operators were answering calls in four to six seconds, and we were staying current on repairs. Today’s going to be more of a challenge.″

The regional companies already on strike have said that most direct-dial calls were going through normally on automated equipment. Some union jobs were filled by management employees, but the walkouts disrupted installations and repairs, operator-assisted calls and inquiries to directory assistance.

There were few signs of progress in resolving any of the disputes, which center on wages and company plans to cut back health benefits.

Nevertheless, the CWA reached agreement Sunday with U S West, which serves 14 Western states, and with Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., which has 11 million customers in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.

In both cases, the union accepted lower-than-hoped-for wage increases in exchange for company agreements to maintain health benefits more or less intact. Workers at U S West, based in the Denver area, settled for an immediate 5 percent increase, while St. Louis-based Southwestern Bell agreed to a 5.25 percent hike.

The accords averted strikes by 42,000 U S West workers and 41,000 employees of Southwestern Bell.

Union officials reached agreement Aug. 5 with the seventh regional company, Atlanta-based BellSouth.

In Boston, union leaders want customers to stop paying their phone bills and are planning a rally Tuesday to draw attention to their opposition to demands that employees pick up a larger share of their health insurance.

Calvey, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2222 in Quincy, Mass., which is striking against New England Telephone, said insurance is the major issue. ″The others you can compromise on,″ he said.

″If the big companies, the ones that can afford it, begin taking a stand against paying medical benefits, the whole national health care issue will go on the back burner,″ Calvey said. New England Telephone is part of NYNEX.

The Boston Herald reported today that former Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson would attend the rally to help launch the protest.

The seven Baby Bells were created by the 1984 breakup of American Telephone & Telegraph. Each has sought to get workers to pay a larger share of their health insurance costs, which have soared at twice the rate of inflation in recent years.

In Chicago, CWA and Ameritech officials said they were willing to talk, but neither side seemed in a hurry.

Talks ″have not occurred in any of the states, nor do we anticipate any occurring in the next few days,″ Ameritech spokesman Steve Ford said Sunday. The company’s subsidiaries in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin were negotiating separately with the union.

The IBEW, which has been on strike against the three other regional companies but settled its contract with Ameritech, was respecting picket lines on Sunday, said Greg Kenefick, a CWA spokesman in Cleveland. But Illinois Bell spokesman Larry Cose said he had no indication the IBEW employees had joined the walkout.

Talks in the Bell Atlantic dispute were scheduled to resume today in Washington, where phone company representatives met for an hour Sunday with union officials representing workers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

The strikes involve 60,000 workers at New York-based NYNEX, which serves New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut. Pacific Telesis, which has its headquarters in San Francisco and serves northern Nevada and all of California, has 44,500 striking employees.

Scattered instances of vandalism have been reported. During the weekend, a telephone cable was cut with a hacksaw in New Hampshire, disrupting service to about 600 customers in Auburn, New England Telephone reported Sunday.

Update hourly