- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

Unions on strike against Verizon Communications said they will quit negotiations at midnight tonight if there is no agreement to replace a contract that expired Aug. 6.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing 14,700 employees in New England and upstate New York, is dissatisfied with the pace of progress in the talks. The Communications Workers of America, which has two sets of negotiators bargaining, said at least one of those two tables also plans to leave the talks tonight. That table represents workers from New England and New York as well.

"It's very possible" that the other table, bargaining on behalf of workers from New Jersey to Virginia, could set the same ultimatum, said CWA spokesman Jeff Miller.

"People are growing frustrated at what they consider to be the slow response by the company," Mr. Miller said.

Together, both CWA tables represent more than 72,000 workers.

"We want an agreement by [tonight]," IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane said yesterday, the strike's 11th day. "These negotiations are dragging on and even issues that are reported as settled details are not working out to our liking."

Mr. Spellane said the IBEW will stay at the bargaining table only if an agreement is close.

Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe said yesterday he had not received formal notice about the union's plans.

"We'd love to have it finished by midnight [tonight]," he said, calling word of the IBEW announcement "disappointing."

A tentative agreement reportedly was reached last week on the ability of the unions to organize workers in the company's wireless division, with the company agreeing to let workers sign cards to indicate their desire to organize. But details, such as where and how that would be allowed, remain unresolved, Mr. Spellane said.

A second issue is the movement of work from Bell Atlantic territory to GTE's region. The two companies together formed Verizon in June.

Bruce Gordon, president of retail markets for Verizon, said earlier yesterday that he considered an agreement near for part of Verizon's unionized work force at some of the call centers. Mr. Rabe would not say which workers those were.

The CWA says workers fear that Verizon executives will be rewarded as the company expands nationally, while rank-and-file employees will be forced to move or take lower-paying jobs to stay at their current locations.

The CWA and the IBEW also wish to scale back a provision for mandatory overtime, which can amount to up to 15 extra hours a week.

Mr. Rabe said Verizon is working to complete about 90,000 pending repairs using managers and retired workers filling in for the strikers.

The strike affects directory assistance, service and repairs in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and the District.

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