Verizon, Unions Trade Charges
WASHINGTON (AP) _ With Verizon Communications and striking unions exchanging charges and denials of vandalism and threats, negotiators are seeking a formula that would return to their jobs customer service workers from 12 states and the District of Columbia.
The talks resumed early Wednesday, fourth day of the strike, while more than 87,200 workers remained off the job, slowing down repair orders, installations and requests for directory assistance. Verizon said it was working to process about 82,000 repair requests _ about 50,000 more than this time last month.
Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe emphasized that the talks are a ``two-way″ street and asserted that the two unions have failed to agree to a contract that would allow the company to remain competitive.
``We must end up with a contract which is one that allows us to be a flexible, fast-moving part of the telecommunications industry,″ he said. ``The industry is more and more competitive. Often the competitors are pretty nimble, very quick to provide service, and the customers are demanding.″
In New York, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against strikers after hearing that the company’s supervisory workers had been threatened and assaulted. The judge ordered pickets to stay at least 10 feet from Verizon’s worksites and buildings. The restraining order affects only pickets in New York state, although similar orders have been issued in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Union leaders said it was unfair to suggest their members are responsible for violence.
``We go through this every strike,″ said George Welker, a Long Island, N.Y., negotiator for the Communications Workers of America, one of two unions hashing out a new Verizon contract. ``We feel that a lot of times they’re blaming service problems on vandalism because they don’t have the manpower. For them to say it’s over acts of vandalism, it’s ridiculous.″
Welker said he had heard reports that managers were being yelled at by strikers.
``I’m not going to deny that _ we still have free speech,″ he said.
The company did not attribute the vandalism to unions, but said indications of union responsibility were more clear in situations where managers tried to enter facilities and had rocks, bottles and eggs thrown at them.
It said police were investigating some of the 455 incidents of threats to workers, vandalism and assaults. About 230 of those took place in New York, Rabe said.
CWA President Morton Bahr issued a statement Tuesday denouncing Verizon’s allegations and chiding the company for seeking restraining orders to limit picketing.
``Verizon would be better advised to concentrate its attention and resources on reaching a settlement and ending a strike, rather than seeking to block CWA members engaged in peaceful picketing,″ Bahr said.
The strike affects the District and 12 states: Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
Verizon, the nation’s largest local and wireless telephone company, was formed from the June merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE.
At the bargaining table, CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers continued to tussle over several issues, most notably the shifting of work to other areas _ a union concern stemming from the merger that created Verizon.
Union members fear that the company will reroute service calls _ and therefore jobs _ from the old Bell Atlantic territory into cheaper areas in GTE’s region.
``As work becomes increasingly digitized, it can be moved anywhere,″ said Jeffrey Keefe, associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. ``It’s certainly something that would upset the membership if they see their jobs going away.″
Unions also are seeking greater ease in organizing Verizon’s wireless workers.
On the Net: Verizon Communications: http://www.verizon.com/
Communications Workers of America: http://www.cwa-union.org
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: http://www.ibew.org