- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Verizon Communications had a bad day yesterday.

• 87,200 of its workers are still on strike.

• Contract negotiations with two of its labor unions are stalled.

• The former Bell Atlantic had 405 incidents of vandalism and injuries in a week.

• Severe thunderstorms Monday night knocked out phone service throughout the Washington area.

• Repair and new-service orders are piling up.

• Investors didn't like its second-quarter earnings report or its plans to buy an Internet company, sending its stock to a 13-year low.

Negotiations at the District's L'Enfant Plaza Hotel are "becoming an intense and exhausting process," said Eric Rabe, spokesman for Verizon, which was formed when Bell Atlantic Co. completed its purchase of GTE Corp. June 30.

He said the company has seen 405 incidents of vandalism to Verizon facilities and injuries to some of the 30,000 managers covering the jobs of striking workers have occurred since Aug. 2. Verizon won injunctions keeping protesters away from facilities in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York yesterday.

In New York alone, 80 cases of vandalism are under investigation, said Guy Braun, a police spokesman.

The Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers say no vandalism or violence has occurred and that picket lines are peaceful.

"I think it's unfair to attribute those to union members," said Candice Johnson, spokeswoman for CWA, which represents 72,000 of the workers. She added that her union does not condone such behavior.

As to attacks on managers, Mrs. Johnson had no information.

"The company mentioned yelling. Well, we yell at the picket line," she said.

Meanwhile, Verizon is offering a $25,000 reward for anyone with information that would lead to successful prosecution, Mr. Rabe said.

No acts of violence or destruction have occurred in the Washington area, but local customers are feeling the impact of the strike. Aside from an increasing backlog in repair and new-service orders throughout the Verizon area, Washington-area customers had no working phones Monday night as result of severe thunderstorms.

Before the strike, the company had an average of 3,200 repair orders at the beginning of a workday. Yesterday, there were 5,100, including some reports caused by the storm, said Harry Mitchell, spokesman for Verizon. And if predicted thunderstorms do more damage the rest of the week, that backlog is likely to grow.

"We are devoting our energies to repairs," Mr. Mitchell said. "Basic installation has been deferred until we put a good bite into the repair load that we have."

As negotiations over a new contract with 72,000 CWA members and the 14,700 employees in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers drag on, operators and directory-assistance services also deteriorate.

The company's 30,000 managers who are covering for the workers are working 12-hour shifts. Some are even coming to the Washington area from states like New Jersey that have fewer people per square foot and fewer phone lines.

While Verizon's 25 million customers deal with phone problems and understaffed directory assistance, picketing continues at 555 locations in the District and 12 Eastern states. About 8,300 protesters have been on the picket line since their contract expired Sunday at 12:01 a.m.

The talks adjourned late last night with no sign of progress.

Meanwhile, the workers are starting to feel the lack of income and are looking for work until a contract is reached.

CWA's Local 2108 in Landover, for example, has contacted local temporary-help agencies about placing some of Verizon's union workers in positions during the strike.

Labor Ready is one of two agencies interviewing the workers today. Jon Tag, branch manager at the Laurel agency that specializes in construction, industrial and warehouse workers, said it will be easy to find them jobs.

"They are good quality workers most have been with Bell Atlantic for 20 years," said Mr. Tag, who regrets that he can have the workers only temporarily. "We have a lack of quality workers."

Negotiations ended on a positive note Sunday, with the parties reaching a general framework for a new contract. However, they hit snags in the past two days. An agreement is not expected for another several days.

Verizon is resisting the CWA's push for members to have access to new jobs at the wireless operation. The union also wants the company to recognize it if a majority of workers sign authorization cards, instead of secret-ballot elections, which the company wants.

Verizon, however, says it needs flexibility in determining wages for those workers because of the rapidly changing nature of the field.

Although a majority of Verizon's traditional land-line employees are union members, only 60 of the 32,000 wireless workers are unionized.

Yesterday, a memo to Verizon's wireless workers at a Massachusetts facility riled the unions. Besides answering questions about the strike, the memo suggested the workers don't have to unionize. Local union officials said the memo was threatening to the workers.

Mr. Rabe said he had not read the memo, but noted that "the wireless company is a nonunion company in a nonunion industry."

"The unions have every right to attempt to organize workers there," but Verizon has the right to inform its employees about their choices, he said.

Investors are also unhappy with Verizon. They don't like the company's announcement yesterday that its 2000 earnings will be lower than expected because of additional expenses. One of those costs is the purchase of NorthPoint Communications Group Inc., a San Francisco high-speed Internet provider, for $800 million.

"I think the company is taking a long-term view … . It believes spending the next two years building what [NorthPoint] has will be too late in the game," said Bruce Roberts, an analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. "So they are sacrificing their short-term profitability, and investors take that two ways some like it, some don't."

Shares of Verizon fell as much as 14 percent, the largest one-day drop since the October 1987 stock-market crash. The stock closed at $42.31, $5.56 less than Monday's closing price of $47.87 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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