Union Says N.Y. Tel Was Overoptimistic About Settlement
DETROIT (AP) _ Michigan Bell Telephone Co. employees represented by the Communications Workers of America walked off their jobs at midnight Tuesday, bringing to 52,000 the numer of phone workers on strike nationwide.
CWA spokesman Dave Kohler said members left work at 11:59 p.m. EDT when an agreement extending the old contract expired. He said pickets would be set up at four Detroit-area locations immediately and expanded to most Michigan Bell facilities Wednesday morning.
The two sides had been bargaining off and on Tuesday against the deadline after the company decided a day earlier to cancel the contract extension, CWA spokesman Dick Jordan said.
Talks ended about 9:15 p.m. EDT and no new bargaining was planned, Michigan Bell spokesman Greg Gordon said.
In a statement earlier, CWA Michigan Director Donald Lindemier said: ″At 11:59, our members will begin to picket and they will continue to strike until the company is willing to share its profitablility with the workers who have made it profitable.″
″We are disappointed that the union’s leadership chose to reject our offer,″ Gordon said. ″We’ve offered the CWA a contract that’s fair for the company’s employees, customers and investors. We’ve offered to increase employee weages, enhance their employment security and improve their health care coverage.″
The CWA, representing 12,600 workers, had said the company’s decision to cancel the extension of the current contract amounted to a lockout.
A three-year contract expired at midnight Saturday but a strike was averted when the contract was extended by mutual consent.
But Michigan Bell on Monday set the Tuesday midnight cancellation, saying bargaining progress had halted and the union was bringing back to the table issues the company had considered resolved.
Meanwhile, about 1,100 New Hampshire residents had no phone service and New Yorkers went without directory assistance in all but emergencies as a strike involving nearly 40,000 phone workers dragged through a third day Tuesday.
New York Telephone Co. backed off from earlier indications that the talks were near a settlement and the Communications Workers of America said the company had been overly optimistic in its previous statements.
About 1,000 workers continued to strike US West Direct, the publishing arm of Denver-based US West Inc., and a few hundred workers in Ohio stayed away from their jobs at Ameritech Publishing Inc.
The scattered work stoppages are the final conflicts resulting from efforts by the seven regional Bell telephone companies, or ″Baby Bells,″ to reach new contracts replacing the ones that expired at midnight Saturday.
The rest of the 310,000 members of the CWA working for the Baby Bells have reached tentative agreements or agreed to work while negotiations continue.
New York Telephone Co., a subsidiary of NYNEX Corp., employs most of the 37,000 CWA members on strike in New York state, according to union spokesman Bob Master. About 850 CWA members employed by New England Telephone Co. and two other NYNEX subsidiaries are on strike in Massachusetts and 150 are striking in New Hampshire.
New York Tel spokesman Tony Pappas said Monday that negotiators had reached agreement on major contract issues, including wages and pensions. On Tuesday, company spokesman Steven Marcus declined to characterize the talks except to say, ″We’re still hopeful and encouraged.″
Master said the union spent much of Tuesday cooling down hopes created by company statments that a settlement was near.
In New Hampshire, weekend storms knocked out phone service, and about 1,100 customers remained without service, said New England Telephone spokesman Jack Caunter. Repairs were slowed because workers belonging to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers refused to cross CWA picket lines, Caunter said.
The walkout has also slowed fulfillment of regular installation requests in New Hampshire, and processing of orders for complex business phone systems throughout New England, he said.
In New York, callers for directory assistance had to wait several minutes during business hours as managers filled in for striking operators. Callers heard a recording telling them to check their directories for listings unless their calls were urgent.
Marcus said the message seemed to be working because there were fewer calls than normal for directory assistance.
Pickets returned to two NYNEX subsidiaries in Massachusetts.
In Lynn, managers again replaced 700 striking workers at NYNEX Information Resources, where directories are produced for New England and New York, Caunter said. In Southboro, 70 CWA members remained off the job at a NYNEX Materiel Enterprises warehouse, which provides supplies to New England Telephone.
In Ohio, about 140 employees of Ameritech Publishing Inc. failed to report for work Tuesday because the company did not agree to extend their old contract during negotiations. Union spokesman Michael Perri said CWA members also stayed away from work in Akron and Columbus, even though a strike had not been called.