Sunday, August 03, 2003


Less than two hours from a midnight strike deadline, negotiations between Verizon Communications and unions intensified late Saturday as labor leaders delayed a walkout by 78,000 workers to stay at the bargaining table.

Some local telephone service from Virginia to Maine could be affected by a stike, although the company insisted customers making regular long-distance and local calls shouldn't have trouble.

Negotiators spent the day at the bargaining table, and government mediators were included in much of the talks. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service began talks with both sides Tuesday.

Central issues remain job security and health care costs for the operators and technicians, represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Their three-year contracts had expired at 12:01 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said disruptions with phone service should be avoided with about 30,000 managers and outside contract workers prepared to take over in case of a strike.

However, delays or disruptions could occur for repairs and new installations of phone and Internet service, and for calls to customer service centers.

The 2000 strike, which lasted 18 days, caused a backlog of about 250,000 repair requests and new orders.

Jim Spellane, a spokesman for IBEW, declined to discuss the status of negotiations. "They're working hard and hopefully something positive will come out of it," he said.

Rabe said the New York-based company wants more flexibility to adjust the size of the work force, given that the traditional "landline black telephone business" is shrinking.

He also said workers should share in the cost of health care coverage. Employees pay no premium now, according to Rabe.

Communications Workers of America spokeswoman Candice Johnson said local unions in several states held rallies Saturday to demonstrate for a fair contract.

In Annandale, Va., about 50 members of the CWA Local 2222 rode motorcycles into Washington as part of a "solidarity ride."

About 200 people attended a rally outside the Verizon office in South Burlington, Vt., Saturday afternoon. "It's a tense time for people and so it's kind of nice to get them together and feel like you're not alone in this matter," said Mike Spillane, a local labor leader.

The unions represent workers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

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