Little Progress Reported in Phone Company Talks
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Substantial progress was reported in talks between Ameritech and its unions early today, but spokesmen for Bell Atlantic and its union said their negotiations were dragging.
Both companies have been talking with union officials since strike deadlines passed Saturday. Three other regional phone companies whose contracts expired at the same time have worked out new agreements.
``We’re not making the progress we’d like to make,″ Bell Atlantic spokesman Eric Rabe said Wednesday.
But in Chicago, Ameritech and the unions, reporting what both sides called significant progress, agreed to stop the clock and continued negotiating past the Wednesday midnight deadline.
``We’re hopeful that we’ll have an agreement ironed out in the next couple of hours,″ Tom Hopper of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said early today. ``There’s so much complex stuff to work out in the final hours, but we believe we’re on our way to avoiding a strike.″
``We’re cautiously optimistic we can reach an agreement without work stoppage,″ Ameritech spokesman Mike Brand said.
Jeffrey Miller, spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, said he did not know of any plans for CWA workers to go on strike at either Bell Atlantic or Ameritech.
At issue in all the talks were wages, union members’ access to new jobs within the companies, guarantees that those new jobs would be covered by the union, the use of subcontractors and the shifting of health care costs.
The phone companies said they would use managers to maintain service in the event of a strike.
Bell Atlantic has 37,000 workers who are CWA members. It operates in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C. It serves about 12 million customers.
CWA planed to release a report today alleging that cutbacks in Bell Atlantic’s work force over the last several years have left customers with poor service and the company with a $1.4 billion profit.
Ameritech has 28,800 CWA workers in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. It serves about 13 million customers.
The company talking with the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Those talks cover 11,500 Ameritech workers. Ameritech is operating under its third contact extension with the IBEW, Brand said. That extension expired at 11:59 p.m. Central time Wednesday.
CWA officials have said they would not want to go on strike against Ameritech without the IBEW’s support.
BellSouth Corp., Pacific Telesis and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. each has an agreement subject to final approval by CWA members.
There are seven regional Bell companies in the United States. The CWA reached a new contract agreement with Nynex last year. Talks are under way to renew CWA and IBEW contracts that expire on Saturday with US West. US West has 33,000 CWA workers in 14 states and 500 IBEW workers, mostly in Montana, said US West spokesman Dave Banks.