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AT&T Strike Slows Long-Distance Calls

June 3, 1986

Undated (AP) _ Managers scrambled to handle operator-assisted calls Monday and some long-distance callers reported reaching busy signals or recordings, as pickets in a strike against American Telephone & Telegraph Co. spread to some of the former Bell operating companies.

AT&T officials said there were some short delays in operator service, but that about 90 percent of the long-distance calls it handles are direct-dial and not affected by the strike.

The Communication Workers of America, representing about 155,000 of AT&T’s 200,000 union workers, struck the telecommunications giant Sunday.

CWA President Morton Bahr told the union’s negotiators Monday to contact AT&T bargainers about company assurances that those ″systems technicians″ who are described as cable pullers who now make $646 a week would not be laid off under the new contract and then rehired at $300 a week less.

The union’s belief that language in the company’s final offer would allow that practice for between 15,000 and 20,000 of its members was the main disagreement that triggered the strike.

AT&T officials said Sunday and repeated Monday that no systems technicians now on the company’s payroll would take a pay cut.

″If that’s the position of this company, we can settle this issue,″ Bahr told AT&T’s executive vice president, Charles Marshall, in a joint appearance by both men on ABC’s ″Good Morning America″ program.

″We want job security,″ said Christine Hiatt, who was picketing in Louisville, Ky.

Labor Secretary William Brock said Monday that the strike ″probably will not have too much effect in the short term.″

″The question will be, how long can either side last,″ Brock said on NBC- TV’s ″Today″ show.

Tom Duddy, a spokesman for Bell of Pennsylvania, one of the independent local companies created in the breakup of the Bell System, said there were scattered reports of some Bell workers who also belong to the CWA in Philadelphia and other locations staying off the job in sympathy with the strike against AT&T.

New York Telephone obtained a court order late Sunday after some of its workers honored picket lines set up at buildings shared by it and AT&T. The order forbids CWA members from picketing New York Telephone work entrances.

Ohio Bell Telephone said up to 350 of its workers did not cross picket lines Monday at facilities it shares with AT&T. Ohio Bell spokesman Charles Day said the company had not decided whether to seek a court order against picketing at its entrances.

In Tennessee, Jimmy White, president of Local 3806, said 400 workers were on the picket lines in Memphis and that although they were willing to continue the strike as long as necessary, they hoped to return to work soon.

″We’d like it to be in the next 30 minutes,″ he said. About 400 of Michigan Bell’s 10,000 employees scheduled to work also refused to cross CWA picket lines at shared facilities, said company spokesman Greg Gordon in Detroit.

Peter Cronin of New England Telephone Co. in Boston said there was illegal picketing at buildings shared by NET and AT&T.

AT&T spokesman Herb Linnen said the company got through its busiest hours Monday on the East Coast with a level of operator service that he called ″pretty good.″

In Georgia, AT&T spokesman Tom Landers said operator delays were about seven seconds Sunday and about 12 seconds Monday, which ″is not much of a delay.″ He said he knew of no complaints.

With 10,000 supervisors manning switchboards normally staffed by 12,000 union operators Sunday, long-distance callers were greeted by recorded messages asking them to wait for the next available operator.

Especially hard-hit by the strike was the small New Jersey seashore resort of Sea Isle City, where the antiquated telephone system requires operator assistance for all long-distance calls.

″If it’s a long strike, we’re in big trouble,″ said Jean Chapman, a broker at Sea Isle Realty. She said she tried to make a long-distance call 20 times Sunday, but never got through.

Linnen said 13 of AT&T’s 24 manufacturing plants operated Monday. Those plants are staffed by members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which reached a tentative settlement with the company Sunday on behalf of its 41,000 members.

One of those plants was AT&T’s copper cable and light-guide fiber optic cable manufacturing facility in Norcross, Ga., which has 2,200 workers.

The Norcross plant was open Monday, with about 1,400 managers answering emergency calls, but spokesman Paul Waring said, ″Essentially, we’re shut down as far as manufacturing goes.″

AT&T also operates retail telephone stores and CWA members picketed them. In Kentucky, stores in Bowling Green and Fort Knox were closed although three in Louisville remained open, said AT&T spokesman Jim Hurtt.

The 8 percent wage hike - 2 percent immediately and 3 percent each in 1987 and 1988 - conditionally accepted by IBEW negotiators was basically the same package offered to the CWA.

Citing a nearly 50 percent increase in AT&T’s net profits the first quarter this year compared with the same three months in 1985 atop a 13.6 percent increase for all of last year over 1984, CWA president Bahr said the company is seeking ″unwarranted concessions.″

Bahr said three main issues divided the two sides:

- AT&T’s demand for the elimination of automatic cost-of-living adjustments to reflect inflation - a part of every telephone workers contract since 1972.

- Splitting 20,000 ″systems technicians″ - installers and maintenance workers - who now make $646 per week into three separate categories. One of those new classifications, wire pullers, could suffer as much as a $300 per week cut in pay as a result, Bahr said.

- The company’s proposed elimination of piecework incentive pay for some 20,000 manufacturing workers.

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