- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2000

Chances of an agreement between Verizon Communications and the two labor unions representing 87,200 striking workers being reached soon are slim as the deadlock enters its 10th day.

Verizon made a new contract offer Sunday night, but the unions rejected it, saying it does little to address employee concern about mandatory overtime and job stress.

"They haven't at all addressed these," said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Communications Workers of America, which represents 72,000 of the striking workers. The rest are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"The proposal the company put on the table it was a phony proposal and it did not discuss these critical issues.

"It's really up to the company. The ball is in their court," Mrs. Johnson added.

But Verizon says it's doing the best it can.

"We believe that the contract offer that we have on the table is one that addresses all the major issues that the union bargainers have raised," Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell said. "It's solid and comprehensive, and it's an offer we ought to be able to reach an agreement on."

Telecommunication analysts say that one-third of the company's normal work force can do the all the necessary work for only so long.

"Every week [the strike] goes on, they keep getting farther and farther behind," said Elliott Hamilton, senior vice president at the Strategis Group, a District-based telecommunications research firm.

While union workers strike, 30,000 managers are filling their positions in 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.

Another industry analyst, Patrick Comack with Guzman & Co. in Miami, said it would surprise him if the strike took longer than three weeks.

"I think if it goes into the third week that would be a surprise to me and a surprise to the market," he said.

Shares of Verizon closed at $42.50 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange, up $1. The stock has fallen 9.5 percent since the strike started.

Verizon's backlog of work has been holding steady for almost a week with about 80,000 repair orders. A month earlier, the company had 32,000 orders, Mr. Mitchell said.

Some of the former Bell Atlantic's 25 million business and residential customers are facing delays in reaching operator and directory assistance, as well as in having new phone or Internet services installed.

At Powell's Manufacturing Industries in Northeast, employees are working hard to catch up to work they missed last week when their phones went down. The janitorial-supply shop's phone lines were dead for two days following severe thunderstorms last Tuesday.

"We couldn't get any calls out, we couldn't get any calls in, couldn't receive our orders and purchases from customers," said company President James Powell. "That put us in a panic state for a few days. Now we are still catching up on those orders."

Workers also have been unable to reach 411, so they have been dialing national information services though phone companies in states where Verizon doesn't operate.

Kevin Stringfellow, director of Quality Touch Inc., a facility maintenance and cleaning company in Northeast, is also having problems with his phone lines.

The small business's phone has been ringing constantly, and half the time it is a call for a different office. Mr. Stringfellow reported the problem several weeks ago, but has not heard from Verizon yet.

"I have a multiline phone, and there is a lot of small business in the building," he said. "And if I have line number five on, I can pick up phone line six, and make calls, and it will be billed to another person.

"They have yet to come and rectify it."

Although Verizon is slow in making repairs, business customers are probably getting better service than residential clients, Mr. Hamilton said.

"I would assume they are prioritizing their business customers, simply because that's where they have the most revenue coming from," he said. "Residential customers are definitely taking the back of the line."

Mr. Hamilton wouldn't estimate how long the strike could continue, but he said it depended on how patient Verizon's customers are.

"It has to do with how much they are willing to put up with before they decide to go someplace else," Mr. Hamilton said. "Verizon has a lot of competitors on the business side. On the residential side, there is really no options."

While negotiators continue their daily meetings at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Southwest, striking workers are spending their days at about 500 picket lines in the District and 12 states from Maine to Virginia.

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