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U S West Workers Back on Job

September 1, 1998

DENVER (AP) _ U S West Inc. employees are tackling a backlog of customer repair and installation orders after reaching a tentative contract agreement that ended a 15-day strike.

Company spokesman David Beigie said managers are working with returning union members to complete orders delayed by the strike. He said he did not know the total amount of backlogged orders, but said it was ``manageable.″

Sue Pisha, chief negotiator for the Communications Workers of America, estimated a three- to four-week delay for general installation and repairs and eight weeks for business design services.

The union and U S West agreed to the terms of the tentative contract late Sunday, including a wage increase, the union’s much sought-after limits on mandatory overtime and a performance-pay plan the company wanted, but makes it voluntary. It also leaves health-care benefits intact.

Ms. Pisha on Monday characterized the pact as a win for the union, predicting it would be ratified by 60 percent to 70 percent of union members. She has until Oct. 9 to notify the company of the results of the ratification vote.

She also said it was in line with the agreements between the union and other regional Baby Bell companies.

The strike began Aug. 16 when about 34,000 operators, customer service representatives and technicians walked off the job in 13 states. It was the first strike in U S West’s 14-year history. The striking workers’ jobs were taken over by an estimated 15,000 managers.

In the tentative contract, U S West officials agreed to a wage increase of 10.9 percent over three years, a 21 percent increase in pension benefits and a $500 contract ratification bonus. The company also scrapped a plan to reduce overtime pay.

The union agreed to a plan to pay bonuses of up to 20 percent to technicians based on job performance, as long as it is voluntary.

Ms. Pisha expected fewer than 10 percent of the employees would sign up for the plan. ``The union is not going to recommend that our members get in that plan,″ she said. ``We still don’t believe the company can administer it fairly or be objective about it.″

Some employees were apprehensive Monday about returning to work because the walkout was contentious, with heated accusations and advertising campaigns from both sides.

Rose Wegiele, a 20-year technician, predicted there would be some animosity between workers and managers. ``A lot of things they said I felt personally were not true and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that,″ she said.

Ms. Pisha said, ``We will be able to work together. ... However, it will take a while for the relationship to be anything that I would term even slightly cooperative.″

Many employees, both managers and strikers, were relieved the strike has ended.

``Personally, it was really difficult,″ said Dick Willardson, a manager working in customer service in Salt Lake City. ``I coped; then I learned phrases ... like, `We’re working as hard as we can.‴

Marv Zimmer, a Salt Lake City payroll employee who spent a week on strike and then crossed the picket line, said: ``I got a little harassment when I came back. I needed the money. I’m just glad everything’s back to normal.″

The company also reached a new contract agreement with 550 employees in Montana who are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Those employees had been working on an extended contract since Aug. 16.

The company has about 25 million customers in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

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